In one of the summer’s storms a mighty wind brought a large limb of the red oak tree in the southeast corner of the churchyard, down onto the important tomb of Colonel John Nixon. A table-style grave marker, it broke into hundreds of pieces. The damage is covered by St. Peter’s insurance policy, and the marker will be repaired.
Nixon (1733-1808) was a wealthy Philadelphia merchant and banker who early supported the cause against Great Britain by signing the Non-Importation Agreement in opposition to the Stamp Act in 1765. He became the person responsible for the city’s defenses in the years leading up to 1776 and on July 8, 1776 it was he who was chosen to read the Declaration of Independence to the public for the first time. Try to imagine what is going through his head as he walks out onto the steps of the State House (what we now call Independence Hall) to declare that the thirteen British colonies were defying their king and the most powerful military force in the world by setting up a nation of their own, an act which will surely be seen as treason by the British authorities. This was indeed a man of courage! His reading was received with tremendous enthusiasm and loud “huzzahs” by the huge crowd gathered in the yard. Bells rang all over the city and a crowd of onlookers rushed into the State House, into the courtroom and tore the royal crest off the wall above the judges’ bench. A new nation was born—here in Philadelphia!
Six months later Colonel Nixon fought with George Washington at the Battle of Princeton (with General John Cadwalader, another member of St. Peter’s whose wife Elizabeth is buried a few feet away from Nixon) and he spent the winter of 1777-78 with Washington at Valley Forge.