EXETER, N.H., OCT. 25 -- Two hundred and fourteen years after it was hurriedly printed in Philadelphia, a rare original Declaration of Independence has come back into the public domain, through an agreement between the state of New Hampshire and a private group.
The printed declaration, unveiled at a news conference today, has been authenticated as one of the "Dunlap broadsides," the first printed version of the formal rupture of the colonies with the British crown. Only 22 copies of the 600 or so printed were known to have survived until this one was found here in an 18th-century house in the center of town.
A little larger than a sheet of legal paper, it appears to be in top condition, with no visible tears, folds or holes.
The house, known as the Ladd-Gilman House, belongs to the Society of the Cincinnati, a group made up of male descendants of the officers who served under George Washington in the revolutionary army. The house was purchased by the society in 1902 and is now known as Cincinnati Hall.
The declaration was found in the house, along with a trove of other historical documents. Among them, according to Richard Tobin, director of Cincinnati Hall, is another rare document that also was long-ignored by members of the society: a copy of the Constitution used by founding father Nicholas Gilman Jr. at the Constitutional Convention, complete with his handwritten marginalia.
The Constitution is not ready for display, Tobin said. The Dunlap broadside Declaration, however, will soon be available for the public to see.
When the existence of this copy of the Declaration became known several years ago, New Hampshire argued that the document belonged to the state because it was sent from the American revolutionary leaders in Philadelphia to the New Hampshire "committee of safety," a forerunner of the state government.
Society officials said they believe the document was the one sent by John Hancock to the secretary of the committee of safety and turned over to the 22-year-old John Taylor Gilman. The young Gilman, the brother of Nicholas, gave the Declaration its first public reading in New Hampshire on July 16, 1776, in Exeter, then the seat of the rebellious colony's government.
After lengthy negotiations, the society and the state agreed that the society would retain custody of the document but agree to allow the state to display it around New Hampshire 100 days a year.
According to experts, the Dunlap broadsides were printed in Philadelphia on the night of July 4-5, 1776 and were sent to rebel leaders in each of the 13 colonies and distributed to officers in the Continental Army to be read to the troops.
In August 1776, the Congress ordered one copy of the Declaration be written by hand on parchment. That version was signed by John Hancock and the rest of the delegates and is now displayed at the National Archives.