A manuscript of the Declaration of Independence has been discovered in the most unlikely of places, revealing a complex mystery from the earliest days of American history.
The manuscript was found tucked inside files in a small records office in Chichester, England, the Harvard Gazette reported.
Harvard researcher Emily Sneff didn’t think much of the document when she stumbled upon it in 2015, but a closer inspection of details led Sneff and fellow researcher, Danielle Allen, to believe the document was authentic.
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“We knew we had a mystery,” said Allen. “We had a big, big mystery.”
The document, known as the Sussex Declaration, was made on a full piece of parchment paper, which at the time was used for formal legal documents. It measures about 24 by 30 inches, the same size as the copy of the Declaration that sits in National Archives in Washington, D.C., according to The Washington Post.
The size makes it a “ceremonial document,” Sneff told The Post.
“Up until now, only one large-format ceremonial parchment manuscript was known to exist,” Allen said. “That one is in the National Archives and was produced in 1776. This one was produced a decade later, with the signed parchment as its source.”
In a report, researchers explained the Sussex Declaration is not a replica of the Declaration in the National Archives. For example, it is oriented horizontally rather than vertically on the parchment, and John Hancock isn’t listed as the first signatory. In addition, some names were even misspelled.
Other differences include the lack of much punctuation and a handwriting style with which the researchers were not familiar.
The researchers believe the document was written in the U.S., most likely in Philadelphia or New York.
That much is known, or at least suspected, about the document. But numerous big questions are still unanswered. Who commissioned the document — and why? And how and when did the Declaration cross the ocean to the country that it had basically declared the enemy?
According to The Post, the document might have belonged to Charles Lennox, England’s third Duke of Richmond, who was a known supporter of the colonists during the revolution. Records indicate that a law firm that handled the affairs of the Duke of Richmond delivered the document to the West Sussex Records Office in 1956, with a few hundred other documents, according to The Post.
How it ended up in England remains a mystery, but the irony is delicious.
H/T The Boston Globe
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