Roger Sherman’s Draft Copy of the Declaration of Independence

Jonathan Scheick

An early manuscript draft of the Declaration of Independence has emerged that appears to offer additional insight into the evolution of one of our nation’s Charters of Freedom, and the individuals involved in its creation. We can refer to this document as Roger Sherman’s draft copy, since it was used to inform Roger Sherman of the draft status of the Declaration during the fourth week of June, 1776.

While the discovery of this manuscript is exciting to scholars of early American history as a tangible artifact used during the creation of the Declaration, its significance extends beyond. This manuscript provides unique insight into the drafting process via edits made while this copy was produced from the original in Thomas Jefferson’s possession. Interestingly, this working draft manuscript also contains an inscription that potentially demonstrates Thomas Paine’s direct influence and involvement in its creation. The notion of Thomas Paine’s involvement in drafting the Declaration is not a newly formulated hypothesis. Rather, historians and scholars have debated the possibility of his direct involvement for the better portion of the last two centuries, while multiple authors have offered scholarly insight, including Moody, Van der Weyde, Lewis, and more recently, Smith & Rickards.(1) Despite these previous efforts in establishing Paine’s connection to the Declaration text, no tangible evidence emerged to potentially corroborate these conclusions - until now.

Current scholarly analysis of the works of Thomas Paine continues to illuminate Paine’s enduring mark on the origins of the American Revolution such as Berton, Petrovic, Schiaffino & Ivanov’s monumental examination of the Thomas Paine corpus at Iona College. However, Paine’s unique perspective and influence were largely overlooked in the two centuries after his death.(2) Thomas Edison, former Vice-President of the Thomas Paine National Historical Association, remarked in his essay titled “The Philosophy of Thomas Paine” how he considered Paine our greatest political thinker, and elaborated on Paine’s influence and close relationships with the inner circle of Congressional members who comprised the committee to frame the Declaration:

“Although the present generation knows little of Paine’s writings, and although he has almost no influence upon contemporary thought, Americans of the future will justly appraise his work. I am certain of it. Truth is governed by natural laws and cannot be denied. Paine spoke truth with a peculiarly clear and forceful ring. Therefore, time must balance the scales. The Declaration and the Constitution expressed in form Paine’s theory of political rights. He worked in Philadelphia at the time that the first document was written, and occupied a position of intimate contact with the nation’s leaders when they framed the Constitution.” - Thomas Edison, 1925(3)

In order for scholars and historians to discuss the historical significance of this document and its vantage point into Paine’s potential role in drafting the Declaration, it is imperative to demonstrate its authenticity beyond reasonable doubt, prior to amending the historical account of our Nation’s independence. The intention of the following comprehensive analysis of Roger Sherman’s draft is to provide a foundation upon which a discussion of the evolution of the text of the Declaration of Independence, and Thomas Paine’s influence beyone Common Sense can proceed.

Currently, there are three surviving manuscript drafts of the Declaration of Independence, including Roger Sherman’s draft copy, in addition to a fragment of a working draft in the Library of Congress collection. The original manuscript draft of the Declaration of Independence, which Julian Boyd referred to as the one from which Jefferson made his rough draft, is presumed lost by scholars of the Declaration.(4) Our research team presumes Roger Sherman’s draft copy was also taken from this lost original draft Boyd referenced, after analyzing the inscription contained on its verso. The aforementioned fragment in Jefferson’s hand held by the Library of Congress predates his rough draft, demonstrating that the Jefferson rough draft was one of several working drafts used during June 11 - June 28, 1776. The Jefferson rough draft resides in the Library of Congress collection and demonstrates numerous edits made by the Committee of Five Congressional members selected to draft the Declaration. John Adams’ draft copy, referred to as a fair copy because of its neat penmanship and organization, resides in the Massachusetts Historical Society collection. Roger Sherman’s draft copy appears to have been shared first with Benjamin Franklin, then passed to fellow committee member Roger Sherman for his review and approval. Chronologically, the order of creation of the known working drafts of the Declaration of Independence is as follows: the lost, original draft (referenced by Boyd); the fragment in the Library of Congress collection; the newly-discovered Roger Sherman copy; the John Adams fair copy; the Thomas Jefferson rough draft.

The American Philosophical Society holds a letter from Jefferson to Franklin (poss. June 21, 1776) which enigmatically referenced an “inclosed paper” that had “been read and with some small alterations approved of by the committee”, asking Franklin “to peruse it and suggest such alterations as his more enlarged view of the subject will dictate”. After methodic consideration of the multiple committees that Jefferson was a reporting member of in June & July, 1776, Declaration scholars have long presumed the committee Jefferson referenced was the Committee of Five, and the enclosed paper was an early draft of the Declaration of Independence for Franklin to review while he was home recovering from a severe case of gout.(5) Since the full Committee of Five had not yet read the draft, one may reasonably conclude Jefferson’s reference to “committee” approval specified committee member John Adams’ initial review.

Furthermore, Franklin’s absence from Congress is corroborated through a letter to George Washington on June 21, 1776, in which he explained how his medical condition precluded him from his Congressional duties and consequently knew “little of what has pass’d there, except that a Declaration of Independence is preparing…”.(6) The more-than-coincidental nature of the letter from Jefferson to Franklin written on “Friday morn.” (poss. June 21, 1776) with the enclosed document and Franklin’s acknowledgement to Washington that same day noting the only Congressional activity he was aware of was the preparation of a Declaration draft, warrants further investigation by Declaration scholars.

After careful consideration of the historical events that are chronicled in the Jefferson & Franklin letters mentioned, our research team was led to contemplate the probability of Roger Sherman’s draft copy being the enclosed paper Jefferson sent to Franklin on “Friday morn.” (poss. June 21, 1776). Granted, unrecorded events do not allow for absolute confirmation; for instance, why Franklin did not edit this draft and send it back to Jefferson the next morning as requested. It is possible though, that Franklin examined this draft through the weekend, especially considering the inscriber’s uncertainty (“A beginning, perhaps”) before forwarding it to Roger Sherman on Monday, June 24, 1776. If this proposed timeline holds merit, Franklin would have reported his alterations directly to Jefferson, a scenario that corresponds with the edits on Jefferson’s rough draft. Jefferson alluded that Franklin and Adams made both verbal and minor edits in writing on his rough draft when he discussed his recollection of the Declaration drafting process in a letter to James Madison dated August 30, 1823, but does not specify whether verbal or written alterations happened concurrently.(7)

Presuming Roger Sherman’s draft copy is the enigmatic paper Jefferson enclosed in his letter to Franklin on “Friday morn.” (poss. June 21, 1776), it would fill a significant historical gap in the Committee of Five deliberation. If a separate copy was made for Robert R. Livingston’s review and eventually discovered, these manuscripts would comprise the trail of communication of the Committee of Five.

Through its monumental Declaration Database, the Declaration Resources Project at Harvard University rightfully acknowledged why it was essential to distinguish these three drafts and the partial Jefferson draft as working manuscripts, different in intention and form from the later handwritten copies Jefferson sent to Richard H. Lee and others. The later copies reflected revisions already made throughout the manuscript drafts by Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and Congress as a whole.

Roger Sherman’s draft copy of the Declaration is unique. Its inscription (verso) appears to demonstrate an authoritative position for “T.P.”, implying that copying the “original” Declaration draft necessitated permission, or at a minimum, respectful acknowledgment of “T.P.’s” contribution. It behooves scholars of early American history to address the significance of this note and contemplate whether permission would be necessary if “T.P.’s” direct association with the “original” was not significant to members of the drafting committee.

A beginning perhaps - Original with Jefferson - Copied from Original with T.P.’s permission”.

Is it possible, though, that the “T.P.” initials referenced an individual other than Thomas Paine? For this reason, our colleagues at the Declaration Resources Project of Harvard University, under the direction of Dr. Danielle Allen, graciously conducted a comprehensive search of individuals of political influence present in Philadelphia during the summer of 1776, and concluded that the T.P. initials contained within the inscription on Roger Sherman’s draft copy appear to reference Thomas Paine. Dr. Allen and Emily Sneff, Associate Fellow of Harvard’s Declaration Resources Project, investigated individuals affiliated with Thomas Jefferson, including household members, between the years of 1776-1784 before reaching this conclusion.(8) While it was acknowledged that the T.P. initials could reference another individual, the contextual understanding of individuals privy to the Declaration drafting process appeared to strongly favor Thomas Paine. Dr. Allen and Ms. Sneff graciously acknowledged their support of this manuscript and its historical significance by agreeing to include Sherman’s draft copy in Harvard’s Declaration Database register.

Interestingly, Allen and Sneff’s research on the Sussex Declaration, one of two eighteenth-century parchment manuscripts of the Declaration of Independence that they discovered during their research of the records collection of the United Kingdom National Archives for Harvard’s Declarations Resources Project, concluded that Thomas Paine was responsible for providing the document, commissioned by Federalist James Wilson, to the Duke of Richmond.(9) The reference to Thomas Paine’s potential involvement in the Declaration drafting process via the inscription on Roger Sherman’s draft copy could provide further rationale for why Paine would have been involved in transitioning the Sussex Declaration from its origins in America to Chichester, England.

Authenticating this document began with establishing provenance. Roger Sherman’s draft copy, an early working draft of the Preamble and several grievances of Declaration of Independence, was discovered folded within an estate auction booklet for General Hugh Lowrey White, a Brigadier General in the War of 1812. Both the estate auction booklet and Declaration draft manuscript were found within a box of discarded papers by an amateur historian in Georgia. This manuscript was brought to the attention of the Thomas Paine National Historical Association (TPNHA) to better understand its historical context and significance. The TPNHA research team, including this author and Professor Gary Berton, along with numerous Declaration scholars consulted to maximize researcher objectivity, conducted a thorough analysis to validate the manuscript’s authenticity and chronicle the events and participants surrounding the creation of the Declaration of Independence.

A completed genealogy established chain of possession from General Hugh Lowrey White to Colonel Alexander Lowrey, a significant political member of the American colonies and signer of the Pennsylvania Constitution in 1776.

Brigadier General Hugh L. White served with distinction during the War of 1812 and later established a profitable salt works in Kentucky. General White wsa born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania in 1776, and descended from Colonel Alexander Lowrey (b. 1726 - d. 1805), Lancaster County, Pennsylvania delegate during the Declaration of Independence and Pennsylvania Constitution deliberations. General White was the son of William White and Ann Marie (Lowrey) White. His mother, Ann Marie, was born in Lancaster, PA in 1750, daughter of Joseph Lowrey (b.1727- d.1785). Joseph Lowrey was the brother of Colonel Alexander Lowrey from Donegal, Pennsylvania, a well-known fur and supply trader and ardent supporter of independence.(10)

During the American Revolution, Colonel Alexander Lowrey was appointed to the Committee of Correspondence for Lancaster County and was a member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly from 1775-1789. He attended the Provincial Conference of Committees of the Province of Pennsylvania held at Carpenter’s Hall from June 18 - June 25, 1776. Colonel Lowrey served as an elected delegate at the conference alongside fellow Lancaster County delegate George Ross, Vice President of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, and Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention President. On June 18, 1776, before the Convention was held, Colonel Lowrey participated in the initial framing of the Pennsylvania Constitution at the Provincial Conference, election of members for the Constitutional Convention, and officially signed the Pennsylvania Constitution as a Lancaster County delegate. Colonel Lowrey’s involvement in the Provincial Conference was quite significant, as the conference proceedings influenced the creation of our Declaration of Independence. Colonel Lowrey later served in multiple battles with distinction during the Revolution.(11) This genealogy confirmed Gen. Hugh Lowrey White’s grand-uncle, Colonel Alexander Lowrey, was present at Carpenter’s Hall on June 24, 1776 (the date inscribed on the manuscript) during active discussion of the Declaration of Independence.

Coincidentally, on this same day, A Declaration of Independence of the Deputies of Pennsylvania was read during the meeting of the Provincial Conference and signed by Thomas McKean, Provincial Conference President. Colonel Alexander Lowrey was in attendance for this momentous occasion.(12)

Colonel Lowrey continued to have extensive involvement in the American Revolution immediately following the adoption of the Declaration of Independence as a delegate in the Constitutional Convention of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania held in Philadelphia from July 15 to September 28, 1776.(13) Through the aforementioned historical account, we can understand how Colonel Alexander Lowrey had close relationships with Benjamin Franklin and fellow Congressional leaders, in addition to direct contact with the Committee of Five members in Philadelphia during June - September, 1776. Colonel Lowrey’s possession of this manuscript draft may reinforce the notion that individuals outside of the Committee of Five had influence on the Declaration drafting process. Curiously, General Hugh Lowery White was born in the year of our nation’s independence, and named his only son Benjamin Franklin White. Both of General White’s children, (Benjamin F., b. 1817 - d. 1855 and Margaret J., b. 1800 - d. 1834) predeceased their father, which could explain the discovery of this document folded within the auction booklet.

After establishing provenance, attention shifted to physical characteristics of this manuscript draft that could distinguish its creation as an eighteenth-century working draft used by Committee of Five members in contrast to a modern copy. This manuscript draft was titled “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in general Congress assembled” accompanied by an inscription (verso) “A beginning perhaps - / Original with Jefferson - / Copied from Original / with T. P.’s permission”. In total, four different hands appear to have produced this document: The transcription (recto) and inscription (verso) in one hand, two sets of distinct initials in different hands (verso), and an additional inscription (recto) reading “June 24, 1776/ R.Sherman’s copy/ page 1” in another hand. The initials “R.S.” and “B.F.” were scribed in a manner that appear to indicate approval of this initial draft. The second inscription dated “June 24, 1776 / R. Sherman’s copy / page 1” was presumably written at a later, unknown date to chronicle the manuscript’s creation or when it was forwarded to Roger Sherman. The document measures approximately 13.5 inches by 8.5 inches, corresponding with eighteenth-century foolscap folio paper size, and was written in black, fading to brown, ink on period-correct cotton & linen rag paper.

The estate auction booklet, in which Roger Sherman’s draft copy draft was discovered, was dated August 15, 1856, written in black ink on light blue lined paper with the paper mill mark of Owen & Hurlbut, South Lee, Massachusetts embossed on the top, left corner (recto). The auction book measures approximately 12.5 inches by 8 inches.

The early text state of Roger Sherman’s draft copy most closely resembles that of John Adams’ fair copy, again predating the text of Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft. The Massachusetts Historical Society confirmed John Adams’ fair copy was donated to its collection directly by the Adams family in the early 1900s, after it was privately held by the Adams family for over 125 years. During this time, no facsimiles were produced.(14) The first public appearance of John Adams’ fair copy and the production of its first facsimile occurred in 1943 during the Library of Congress’ display of the Jefferson Papers, as noted in Julian P. Boyd’s The Declaration of Independence: Evolution of a Text. The chain of possession of John Adams’ fair copy and lack of facsimile until 1943 is significant; the inaccessibility of Adams’ fair copy from its creation until the mid-twentieth century reasonably supported the creation of Sherman’s copy within the same timeframe, prior to the Committee of Five’s submission of a finalized draft to Congress on June 28, 1776.

While it was important to consider Sherman’s draft’s early state of text and Adams’ draft’s lack of accessibility, equal importance was placed on identifying its scribe. Handwriting analysis confirmed this newly-discovered draft was not created by Roger Sherman. Rather, this manuscript was seemingly made for Sherman and other Declaration committee members to review. Sherman and his fellow Committee of Five members simultaneously participated in various Congressional committees, and Sherman’s involvement in drafting the Declaration did not appear in the historical record until a preliminary draft was completed. Sherman and Adams were the only members of the Committee of Five that were also selected for the Board of War and Ordinances on June 12, 1776. Sherman’s involvement on the Committee of War could have precluded him from more active involvement in the Declaration’s initial committee deliberations, thus necessitating the creation of this manuscript. (15) The inscription (verso), “A beginning perhaps - Original with Jefferson…”, as well as the early draft state of the text, appeared to support the timeframe in which this would have happened. Sherman’s initials on the upper right corner (verso) indicated that he received, reviewed & approved this draft, and signed off on it procedurally. Sherman’s initials and approval of the manuscript allowed us to understand how and why it left his possession, potentially forwarded to fellow Committee member Robert R. Livingston or significant others.

Analysis of the “R.S.” initials utilized Roger Sherman’s “R” and “S” initials from the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence as a period reference. Comparison via light board overlay demonstrated an excellent match, especially the negative space within both sets of initials, with deviation attributed to natural variation. Roger Sherman’s handwritten initials on the upper right corner (verso) of this manuscript seemingly validate its creation prior to Sherman’s death in 1793.

While Sherman’s review and approval of this draft was readily noted through his initials, initially, the identification of the manuscript writer was not easily discerned. This warranted an comprehensive forensic handwriting comparison, including stylistic examination of distinctive writing characteristics of all fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, in addition to relevant acting secretaries and scribes. Enhanced scale imaging and topical overlay were utilized to examine handwriting characteristics unique to each candidate. The results led to the identification of John Adams as the likely writer of this early Declaration of Independence draft manuscript.

Our examination considered multiple characteristics that collectively identified the writer. Penmanship movement, pressure, form (i.e. simplified or embellished), connectivity, and alignment (baseline, line direction & organization) are unique to each individual and provided an objective analytic assessment.

A unique quality of this draft is the haste in which it was taken.(16) While this quality affected writing slant, the characteristics described above remained intact. (John Adams fair copy of the Declaration of Independence in blue ink underlay - facsimile from J. Boyd’s Declaration of Independence - The Evolution of a Text; Roger Sherman’s draft copy manuscript in black ink overlay)

Roger Sherman’s draft copy and John Adams’ fair copy contain multiple, unique handwriting characteristics that appear to indicate both documents were written by the same writer. Two significant characteristics were nearly identical in both documents. First, the negative space between words, exemplified in the following excerpts:

Second, the baseline alignment, or distinct upward direction in which the writer’s hand led, exemplified in the following excerpts:

An additional analysis was conducted to identify the writer of the inscription, using the same methods described in the identification of the transcription. Baseline alignment, negative space, and character formation matched features identified in the transcription, and allowed our research team to reasonably conclude that John Adams was also the likely writer of the inscription.

This manuscript’s penmanship style was identified as eighteenth-century British-American handwriting, specifically Snell Roundhand, developed by Charles Snell, an English writing master in 1694. This period-correct detail was considered noteworthy when compared to contemporary handwriting styles such as Spencerian Script and Palmer Method used in the United States from the mid-nineteenth to twentieth centuries. Historical evidence demonstrates how Snell Roundhand was replaced by Spencerian Script around 1850 after the publication of Spencer and Rice’s System of Business and Ladies’ Penmanship in 1848.(17) The writer’s fluency in Snell Roundhand penmanship seemingly supports creation of Roger Sherman’s draft copy before 1850.(18)

The paper type of Roger Sherman’s draft copy was identified as hand-made wove. Microscopic analysis of the paper confirmed a consistency of cotton and linen. Cotton and linen were period materials used to create rag pulp for paper manufacture in the eighteenth century. This composition confirmed paper creation earlier than 1850, when wood pulp largely replaced cotton & linen rag pulp in the mid-nineteenth century. Historically, Great Britain restricted export of cotton and linen to the colonies, causing cotton and flax (linen) crops to become the predominant crops within eighteenth-century colonial America. Colonists relied heavily on these important crops for textile production, from which fabric was later recycled and turned into rag pulp for paper manufacture. (19) Ultraviolet light examination was negative for fluorescence and evidence of artificial or chemical whitening, consistent with colonial-era paper making techniques. Artificial paper whitening began in the late eighteenth century and was common practice in nineteenth-century paper making. (20)

Historical document collectors long presumed that wove paper became available to the colonies after the Revolution. This misconception may have garnered acknowledgement without considering limited access to period examples of this paper type. Advances in technology now allow for a more thorough investigation into the origins of wove paper, and when it was first introduced into the American colonies. Online digitization of manuscripts, books, and countless historical documents provided increased access to early examples of wove paper and chronicled its presence in the colonies during the American Revolution.

The earliest examples of wove paper our team uncovered dated to the 1750s. Through his authoritative text, Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft, Dard Hunter educated us on the origins of wove paper. He noted the first wove paper produced in the Western world, specifically in England, was created by James Whatman and very likely debuted in John Baskerville’s 1757 special edition of Virgil. In 1760, Prolusions; or Select Pieces of Ancient Poetry edited by Edward Capell, was printed and published by J. & R. Tonson in England entirely on Whatman’s wove paper. Hunter reminded us though, that wove paper had been created and used in the Orient for many years prior.(21)

America’s introduction to wove paper seemingly came through the hands of Benjamin Franklin, who procured up to six copies of Baskerville’s special edition of Virgil directly from the source. Historians believe Franklin was first acquainted with wove paper at this time. (22)

During Franklin’s stay in England from 1757 to 1762, he befriended John Baskerville, having visited Baskerville’s office in Birmingham on multiple occasions. John Baskerville was revered for his improvements in typeface, press machinery, printing ink and wove paper in the mid-late 1750s. Today, many of us use typeface identified by his surname. When Franklin returned to the American colonies in 1762, he decided to utilize this new type of paper in printing colonial currency in Philadelphia. Examples of Franklin’s use of wove paper in currency appear as early as 1764.

This particular note, dated June 18, 1764, was printed by Benjamin Franklin & David Hall and issued to the Province of Pennsylvania.(23) Franklin became a great supporter of this superior paper type and is credited for introducing wove paper to France in 1777.(24)

The earliest creation of wove paper in the American colonies originated through the paper mill of Thomas Willcox at his Willcox Mill at Ivy Mills in Chester, Pennsylvania. Thomas Willcox and Benjamin Franklin maintained a collegial and personal relationship over decades of collaboration when Franklin ran the press at the Pennsylvania Gazette. Willcox supplied paper for the Gazette and was the exclusive provider of paper for printing colonial currency.(25)

As Franklin was interested in Whatman’s new wove paper used by his friend and colleague Baskerville, it is likely that he brought back wove wire moulds and samples of Whatman wove paper to the American colonies upon his return in 1762 and introduced this new papermaking technique to his close friend and colleague Thomas WIllcox to use in the manufacture of currency paper.(26)

1764 was a pivotal year for colonial currency printing when British statesman George Grenville introduced the Currency Act, attempting to prohibit the American colonies from producing their own currency. Franklin returned to England in November, 1764 in part to diplomatically resolve England’s monopolization of currency.(27)

In response to deteriorating currency printed on laid paper, Franklin was keenly aware of the need to produce currency on a durable paper such as wove and to increase paper manufacture throughout the colonies. Thomas Willcox employed the most skilled wire mould maker in the American colonies at this time, named Nathan Sellers. Nathan and his father John Sellers were the first wove wire mould makers to produce wove paper through the Willcox Mill at Ivy Mills. The Sellers’ detailed account ledgers contain entries for the purchase of wove wire mould supplies as early as 1773.(28)

During the 1770s, the use of wove paper in the American colonies expanded beyond currency paper, to include books and account ledgers. England’s restriction of imported goods and paper supplies to the colonies during the Revolutionary conflict created a paper crisis during 1776 that necessitated the increased production of domestic laid and wove paper.(29)(30) Benjamin Franklin again led the charge for the collection of cotton and linen rags to make paper pulp, as well as the development of multiple paper mills in the colonies to ensure that essential paper production could flourish in America throughout the Revolution.(31)

John Adams’ letter to Abigail Adams on April 15, 1776 highlighted the scarcity of writing paper. Adams wrote, “I send you, now and then, a few sheets of paper: but this article is as scarce here as with you. I would send a quire (25 sheets of paper) if I could get a conveyance.” (32) Joseph Willcox noted paper was so scarce at the time that “fly-leaves were torn from printed works and blank leaves from account books for letter writing.” (33) The emergency shortage of paper in 1776 necessitated its procurement from any available source. Microscopic examination of Roger Sherman’s draft copy displayed evidence of torn stitch binding marks along the paper’s edge, demonstrating how it was removed from a ledger book containing wove paper. Such evidence appears consistent with Adams’ & Willcox’s account of the American colonies’ paper shortage in 1776.

The paper size of Sherman’s draft copy confirmed its origin, as its dimensions correspond with period ledger paper, different in size from correspondence paper of this period. Interestingly, foolscap sizes were based upon the eighteenth-century English standard for paper manufacture. American-made paper in the nineteenth century adopted a unique standard and subsequently differed in size from the English standard. Accordingly, wove paper made in the 1770s, whether imported or produced by the Sellers at Willcox Paper Mill, followed the English standard of measurement. Roger Sherman’s draft copy paper measurements correspond with eighteenth-century English foolscap folio paper measurements.(34)

A partial watermark was discovered in the upper left margin (recto) of the manuscript. When compared to existing examples in the Gravell Watermark Archive, it proved difficult to identify. Further investigation of the watermark could potentially determine whether the paper was imported or created in the colonies. .

The writing ink of Sherman’s draft copy was also analyzed, and presented as black, fading to brown color. Ink degradation is prevalent throughout the document, indicating the ink has aged over an extended period of time.

Eighteenth-century colonial American ink primarily consisted of a dye and a mordant (a metallic salt) which acted as a binding agent.(35) Additional ingredients were utilized to stabilize the ink which, for example, decreased acidity and assisted with binding pigment to the substrate.(36) According to European historical records, inks of this period were prepared utilizing the following basic ingredients: for iron-based ink: tannin, water and mordant, commonly referred to as vitriol; for carbon-based ink: carbon black (soot) as a pigment and gum arabic as a binder.(37)

A material scientist at a leading research institution was consulted and conducted an analysis using X-ray florescence spectroscopy (XRF) and energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS) measured elemental composition of the ink and infrared spectroscopy (IR) identified potential surface contaminants.(38) It is important to note that these findings only represent the specific areas tested, and the data collected is being used to extrapolate an understanding of whether these areas are consistent in composition with eighteenth-century ink.

In the areas tested, XRF spectroscopy detected the following elements: Elements marked in italics are noted as significant within the context of period ink recipes: carbon, iron, zinc, copper, argon, barium, calcium and potassium. EDS Spectroscopy detected presence of silicon, sulfur and aluminum. Iron and sulfur detected through XRF align with key elements in the ink’s metallic salt mordant, and indicated the use of green vitriol, aka copperas (ferrous sulfate). Aluminum and potassium appear to reflect the detection of paper sizing directly below the ink’s surface. Aluminum potassium sulfate has been used as a paper sizing agent since antiquity.(39)

Ink and paper supplies were scarce during the American Revolution, as noted historically during 1776 paper crisis in colonial America.(40) XRF detected multiple, period elements that suggested a combination of ingredients. This finding could demonstrate potential compensation for ingredient shortage due to restricted import.(41) Zinc and copper appear to indicate the additional use of white vitriol (zinc sulfate) and blue vitriol (copper sulfate) to bolster the mordant, if the supply of green vitriol was limited during this time. Calcium appeared to indicate the use of calcium carbonate to reduce the acidity of the mordant.(42)

Carbon, iron, zinc, copper and sulfur are all elements consistent with medieval through eighteenth-century colonial American writing ink. As such, the ink samples examined appear to indicate the presence of iron-based ink.

IR indicated surface contamination with a modern material, specifically Plextol d-514. Plextol d-514 is used in the manufacture of commercial products, including adhesives and plexiglass. After an extensive search, our research found no evidence of Plextol d-514 used in writing ink. This substance is also UV resistant which would prevent ink from fading. Therefore, Plextol d-514 contamination appeared to result from the document’s amateur storage in plexiglass or another source, prior to its current archival storage. (43)

An additional forensic characteristic that demonstrated how this manuscript was a working draft taken directly from the “Original with Jefferson” was discovered during the examination of the horizontal fold lines on the document. Under magnification, the horizontal fold lines (recto) were observed as convex. The writer appears to have folded the document to have one panel accessible at a time while copying the “original” placed above or beside this document. Such positioning allowed the writer to follow the text line by line, which would have ensured accuracy in copying.

The paper sizing was damaged during folding and allowed ink to wick into the fold. The ink that wicked into the surrounding fibers validated how the paper was purposefully folded prior to writing. The text at the bottom of each panel lines up neatly with its corresponding fold, acting as the edge of paper until another panel was completed and the next panel was folded down. When the inscription (verso) was written, the manuscript was folded inward at the panels which created concave folds (recto). The well-preserved condition of the transcription in contrast to the naturally aged inscription validated how the document remained folded in this manner for many years after its creation.

The following image shows distinct crease impressions in the manuscript run vertically down the center of the document. These impressions, known as witness marks, matched the crease and fold lines of the auction booklet, and confirmed Roger Sherman’s draft copy manuscript was stored within the auction booklet for an extensive period of time.

Editing and Evolution of the Text

Upon completing the physical evaluation of Sherman’s draft copy, it was important to consider this document’s unique characteristics, as an early working draft created during the Committee of Five deliberation. These characteristics appear to offer further insight into the evolution of the Declaration’s text. The following edits and alterations illuminate the drafting of the Declaration of Independence in an manner previously unknown to Declaration scholars:

Originallly, preceding the word “government” was the word “a”, which was revised and later omitted as the committee edited the document. Here, the letter “g” in “government is written on top of “a”.

This finding appears significant, as neither John Adams’ fair copy nor Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft contained the determiner “a” preceding “government” in this line of the Preamble. At first, our research team contemplated whether such an edit would hold merit and warrant further discussion. It was important to consider how editing the Declaration was methodically conducted by Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Sherman, Livingston and later by the Congressional body, for better or for worse; the latter referring to the deletion of grievances such as the anti-slavery clause post-June 28, 1776. The removal of “a” preceding the word “government” could have occurred as a deliberate attempt to distinguish “government” as an institution established by and dedicated to the people it represents, rather than “a” single entity that could be perceived with autonomy, distant from its constituents.

The editing continued with multiple capital letters that were scripted over lowercase letters, as well as the revision of a possessive pronoun: In the excerpt below, a lowercase “s” is evident underneath the capital “S” in “Secure”; a lowercase “e” is evident underneath the capital “E” in “Ends”; the word “these” was scripted over and revised the word “their”.

In this excerpt, the word “Design” contains a lowercase “d” that resides under a capital “D”. Also noteworthy, the word “evinces” was misspelled as “envinces”, which reflects the lack of standardized spelling during the eighteenth century.

In this excerpt, the word “Right” contains a lowercase “r” that resides under a capital “R”.

In this excerpt, the word “Object” contains a lowercase “o” under a capital “O”.

Over time, readers of the Declaration have discussed probable reasons for why Committee of Five members decided to capitalize seemingly random words throughout the text. Early Germanic roots of the English language demonstrate how mid-sentence capitalization was utilized to place emphasis on words, generally nouns, of significance. (44) Deliberate capitalization is exemplified in this draft, a characteristic that is maintained in the finalized Preamble. This mid-sentence capitalization was purposefully set into approximately 200 of John Dunlap’s Congressionally-approved broadsides on the eve of July 4, 1776. The intention of such capitalization was realized as the reader’s voice brought life to the Declaration after Dunlap’s broadsides traveled from his Philadelphia printing office to their respective representatives and were read aloud, including George Washington’s copy presented to his troops in New York City on July 9,1776. Roger Sherman’s draft copy has provided the first opportunity for scholars, historians and all readers to view the written contemplation of words that the authors of the Declaration desired to emphasize in the body of text and when read aloud.

This draft also includes a key word that is present in Adams’ fair copy draft, but omitted from Jefferson’s rough draft: “To prove this, let the Facts be submitted to a Candid World, for the Truth of which We pledge a Faith, (as) yet unsullied by Falsehood.” In Jefferson’s rough draft, the word “as” was already omitted. This finding appears to bolster the sequential creation of Sherman’s draft copy, taken from the “original” draft, prior to Adams’ neater, fair copy, and Jefferson’s rough draft.

Having analyzed the unique characteristics of this draft’s text, equal consideration of the inscription was necessary in contextualizing the document and the relationships of committee members with Thomas Paine.

“A beginning perhaps- Original with Jefferson - Copied from Original with T.P.’s permission”

When Adams likely inscribed “A beginning perhaps”, it appears he shared his initial impression of the text. In American English, use of the adverb “perhaps” is rather uncommon due to its formality. In British English, its use at the end of a sentence implies being open to conjecture by its user. “Perhaps” used at the beginning of a sentence notes a sense of optimism rather than pessimism.(45) This inscription on Roger Sherman’s draft copy may reflect the ideological differences that existed between Adams and Paine during July, 1776.

Perhaps”, Adams acknowledged his skepticism of the “Original” - the lost manuscript that outlined Paine’s ideology and may have originated from an individual who was not an official member of Congress. Or, “perhaps” he projected sarcasm toward Paine, which reflected their ideological dissonance but acknowledged Paine’s permission to produce a copy from the original. In years to come, Adams reflected on the importance of Paine’s written contribution to American independence when he stated, “History is to ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine.”…“Without the pen of Paine, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain.” These two sentiments from John Adams adorn Thomas Paine’s original gravesite marker in New Rochelle, NY. Our team was left contemplating whether Adams would offer one of the greatest acknowledgements in American history to his former adversary solely reflecting Paine’s contribution to the Revolution via Common Sense, or potentially because of Paine’s more active role as an contributor or advisory to the original draft of the Declaration of Independence.

This inscription’s reference to the “original” manuscript is noteworthy, as Boyd reminded us how the original was seemingly lost or destroyed during the drafting process. Interestingly, if consideration is given to Adams’ word choice, the “original with Jefferson” was not referenced as copied from “Jefferson’s original”, lacking implication of sole authorship. One might offer a counterargument, noting that an original draft penned solely by Jefferson would ultimately be in his possession. When the inscription is literally interpreted, though, Adams acknowledged the “original” draft of the Declaration of Independence was in the possession of Thomas Jefferson, with permission to copy the “original” granted by “T.P.”. Did Boyd unintentionally overlook the possibility of the “original” draft of the Declaration of Independence having been deliberately destroyed if an individual without Congressional affiliation, such as Paine, provided an initial structure? The curiosity in this inscription, specifically the need for Thomas Paine’s permission to copy the original draft, merits further discussion.

The significance of Thomas Paine’s writings, which acted as a catalyst for the American Revolution, has been well-established. It is also common knowledge that Paine was deliberately excluded from mainstream American history due to his progressive views and perspective on organized religion that distanced him from his contemporaries.

Roger Sherman’s draft copy is historically significant through its discovery as a previously unknown working draft of the Declaration of Independence, and the additional insight it offers into the early drafting process. Also, it appears to provide a window into Thomas Paine’s involvement in the American Revolution beyond Common Sense. The Sherman copy seemingly alleviates the ambiguity of Thomas Paine’s participation in the creation of the Declaration of Independence and has provided an additional platform for discussing Paine’s monumental contributions to the origins of our United States of America.

Echoing the words of Thomas Edison, “…truth is governed by natural laws and cannot be denied. Paine spoke truth with a peculiarly clear and forceful ring. Therefore, time must balance the scales.” Scholars of early American history share a responsibility to dialogue and potentially right any listing accounts of our nation’s origins, including Thomas Paine’s involvement in the founding of our democracy, for our present and future generations.

Images of the Sherman Copy Manuscript


  1. Lewis (1947); Moody, (1872); Smith & Rickards (2016); Van der Weyde (1911)

  2. Berton (2016)

  3. Runes (1948)

  4. See Boyd (1976) 446; Ibid. 447

  5. See Boyd (1950) 404-06

  6. See Willcox, W. (1982) 484-85

  7. From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 30 August 1823,” Founders Online, National Archives,

  8. Written correspondence of D. Allen and E. Sneff, via email, May 23, 2018; confirmation of results presented by D. Allen and E. Sneff to J. Scheick and G. Berton via phone conference on July 2, 2018.

9.See Allen & Sneff (2018) 357-403

  1. See Harris 376

  2. See Niles 223

  3. See Gibson 49; 312-341

  4. See Weistling 42, 51, 53, 71

  5. Written correspondence of M. Hogan, former editor of the Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society with J. Scheick via email, July 1, 2011.

  6. Gilder Lehrman Collection, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, US Congress Letter, signed by Charles Thomson, Secretary, June 21, 1776 re: founding of War Office from Board of War and Ordinance members J.Adams, R. Sherman, B. Harrison, J. Wilson & E. Rutledge.

  7. Written correspondence of E. Sneff after analyzing the text and composition of the Sherman copy, via email, May 22, 2018.

  8. See Dossena 370

  9. See Sperry 44

  10. See Hunter (1978) Rags, for making into paper 153-7.

  11. See Hunter (1978) 137

  12. See Hunter 127

  13. See Labaree 257-260

  14. Hall, Benjamin Franklin and David (2014-04-01),Three pence Colonial currency from the Province of Pennsylvania. Signed by Thomas Wharton. Printed by Benjamin Franklin and David Hall.

  15. See Hills 78

  16. See Willcox 34

  17. See Labaree 257-260

  18. See Labaree 47-60

  19. Hunter (1943) 129

  20. John Adams letter to Abigail Adams referencing the colonial paper crisis of 1776

  21. See Mellen 23-41

  22. Ibid. Mellen 23-41

  23. Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams dated April 15, 1776 in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA.

  24. See Willcox (1897) 38

  25. See Hunter (1978) Bleaching, invention of 129.

  26. noted in consultation with Research & Testing Division, Library of Congress, on March 9, 2022.

  27. Brown (2000)

  28. Kolar (2006)

  29. See Pearson 2017-24

  30. Bruckle (1993)

  31. Weeks (1916)

  32. Shields (2010)

  33. Alcantara (2012)

  34. Drozdowicz (1989)

  35. See Osselton 49

  36. Noted in researching the significance of the inscription.

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