Joseph Hewes was born into a prosperous Princeton, New Jersey Quaker family in 1730. His education consisted of both rigorous religious instruction at home and a general education at a local school. Later on, he learned about trade from a Philadelphia merchant and then went on to pursue a career on his own. In 1760 he moved to Edenton, South Carolina, an important sea port, and started up what turned out to be a highly successful mercantile and shipping firm. He remained in this town for the rest of his life.
Hewes became quite active politically, serving on the North Carolina Assembly from 1766 until 1775, on the committee of correspondence in 1773, and the provincial assemblies from 1774 until 1775. Hewes was additionally involved in the overthrow of the royal government by the Whigs. In 1774 he was elected to the Continental Congress. Later, in 1777, he returned home to serve on his state’s legislature. He was elected once more to the Congress in 1779, but failing health and fatigue lead to his death at the age of forty-nine in that same year. He was laid to rest in Philadelphia’s Christ Burial Ground.