Early life and family
Clymer was born in Philadelphia in the Province of Pennsylvania on March 16, 1739. Orphaned when only a year old, he was apprenticed to his maternal aunt and uncle, Hannah and William Coleman, to prepare to become a merchant. He married Elizabeth Meredith on March 22, 1765. In a letter written by Clymer to the rector of Christ Church, the Reverend Richard Peters, Clymer states that he had previously fathered a child; neither the child's nor mother's name is mentioned. Clymer and his wife had nine children, four of whom died in infancy. His oldest surviving son, Henry (born 1767), married the Philadelphia socialite Mary Willing in 1794. John Meredith, Margaret, George, and Ann also survived to adulthood, though John Meredith was killed in the Whiskey Rebellion in 1787 at age 18.
Clymer was a patriot and leader in the demonstrations in Philadelphia resulting from the Tea Act and the Stamp Act. Clymer accepted the command as a leader of a volunteer corps belonging to General John Cadwalader's brigade. In 1759, he was inducted as a member of the original American Philosophical Society. He became a member of the Philadelphia Committee of Safety in 1773 and was elected to the Continental Congress 1776–1780. Clymer shared the responsibility of being treasurer of the Continental Congress with Michael Hillegas. He served on several committees during his first congressional term and was sent with Sampson Mathews to inspect the northern army at Fort Ticonderoga on behalf of Congress in the fall of 1776. When Congress fled Philadelphia in the face of Sir Henry Clinton's threatened occupation, Clymer stayed behind with George Walton and Robert Morris. Clymer's business ventures during and after war served to increase his wealth. In 1779 and 1780, Clymer and his son Meredith engaged in a lucrative trade with Sint Eustatius. Although not partial to the merchant business, Clymer continued in business with his father-in-law and brother-in-law until 1782.
He resigned from Congress in 1777 and in 1780 was elected to a seat in the Pennsylvania Legislature. In 1782, he was sent on a tour of the southern states in a vain attempt to get the legislatures to pay up on subscriptions due to the central government. He was re-elected to the Pennsylvania legislature in 1784 and represented his state at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He was elected to the first U.S. Congress in 1789.