Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: the Declaration of Independence at the Old State House

MS0119/DC973.313
On July 18, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was read by Thomas Crafts from the balcony of the Old State House to the crowds of Bostonians gathered below. After the reading, enthusiastic members of the crowd climbed up to the lion and unicorn statues that sat atop of the Old State House, removed them, and burned them in a bonfire on King Street.

The words of the Declaration stirred the crowd, and we are thrilled to have an official copy of it in our archival collection.  A facsimile of this document is on display in our Colony to Commonwealth exhibit, but due to the large size and delicate nature of the original document, it is very rarely displayed.  Writing about it on our blog is a way to share this important and rare document with our visitors near and far.

The text of the Declaration of Independence was first set in type by John Dunlap of Philadelphia.  It was then quickly spread throughout the thirteen colonies to be shared with the public via broadsides and newspapers.  It appeared in newspapers in Boston on July 18, the same day that it was read from the balcony of the Old State House. John Gill, publisher of the Continental Journal, and Edward E. Powars and Nathaniel Willis, publishers of the New-England Chronicle, printed versions in their respective newspapers, and then they also co-printed a run of broadsides.  The item in our collection is one of these original broadsides; at the very bottom of the broadside you can see the attribution to John Gill, and Powars and Willis.

According to an article written by Christie's Auction House, it is unknown how many broadsides were printed by Gill, Powars, and Willis, but there are only six known copies still in existence. Broadsides were ephemeral in nature, meaning that they were temporary documents that were printed for a specific purpose and were not necessarily meant to be saved.  We feel very lucky that the version in our collection is still in very good condition. 

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager