Descendant of Declaration signer gets to tap Liberty Bell on July 4

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One Bartow County family got to spend America’s birthday in just about the most patriotic place imaginable.

Woodland High rising senior Dallas Adams and his family spent Independence Day weekend in Philadelphia, where he got to tap the Liberty Bell during a July Fourth ceremony at the Liberty Bell Center.

Ten bell tappers who are direct descendants of a Declaration of Independence signer are chosen by The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence to symbolically tap the Liberty Bell at 2 p.m. every Fourth of July and to participate in the Let Freedom Ring program sponsored by the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution.

The descendants applying for the honor must be between the ages of 8 and 17 and must be junior members of DSDI, and if chosen, they must attend the brunch before the ceremony and the general meeting in the Long Room of Independence Hall, where the tappers are introduced, afterwards.  

“It was amazing to be able to tap the Liberty Bell, especially if you consider only 10 kids a year get to do it,” said Dallas, 17, who was accompanied by his parents, Heyward and Janice Tomlinson Adams; brother, Easton; and grandparents, Troy and Janie Tomlinson and John Adams, all of Cartersville; as well as his girlfriend and a great-aunt. “It was also cool having all the media and public coming out to watch me tap the bell. Tapping the bell itself was just like tapping a cement wall. It didn’t even budge whenever I tapped it.” 

Dallas Heyward Adams is a direct descendant of signer Thomas Heyward Jr., his sixth great-grandfather on his paternal grandmother Harriet “Happy” Heyward Adams’ side of the family.

Heyward, a lawyer, was elected to Continental Congress in 1775 and signed the declaration as a delegate from South Carolina the next year, according to Janice Adams.

He also was a judge who was taken as a prisoner of war by the British during the siege of Charleston and is buried at Old House Plantation in Jasper County, South Carolina.

“It was an honor to see [Dallas] be able to take part in a tradition of the signers and be able to represent his family,” Heyward Adams said.

Dallas’ grandmother, Happy, who sent in applications for him and his brother, died in February “before being able to see Dallas tap the bell, but she was so excited about the event,” Mrs. Adams said.

“We know his nana, who was so proud for her grandchildren to be honored with being selected, was there in spirit,” Adams added.

To be a member of the DSDI, applicants have to prove their lineage with birth, marriage and death certificates, and the documents are submitted and researched by the board before approval is given for membership, Adams said.

“After approval, you submit your name for the bell-tapping ceremony,” he said. “Dallas and Easton, his brother, were submitted and chosen. Dallas was chosen for 2019, and Easton will be a tapper in 2021. You are notified several years in advance if you are chosen. The list is currently full up to 2027 at this point.” 

Dallas, an honors student who will begin dual enrollment with Georgia Highlands College in August, said being a tapper was “something I wanted to do because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing.”

“You don’t just get to go up to Philadelphia and tap the Liberty Bell,” he said. “It was also something that my nana had signed me up for whenever my family found out that we were descendants of [one of] the signers of the Declaration of Independence. She had done so many things to make it so I was able to go and tap the bell, and she really wanted me and my brother to do it. Then whenever she passed away this year in mid-February, it made it even that much more special to do it for her.” 

The morning of the Fourth, all the tappers and the directors went to the Liberty Bell and “did a little practice run of how the actual ceremony was going to happen,” Dallas said. 

“Then later that day, around 2 p.m., everyone went back to the bell,” he said. “Yet this time, we went into a small room off to the side until it was time to go tap the bell. Once the time came to go tap the bell, all the bell tappers went to where we were supposed to be lined up to tap the bell. We tapped the bell right after we heard the bell in the Independence Hall ring. We tapped the bell 13 times for the original Thirteen Colonies.” 

After the tapping ceremony, the families and tappers attended a meeting in the Long Room on the second floor of Independence Hall.

“The DSDI has held their annual meeting there for over 100 years,” Adams said. 

Dallas, who has lettered in baseball and golf and won offensive MVP for baseball this past season at WHS, said being a descendent of a declaration signer “has been normal, I guess.”

“Maybe once I get older, I’ll start seeing it as different, but for the most part, it’s just normal, I guess, except once I found out, I took a little more interest into history class,” he said.