The Roger Sherman Copy of the Declaration of Independence

by Jonathan Scheick

A manuscript copy of an early version of the Declaration of Independence has emerged that appears to offer additional insight into the creation and evolution of one of our nation’s Charters of Freedom. We can refer to this document as the Sherman 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. It offers clarity to our understanding of the creation of the Declaration of Independence in June, 1776. This manuscript provides unique insight into the drafting process, via edits made while this copy was produced from the original in 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 the drafting of the Declaration is not a newly formulated hypothesis; rather, historians and scholars have debated the possibility of his direct involvement for thebetter portion of the last two centuries. Multiple authors have offered scholarly insight, including Moody (1872), Van der Weyde (1911), Lewis (1947), and more recently, Smith & Rickards (2007).(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 continue to establish Paine’s enduring mark on the origins of the American Revolution (see Berton, Petrovic, Schiaffino & Ivanov’s monumental examination of the Thomas Paine corpus - Iona College). However, Paine’s unique perspective and influence were largely overshadowed in the two centuries after his death.(2) Thomas Edison, former Vice-President of the Thomas Paine National Historical Association, remarked in his essay entitled “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 the drafting the Declaration, it was imperative to demonstrate its authenticity beyond reasonable doubt, prior to amending the historical account of our Nation’s independence. The intention of including the following comprehensive analysis of this Sherman copy was to provide a foundation upon which the necessary discussion of Thomas Paine’s rightful place in American history, and the evolution of the text of the Declaration of Independence, could proceed.

Currently, there are three surviving manuscript drafts of the Declaration of Independence, including the Sherman 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, a draft which Julian Boyd referred to as the one from which Jefferson made his rough draft, is presumed lost by scholars of the Declaration.(4) The fragment of a working draft 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 known John Adams copy, referred to as a fair copy because of its neat penmanship and organization, resides in the Massachusetts Historical Society collection. The Jefferson rough draft resides in the Library of Congress collection, which demonstrates the numerous edits made by the Committee of Five selected to draft the Declaration. This newly-discovered Sherman copy appears to have been intended first for Benjamin Franklin, then passed on to Roger Sherman, fellow Committee of Five member for his review and approval. 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.

The Declaration Resources Project at Harvard rightfully acknowledged through its monumental Declaration Database, why it was essential to distinguish these three drafts, and the partial Jefferson draft at the LOC, 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 eventually by Congress as a whole.

The Sherman Copy of the Declaration is unique; its inscription (verso) appears to demonstrate a position of authority for “T.P.”, as if copying the “original” Declaration draft necessitated permission, or at a minimum, respect through this request. It behooves scholars of early American history to address the significance of this note and contemplate whether such 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, colleagues at the Declaration Resources Project of Harvard University, under the direction of Professor 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 in the inscription, within the context of the Sherman manuscript, appear to reference Thomas Paine. Professor 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.(5) While it was acknowledged that the T.P. initials could reference an individual other than Paine, the contextual understanding of who would have been privy to the Declaration drafting process appeared to strongly favor Thomas Paine. Professor Allen graciously acknowledged her support of this manuscript and its significance by agreeing to include it in the register of Harvard’s Declaration Database during its next update.

The Sherman Copy manuscript consists of the first page of an early working draft of the Declaration of Independence, discovered folded within the pages of an estate auction booklet for General Hugh Lowrey White, a Brigadier General in the War of 1812. The estate auction booklet and Declaration draft manuscript were found within a box of discarded papers by an amateur historian in Georgia. The Declaration manuscript was brought to the attention of the Thomas Paine National Historical Association (TPNHA) to better understand its historical context and significance. This author, Professor Gary Berton, and scholars from the TPNHA, conducted a thorough analysis of the manuscript to validate its authenticity and comprehensively chronicle the events and participants surrounding the creation of the Declaration of Independence.

In order to establish provenance, a thorough genealogy was completed which established chain of possession from General Hugh Lowrey White back to Colonel Alexander Lowrey, a significant political member and signer of the Pennsylvania Constitution in 1776.

Brigadier General Hugh L. White served during the War of 1812 and later established a very profitable salt works in Kentucky. General White descended from Colonel Alexander Lowrey (b. 1726 - d. 1805), the prominent Lancaster County, PA delegate during the Declaration of Independence and Pennsylvania Constitution deliberations. Gen. Hugh Lowrey 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, a well-known fur and supply trader and ardent supporter of independence from Donegal, Pennsylvania.(6)

Colonel Alexander Lowrey was appointed to the Committee of Correspondence for Lancaster County and the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1775, serving until 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 partcipated 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.(7) This genealogy confirmed Gen. Hugh Lowrey White’s grand-uncle, Colonel Alexander Lowrey, as present at Carpenter’s Hall, on June 24, 1776 (the date 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 at this momentous occasion.(8)

Colonel Lowrey continued to have extensive involvement in the revolutionary events immediately following the Declaration of Independence as a delegate in the Constitutional Convention of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania held in Philadelphia from July 15-September 28, 1776.(9) Through this 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 could reinforce the notion that individuals outside of the Committee of Five had influence on the Declaration drafting process.

This early 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”. Two sets of distinct initials, “R.S.” and “B.F.” were written in a manner that appears to indicate approval of the initial draft. A second, dated inscription (recto) “June 24, 1776 / R. Sherman’s copy / page 1” was presumably written at a later date to chronicle the manuscript’s creation. The document measures approximately 13.5 inches by 8.5 inches, foolscap folio size, and was written in black, fading to brown ink on period, cotton rag paper.

The estate auction booklet dated August 15, 1856, was 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 12 3/8 inches by 7 7/8 inches.

The Massachusetts Historical Society confirmed that the known Adams fair copy was donated to its collection directly by the Adams family in the early 1900’s. The Adams fair copy was privately held by the Adams family prior to possession by the Massachusetts Historical Society, during which time no facsimiles were produced.(10) The first public appearance of the Adams fair copy (and the production of its first facsimile) was 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. Due to its early text state and the inaccessibility of the Adams fair copy, our research team reasonably concluded this manuscript was created shortly before the Adams fair copy during June 11-28, 1776, before the Committee of Five presented its finalized draft to Congress for debate and approval.

While Sherman’s review and approval of this initial draft is evidenced through his initials (verso), initially, the identification of the writer was not evident, which warranted an extensive forensic handwriting comparison to identify the individual. Analysis consisted of stylistic examination of distinctive writing characteristics, and evaluated all fifty six signers of the Declaration of Independence, in addition to acting secretaries and scribes relevant to this historical event. The analysis was conducted utilizing enhanced scale imaging and topical overlay to examine characteristics attributed to muscle memory, unique to each candidate. The results of this analysis led to the identification of John Adams as the likely writer of this early Declaration manuscript.

To objectively evaluate and accurately attribute handwriting, our examination considered multiple characteristics that collectively identified the writer. Each characteristic, including movement, pressure, form (i.e. simplified or embellished), connectivity, and alignment (baseline, line direction, organization) is unique to an individual and consequently provided a comprehensive analytic assessment. The following characteristics were evaluated: form (print/cursive), connectivity, space, margins (margin respect), alignment (baseline alignment), and capitals. A unique quality of this early Declaration of Independence draft is the haste in which it was taken.(11) While this undoubtedly affected writing slant, the characteristics described above remained intact. [known John Adams fair copy of the Declaration of Independence (facsimile from J. Boyd’s Declaration of Independence - The Evolution of a Text(Boyd,1945) in blue ink underlay; Sherman copy manuscript in black ink overlay]

The Sherman copy manuscript demonstrated multiple, unique handwriting characteristics that indicate both documents were written by the same writer. Most significant were characteristics that are the result of muscle memory. First, the negative space between words in the following excerpts:

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

The writer of the inscription (verso) was not immediately evident. Therefore, an additional analysis was conducted using the same methods described in the identification of the transcription writer. Features, including baseline alignment, negative space, and character formation matched features identified in the transcription and allowed our research team to conclude that writer of the inscription (verso) was also John Adams.

The manuscript’s characteristic 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.(12) This writer’s demonstrated fluency in Snell Roundhand penmanship supported a pre-1850 creation.(13)

The handwriting analysis noted this draft was not created by Roger Sherman. Rather, this manuscript was seemingly made for Sherman and other Committee members for review. Historically, we know that Sherman and other Committee of Five members simultaneously participated in various Congressional committees, and Sherman’s involvement with 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. (14) The inscription (verso), “A beginning perhaps - Original with Jefferson…” appeared to support the timeframe in which this would have happened, as well as the early draft state of the text. Sherman’s initials on the upper right corner (verso) indicated that he received, reviewed, approved this draft, and signed off on it, procedurally. The date of June 24, 1776 (recto) may indicate the date on which Sherman received the draft. 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 was conducted utilizing Roger Sherman’s “R” and “S” initials from the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence, a period reference. Comparison via light board overlay, demonstrated an excellent match, with deviation attributed to natural variation.

When this manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence was examined in person, it was evident that it was written on early, hand-made wove paper. A common presumption of scholars and historical document collectors noted that wove paper was only available to the colonies after the Revolution; this misconception may have garnered acknowledgement without considering the limited references of past paper historians, and the current technological advances that now allow for more thorough investigation into wove paper’s origins. Online digitalization of manuscripts, books, and countless historical documents within the past five years alone provided greater access to early examples of wove paper, and chronicled its presence in the colonies during the American Revolution.

The earliest wove paper this research team uncovered dated back to the late 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 produced in England occurred by 1757 in John Baskerville’s special edition of Virgil, and used wove paper created by James Whatman. Hunter reminded us, though, that wove paper had been created and used in the Orient for many years prior.(15)

Wove paper was eventually considered superior to laid paper in the latter portion of the eighteenth century because of its smooth surface and increased density. However, following its use in Europe in the late 1750s, few wire mould makers were skilled in creating wove’s more complex moulds. (16)

Wove paper made in the American colonies appeared accessible to printers in Philadelphia as early as 1773, primarily through the mould and paper maker Nathan Sellers of nearby Willcox Mill at Ivy Mills, Chester, Pennsylvania. Papermaking at the Willcox Paper Mill at Ivy Mills, as it related to the American Revolution, was incredibly significant, especially in its production of wove paper for the colonies. Nathan Sellers created woven wire moulds for wove paper at the Willcox Mill with his father and mentor John Sellers as early as 1773. Nathan continued wove mould making at Willcox until his enlistment in the Pennsylvania militia in 1776. Accordingly, the Sellers family produced wove moulds for papermaking in the American colonies as early as 1773. Hunter documented John Sellers’ purchase of wove wire for mould making as early as 1773 through a letter from George Escol Sellers, grandson of Nathan Sellers. This letter noted John Sellers’ order of both laid and woven mould wire at that time. (17) Nathan Sellers manufactured woven wire moulds at Willcox until he enlisted in Colonel John Paschall’s Flying Camp of Pennsylvania militiamen at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Sellers’ enlistment was brief, as he was ordered withdrawn from his military service by a resolution of Congress because of the need for his unique skill in creating woven moulds for paper, eventually used to print Continental currency. Through Sellers’ efforts and expertise, Willcox Mill became the exclusive provider of paper for Continental currency. ((18)

Mark Willcox, son of Ivy Mills founder & owner Thomas Wilcox, began managing operations at Ivy Mill in approximately 1772 after his father’s retirement. In addition to creating paper for printed materials, ledger books and writing, Mark Willcox was authorized by Congress on May 10, 1775 to produce wove paper for Continental currency using the Sellers’ wove moulds. (19)

A misconception of the origin of wove paper in the American colonies appears to have originated when scholars began to reference the time period in which “wove” was used to describe paper type. Prior, the term “wove” was not readily mentioned in relation to papermaking or directly linked to the paper. Rather, it described the mould and the woven wire used, as it was finer than laid wire. The earlier term “vellum paper” was first used to describe wove paper due to the finely woven “brass vellum” (brass wire cloth) that produced a smooth, vellum-like surface. In subsequent years, “wove” was more commonly used to describe this paper type as distinct from laid. (20)

One of the earliest uses of “wove” as a descriptive term for paper type was by papermaking entrepreneur Henry Fourdrinier. In his July 24,1806 patent for the Fourdrinier papermaking machine, Fourdrinier described the following: “The method of making a machine for paper of indefinite length, laid and wove, with separate mould . . . a number of moulds, of the description called laid or wove, any number of which (being of the same size or denomination) are capable of forming one long mould, in which situation the said moulds are hooked or fastened together.” (21) By the early nineteenth century, wove paper was considered superior to laid paper and had begun to replace its use in correspondence. (22)

Having established the origins of wove paper in the American colonies with clarity, it was imperative to understand how the Committee of Five members had direct access to woven wire paper. Committee member Benjamin Franklin had a decades-long personal and professional friendship with Thomas Wilcox, owner of the Willcox Paper Mill at Ivy Mills, and visited the Willcox mill frequently. (23) According to an article published by John Willcox outlining the history of the Willcox Paper Mill at Ivy Mills, Thomas Willcox supplied the paper for Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia newspaper early in their mutual friendship, and Franklin is credited for initiating the first orders of paper for colonial and Continental currency through Thomas Willcox and Ivy Mills. On June 23, 1775, Franklin was appointed to a congressional committee to have printing plates engraved and to supply proper paper necessary for printing Continental currency. (24) Joseph WIllcox reported seeing examples of Continental currency printed on American wove paper from Willcox Paper Mill as early as 1775. (25)

In the History of Delaware County, H. G. Ashmead stated, “Up to the time of the Revolution the paper for the money of all the colonies, from Massachusetts to the Carolinas, was manufactured by Thomas Willcox at his Ivy Mill; after which followed, out of the same mill, the paper for the Continental currency.” (26)

Interestingly, wove paper was used in currency printing 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. (27)

As such, Franklin’s access to wove paper in Pennsylvania dated as early as 1764, potentially earlier. Benjamin Franklin possessed and used wove paper in the American colonies during the Revolution, and introduced wove paper to France around 1777. (28)

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 or 1/20 of a ream) if I could get a convenance.” (29) Joseph Willcox notes paper was so scarce at this time that “fly-leaves were torn from printed works and blank leaves from account books for letter writing.” (30)

Wove paper was primarily made for printing and record keeping; initially intended for currency, printed books, written account books and ledgers, not initially as correspondence paper. Incidentally, the emergency shortage of paper in 1776 necessitated its use for all needs. Forensic evidence of torn kettle stitch binding marks demonstrated how the sheet of paper upon which Adams copied this early Declaration draft from the original was removed from an account ledger book containing wove paper, consistent with John Adams’ account of the American colonies’ paper shortage in 1776.

The paper size of the Sherman Copy of the Declaration confirmed its origins as its dimensions corresponded with period printing paper, different in size from period correspondence paper. Foolscap sizes were based upon eighteenth century English standards for paper manufacture. American made paper in the nineteenth century adopted a unique standard, and subsequently differed in size from the English standards. Accordingly, wove paper made in the 1770s, whether imported or produced by the Sellers at Willcox Paper Mill, followed the English standards of measurement.

Foolscap folio sized paper for printing measured 13.5 inches in length and 8.5 inches in width. Foolscap folio sized correspondence paper measured 13.25 inches in length and 8.25 inches in width. Full sized foolscap printing paper was produced at a size of 13.5 inches by 17.0 inches, then halved into foolscap folio size of 13.5 inches by 8.5 inches for printing and ledger books. Correspondence paper was produced at a full size of 13.25 by 16.5, halved into 13.25 inches in length by 8.25 inches in width. (31)

A partial watermark was discovered in the upper, left margin (recto) of the manuscript. When analyzed with light board illumination, it proved difficult to discern. Further investigation of the watermark is warranted, and could be compared to existing examples in the Gravell Watermark Archive to determine whether the paper was imported or created in the colonies. While records indicated wove paper being produced in the American colonies by John and Nathan Sellers as early as 1773, Hunter asserted the difficulty in ascertaining how much earlier wove was introduced into the American colonies via import. The previously referenced 1764 colonial currency printed by Franklin on wove paper provided a more concrete introductory date.

Microscopic analysis of the Sherman copy manuscript paper confirmed it consists of cotton and linen bast fibers. 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 and linen rag pulp in the mid-nineteenth century. Historically, 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, fabric from which was later recycled and turned into rag pulp for paper manufacture. (32) Ultraviolet light examination was negative for fluorescence or 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. (33)

The Sherman copy’s ink presented as black, fading to brown, color with ink degradation prevalent throughout the document, indicating the ink has aged over an extended period of time. Ink analysis was conducted by a consulting scientist at a leading research institution. X-ray flourescence spectroscopy (XRF) and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) measured elemental composition of the ink and Infrared spectroscopy (IR) identified potential surface contaminants.(34) It is important to note that these findings represent 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.

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/or 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)

Iron and sulfur detected in the XRF point to key elements in the ink’s metallic salt mordant, indicating the use of green vitriol, aka copperas (ferrous sulfate). Aluminum and potassium could reflect detection of the paper sizing directly below the ink’s surface. Aluminum potassium sulfate has been used since antiquity as a paper sizing agent.(38)

Ink and paper supplies were scarce during the American Revolution, as noted historically during 1775-76 paper crisis in colonial America.(39) XRF detected multiple, period elements that appeared to indicate a combination of ingredients; potential compensation for lack of ink ingredients due to restricted import.(40) Zinc and copper indicate the additional use of white vitriol (zinc sulfate) and blue vitriol (copper sulfate) to bolster the mordant, especially if the supply of green vitriol was limited during this time.

Calcium indicated the use of calcium carbonate to reduce the acidity of the mordant.(41) 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 period, 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. (42)

A key element in exemplifying how this manuscript was a working copy 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. It appeared that Adams folded the document to have one panel accessible at a time while copying the “original”, placed either above or beside this document. Such positioning allowed Adams to follow the text line by line and ensured accuracy in copying.

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

In the following image, distinct crease impressions in the manuscript run vertically down the center of the document. These impressions matched the crease and fold lines of the auction booklet, and confirmed this manuscript was stored specifically within the auction booklet for an extensive period of time.

Editing and Evolution of the Text

After the Sherman copy manuscript’s authenticity was ascertained, it was important to consider this document’s unique characteristics, used as an early working draft during the Committee of Five deliberation. Multiple sections offered further insight into the drafting process, through edits and alterations in the text: preceding the word “government” was the word “a”, which was revised and later omitted as the writer continually edited the document.

This finding appeared significant, as neither the known Adams Copy nor the Jefferson Rough Draft contained the determiner “a” preceding “government” in this line of the preamble. At first glance, we wondered why such an edit would hold merit worthy of further discussion; our research team had to consider though, how the editing of the Declaration was methodically completed by Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, 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). A probable conclusion for the removal of “a” preceding the word “government” could have been a deliberate attempt by Adams 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 over-scripted lowercase letters, as well as the revision of a possessive pronoun: In the excerpt below, a lowercase “s” was evident underneath the over-scripted “S” in “Secure”; a lowercase “e” was evident underneath the over-scripted “E” in “Ends”; the word “their” resides underneath the over-scripted, revised word “these”.

In this excerpt, the word “Design” contained a lowercase “d” that resides under an over-scripted “D”. Also noteworthy, the word “evinces” was misspelled as “envinces”, which reflected lack of standardized spelling during this time period.

In this excerpt, the word “Right” contained a lowercase “r” that resides under an over-scripted “R”.

In this excerpt, the word “Object” contained a lowercase “o” that was over-scripted with an “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 demonstrated how capitalization of letters mid-sentence was utilized to place emphasis on significant words. (43) Throughout the Declaration, especially in this manuscript, nouns were selected to emphasize words of significance; a characteristic that is evident in the Preamble. Capitalization survived the written drafts, into John Dunlap’s official print on the eve of July 4. As the approximately two hundred broadsides traveled from Dunlap’s print shop to their respective locations and representatives, including George Washington’s copy read to his troops on July 9 in New York City, the intention of this capitalization was realized as the reader’s voice brought life to the Declaration. This manuscript draft has provided the first opportunity to view the contemplation of words the Declaration’s authors felt should hold emphasis within the body of text and when read aloud.

This draft also included a key word that was omitted from the known Jefferson rough draft, but was present in the Adams fair 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 his rough draft’s pre-edit state, Jefferson already omitted the word “as”. This finding further bolstered the sequential nature of this manuscript, as Adams created it from the “original” prior to his neater, fair copy, and before Jefferson’s rough draft.

Considering the inscription on the verso:

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

When Adams inscribed “A beginning perhaps” as his initial impression of the manuscript, his note may have reflected the ideological differences that existed between Adams and Paine during that time. “Perhaps”, Adams acknowledged his skepticism of the “Original”; the lost manuscript that outlined Paine’s ideology and originated from an individual who was not an official member of Congress. Or, “perhaps” he noted a hint of sarcasm, a playful jab at Paine which reflected their ideological dissonance, but acknowledged Paine’s permission to produce a copy from the original.

This inscription’s reference to the “original” manuscript is again noteworthy, as Boyd reminded us how the lost original was seemingly destroyed during the drafting process. Interestingly, if careful consideration is given to Adams’ word choice, the “original with Jefferson” was not referenced as “Jefferson’s original”. If the inscription is interpreted as written, 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.”.

The significance of Paine’s writings as a catalyst for the American Revolution has been well-established. It is also common knowledge that Thomas Paine was deliberately excluded from mainstream American history due to his progressive views and his anti-religious perspective that distanced him from his contemporaries. This manuscript allows us greater insight into Thomas Paine’s involvement in the American Revolution beyond Common Sense, as it seemingly alleviates the ambiguity of Paine’s participation in the creation of the Declaration of Independence. The Sherman copy has provided an additional platform for discussing Paine’s monumental contributions to the origins of our United States of America.

Again, 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 manuscript copy - recto & verso


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

  1. Berton, G. (2016)

  2. Edison & Runes (1948)

  3. Boyd, p.446; Ibid. 447

  4. 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.

  5. Harris, p. 376

  6. Niles, p. 223

  7. Gibson, p. 49; p.312-341

  8. Weistling, p.42; 51; 53; 71

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

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

  11. Dossena, p. 370

  12. Sperry, p. 44

  13. 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.

  14. Hunter, p. 127

  15. Hunter, p. 132

  16. Hunter, p. 129

  17. Hunter, (1952) p. 131

  18. Willcox, p.34

  19. Hunter, (1978) p. 129

  20. Wyatt, p. 321,325

  21. Hunter, (1978) p. 130

  22. Willcox, p. 34

  23. Willcox, p. 36-37

  24. Willcox (1911) p. 46

  25. Willcox, (1897) p. 34

  26. Benjamin Franklin and David Hall/File:US-Colonial (PA-115)-Pennsylvania-18 Jun 1764.jpg/Wikimedia Commons 85

  27. Hunter, (1943) p.124; ibid. 128; Hills, p. 78 provides an additional reference for Franklin exhibiting wove paper to France in 1777.

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

  29. Willcox, (1897) p. 38

  30. Hunter, (1978). p. 137

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

  32. Hunter, (1978) Bleaching, invention of, p. 129.

  33. Pearson, p. 2017-24

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

  35. Brown, (2000)

  36. Kolar, (2006)

  37. Bruckle, (1993)

  38. Weeks, (1916)

  39. The Printing Museum, (2019)

  40. Alcantara, (2012)

  41. Drozdowicz,(1989)

  42. Osselton, p. 49