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Rare 1776 Declaration of Independence Broadside Acquired for Exhibit at Yorktown Victory Center, American Revolution Museum

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Broadside printing of the Declaration of Independence, co-published in Boston on or about July 18, 1776, by John Gill and Edward E. Powars and Nathaniel Willis. Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va., Sept. 15, 2009 – A rare broadside printing of America’s Declaration of Independence dating to July 1776 has been acquired with funds provided by a private foundation for the collection of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, a Virginia state agency that administers Jamestown Settlement and the Yorktown Victory Center, history museums that interpret the nation’s colonial past and the American Revolution. The historic document, to go on exhibit October 1 in the Yorktown Victory Center’s Declaration of Independence Gallery, was printed in Boston, Mass., soon after the Declaration was adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pa., on July 4, 1776, and before an engrossed, or handwritten, copy of the document on parchment was signed by members of Congress on August 2, 1776.  The official printing, with the names of all of the signers, was authorized by Congress several months later, in January 1777.

“This is a stellar addition to our collection,” said Foundation Executive Director Philip G. Emerson, “and a cornerstone acquisition as we plan for replacing the existing Yorktown Victory Center with a new facility in which state-of-the-art exhibits will provide a renewed perspective on the meaning and impact of the Revolution.”

Upon adopting the Declaration of Independence, Congress directed “that it be proclaimed in each of the United States.”  First set in type by Philadelphia printer John Dunlap, the document was quickly disseminated throughout the 13 states and printed in newspapers and broadsides.  In Boston, it appeared in John Gill’s Continental Journal and Edward E. Powars’and Nathaniel Willis’ New-England Chronicle on July 18, 1776, the day of a public reading from the state house balcony.  Gill and Powars and Willis co-published broadsides of the Declaration – one of which is now owned by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation – on or about the same date.

The newly acquired broadside, 17 by 11-7/8 inches in size, is printed on laid paper (watermarked with fine lines running across the grain) and bears the document’s original title, “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled,” changed to “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America” in the engrossed, signed version now at the National Archives.  The main text is in two columns, a distinctive feature of the Boston broadside, and is followed with “Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress, John Hancock, President.  Attest. Charles Thompson, Secretary.” 

The sequence of events leading to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence began with a resolution by the Virginia Convention on May 15, 1776, instructing Virginia’s Congressional delegation to propose “to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states.”  Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee presented the motion on June 7, and a few days later Congress appointed a committee of five to prepare the declaration.  Thomas Jefferson of Virginia was chosen to draft the document, which was presented to Congress on June 28.  Lee’s motion was approved on July 2, and on July 4 Congress formally adopted the Declaration with the unanimous vote of all the colonies represented.

1776 Broadside On Exhibit in Yorktown Victory Center Galleries

Preliminary architectural design and exhibit schematic design work has been completed for a new Yorktown Victory Center to replace the facility that opened in 1976 during the national Bicentennial.  An approximately 80,000-square-foot building will house expanded exhibition galleries, classroom and event space, visitor services, gift shop and support functions.  Improvements to the Yorktown Victory Center’s existing re-created Continental Army encampment and 1780s farm also are planned.

The Declaration of Independence broadside will occupy a prominent place in the Yorktown Victory Center’s planned new exhibition galleries.  Engaging students, families and individual visitors through period artifacts, re-created immersive environments, dioramas, interactive exhibits, video presentations and an experiential theater, the new galleries will present five major themes:  “The British Empire and America,” “The Changing Relationship – Britain and North America,” “Revolution,” “The New Nation” and “The American People.”

“We are actively seeking to build the museum’s collection of artifacts to support these exhibit themes and enhance our ability to tell this important story to a national audience,” said Sue Gerdelman, president of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Inc., the not-for-profit entity that coordinates private fundraising on behalf of Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation programs.  “The Declaration of Independence broadside is the crowning achievement in a series of significant recent acquisitions, including an official portrait of King George III and a first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 ‘Poems on Various Subjects…,’ the first book published by an African American.”

Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, the Yorktown Victory Center chronicles the American Revolution and the formation of the new nation through gallery exhibits and outdoor living history.  The museum is located at Route 1020 and the Colonial Parkway in Yorktown. Admission is $9.25 for adults and $5.00 for children ages 6 through 12.  A combination ticket is available with Jamestown Settlement.  Both museums participate in ticket options with other area attractions, including Yorktown Battlefield, Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area and Museums, and Busch Gardens.  For more information, call (888) 593-4682 toll-free or (757) 253-4838 or visit hif.ciniva.net.