The ‘Sussex Declaration’ of Independence held at West Sussex Record Office

Low res declaration

Many of our followers will recall the news last year of the ‘Sussex Declaration’, an early copy of the US Declaration of Independence, and the only other ceremonial copy of the Declaration known to exist besides the signed 1776 copy now displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Although the manuscript has been catalogued and stored here at West Sussex Record Office in Chichester since it was deposited in 1956, the significance of the copy was only investigated in the last 2 years, after two Harvard academics from the Declaration Resources Project located it via our entry on the National Archives catalogue. The media interest surrounding the Sussex Declaration was summed up in a previous blog post, and looks set to push WSRO into the limelight once again, with the confirmation of the Sussex Declaration’s authenticity as a contemporary parchment copy.

Following a year of non-invasive testing on the parchment manuscript of the Declaration of Independence housed at WSRO, Harvard researchers Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff, in collaboration with West Sussex Record Office, British Library, Library of Congress, and University of York, have concluded that the results support the hypothesis that the document was produced in the 1780s, and is the only other contemporary manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence on parchment apart from the signed copy at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., known as the Matlack Declaration. There are other printed parchment copies and other handwritten copies on paper but the Sussex Declaration, as it has become known, and the Matlack Declaration, are the only two ceremonial parchment manuscript copies.

Although at 24” x 30.5” the WSRO parchment is on the same ornamental scale as the Matlack Declaration, which was signed by the delegates to Continental Congress, in contrast, the Sussex Declaration lists the signatories written in the hand of a single clerk.

Conservation scientists at the British Library, Library of Congress, and the University of York conducted multi-spectral imaging, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) capture, and protein analysis (DNA testing). The imaging revealed a date beneath a scraped erasure to the right of the document’s title. Beneath the scraping, researchers found a partially inscribed date, reading either “July 4, 178” or “July 4, 179”.

Add Mss 8981 West Sussex Record Office Recto Erasure
Red lines show the downward slope of the erased text (Courtesy of the British Library)

The erased date was written along a slight downward slant, indicating that the clerk made two errors in the initial calligraphy for the date: he (or she) erred with regard to the date itself, using (presumably) the year of production rather than the year in which the Declaration was enacted, and also failed to maintain a horizontal line. Imaging revealed that the inked lines establishing horizontal margins for the parchment, and the lining of the parchment used by the clerk to keep the rest of the text properly aligned were added after this failed inscription was scraped off the parchment. There is congruency in the iron gall ink used throughout the document, indicating that the initial titling, the corrected titling, the body of the text, the list of signatories, and the corrections within the body of the text were written in a relatively short window of time; in other words, the corrections were made almost immediately.

These discoveries support the date of the 1780s for the Sussex Declaration proposed by Allen and Sneff in their paper, “The Sussex Declaration,” forthcoming in the Proceedings of the Bibliographic Society of America this fall. The findings also support their hypothesis that the clerk was inexperienced.

In addition, through XRF analysis, the researchers discovered high iron content in holes in the corner of the parchment, providing supporting evidence for the use of iron nails to hang the parchment at some point. The protein analysis, or DNA testing, revealed that the parchment was prepared from sheepskin, rather than more expensive calfskin. Full copies of the technical reports from the testing are available the Declaration Resources Project website.

Whilst the parchment is currently housed at the West Sussex Record Office, having been deposited in 1956, it is believed to have been held originally by the Third Duke of Richmond, known as the “Radical Duke” for his support of the Americans during the Revolution. The parchment itself is, however, American and is most likely to have been produced in New York or Philadelphia. The team continues to work on the question of when and how the parchment moved to the UK.

Wendy Walker, West Sussex County Archivist, said: “We are extremely

Wendy and Lousie Goldsmith
County Archivist Wendy Walker with West Sussex County Council Leader, Louise Goldsmith, and the Sussex Declaration

excited to hear that Harvard’s research and the scientific analyses confirms the historical significance and importance of this archive. It is a fascinating document and it has been fantastic for us to work with colleagues at Harvard, the Library of Congress, the British Library and the University of York to find out more about the story that surrounds it.”

You can also watch Wendy speak to the BBC about the significance of the Sussex Declaration.

Images of the Sussex Declaration and contextual documents are available here. Please contact emilysneff@fas.harvard.edu for information about image credits.

 

For Harvard Communications, please contact:

Peter Reuell

Communications Officer, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

Cambridge, MA 02138

617-496-8070

Email: preuell@fas.harvard.edu

 

For West Sussex Record Office Communications, please contact:

Jo Steele

Senior Press Officer, West Sussex County Council

Tel: +44 (0)33 022 25979

Email: Jo.Steele@westsussex.gov.uk  

 

 

Lauren Clifton

Stay up to date with WSRO – follow us on Facebook and Twitter

6 thoughts on “The ‘Sussex Declaration’ of Independence held at West Sussex Record Office

  1. Terrific information. A very nice gift from West Sussex Records office for the for the fourth of July celebration here in the USA. Cheers from Annapolis, Maryland. Noel Castiglia??????

    Like

  2. Dea All, it’s been well worth the wait to receive such a resounding confirmation of our expectations. Cheers, Barry

    A very nice gift from West Sussex Records office for the for the fourth of July celebration here in the USA. Cheers from Annapolis, Maryland. Noel Castiglia🎆🎉😀

    > > > On July 4, 2018, at 5:03 AM, West Sussex Record Office > wrote: > > westsussexrecordoffice posted: ” Many of our followers will recall the > news last year of the ‘Sussex Declaration’, an early copy of the US > Declaration of Independence, and the only other parchment > Declaration known to exist besides the signed 1776 copy now displayed > at the National Arc” >

    Like

  3. Dear All;

    Really love a mystery… seems like the plot thickens.. I will be interesting to find

    any tidbits that can trace the possible arrival date/ time to the Duke of Richmond.. Any notes memos

    or diaries from the family records or the law office. If it arrives between 1777 and Dec 1778 then

    Howe with Murray aboard could have had a hand in the transportation. As they were both

    in Philadelphia at a critical time.

    Remember from NDAR history it to about 6 months or more to have a copy find its way

    to the Americans in France trying to recruit help from the King. I think with out looking

    it took many months to reach the French Shore . And then no one knew what happened if

    it got intercepted along the way.

    Some at the time in America and France were suspicious that it had been intercepted along the

    way. But it did not make a difference since after Saratoga the French had decided to chime in.

    Noel

    ________________________________
    From: Barry Aldridge
    Sent: Wednesday, July 4, 2018 9:55 AM
    To: Noel Castiglia; West Sussex Record Office
    Cc: Richard Plowman; Ian Murray; Wendy. walker@westsussex. gov. uk
    Subject: Re: [New post] The ‘Sussex Declaration’ of Independence held at West Sussex Record Office

    Dea All, it’s been well worth the wait to receive such a resounding confirmation of our expectations. Cheers, Barry

    A very nice gift from West Sussex Records office for the for the fourth of July celebration here in the USA. Cheers from Annapolis, Maryland. Noel Castiglia🎆🎉😀

    Like

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