This will be a special July 4 for Hallowell, Maine, jeweler Jack B. Turner—it’s just been confirmed he is a descendant of one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Turner—a three-decade veteran of the business who has owned his own store, Jack B. Turner Jewelers, for the past five years—was adopted at birth in 1957 by two schoolteachers, loving parents who have since died. In 2009, Maine passed a law opening its adoption records.
“I thought, this won’t hurt. I looked at the records,” he says.
With a little Internet research, he tracked down his birth mother and learned the unusual tale of his adoption. His mother got pregnant while at summer camp at age 16. The father came from a wealthy family, and the two families reached a financial settlement to keep his name off the birth certificate. (His mother and father eventually married other people.)
But Turner tracked his father down and learned that he was a direct descendant of Richard Henry Lee, one of the declaration’s original signers.
Turner says he was never a history buff but has now become fascinated with the life of his famed ancestor. “He was quite a man,” he says.
In addition to signing the declaration, Richard Henry Lee put forth the motion that the “Colonies declare independence from Great Britain.” After that, he served as a U.S. senator and president of the Continental Congress. He is portrayed in both the stage and film versions of the musical 1776, where his character sings “The Lees of Old Virginia.”
Turner applied to become a member of the Society of the Lees of Virginia, a group consisting of members of the prominent Virginia family, whose bloodline includes not only Richard Henry Lee, but Confederate army head Robert E. Lee and his father Henry “Light-Horse” Lee, a noted calvary officer in the Continental Army and governor of Virginia. The group is now a charitable organization that manages various historic sites.
Given that his father’s name was left off his birth certificate, the society had both Turner and his father take a DNA test. Turner hasn’t seen the official results, but last week, the society granted him membership, so he assumes that means it was a match.
Still, he never had any doubt, given his physical resemblance to his father.
On July 4, Hallowell will display its copy of the Declaration of Independence at the City Hall. This is only the second time it’s been displayed since 1776; it generally resides in storage at the Maine State Museum.
Given all he’s learned, Turner will be there when it’s displayed and read.
“It’s amazing,” Turner says. “When you have no idea for 50 years who your family was, what is the chance to be related to this particular individual? What are the chances?”