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Rare Second Parchment Copy Of Declaration Of Independence Found In England

24 April 2017, 5:02 am EDT By Athena Chan Tech Times
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United States Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights go on display in the UK for first time
Researchers from Harvard found a second parchment manuscript of the Declaration of Independence in the archives of West Sussex. The parchment from England likely dates back to the 1780s.  ( West Sussex Record Office Add Mss 8981 )

Two researchers from Harvard University announced the discovery of a second copy of the Declaration of Independence in a small records office in Sussex, England. The parchment, called the Sussex Declaration, displays a few differences from the original copy currently kept in Washington D.C.

Second Parchment

Perhaps few artifacts bear heftier importance to American history than the Declaration of Independence. Now, researchers from Harvard University are presenting the only other parchment copy of the manuscript for the Declaration of Independence.

The manuscript was discovered by Emily Sneff in 2015 when she was simply looking for a copy of the Declaration in the British Archives. Wondering why the supposed copy was written in parchment paper, unusual for a mere copy of a document, Sneff reached out to the West Sussex Record Office.

Sneff and research partner Danielle Allen found that British officials had never looked at the parchment closely even after receiving it and that they received the parchment from a local man who worked for the law office representing the dukes of Richmond.

A closer look at material evidence such as the handwriting, parchment preparation, as well as spelling errors has Snell and Allen to conclude that the parchment was likely made either in New York or Philadelphia and that it very likely dates back to the 1780s.

Different Manner Of Listing

What researchers found as the parchment's most interesting feature is the remarkable different manner that the list of signatories was treated. In the original and only copy kept at the National Archives in Washington, the list of names was not ordered by state.

Researchers believe that the reason for the difference in name listing between the original copy and the Sussex Declaration was due to James Wilson and his allies' argument that the authority of the declaration lay not on a federation of separate states, but in a unitary national people.

Compared to the list of signatories on the original Declaration of Independence, the names on the Sussex Declaration were not listed according to state
(Photo : West Sussex Record Office Add Mss 8981) Compared to the list of signatories on the original Declaration of Independence, the names on the Sussex Declaration were not listed according to state

 

Who Owned the Sussex Declaration?

While there is not enough evidence to form a certain statement as to who originally owned the document, nor how it came to be in his possession, Snell and Allen believe that the parchment's original keeper was the Third Duke of Richmond, also known as "Radical Duke" for his support of the Americans during the war.

The team is currently working with the British Library, the West Sussex Record Office, and the Library of Congress to conduct further, non-invasive tests on the parchment.

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