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A Relic Comes To Light

April 2023
1min read

For the last few years people wandering through the county courthouse in White Plains, New York, could stop for a moment and take a look at what appeared to be a dingy reproduction of an early copy of the Declaration of Independence. The copy had been turned over to the county by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It hung on a pillar and was regularly drenched with water by cleaning women. It did not look like much, and nobody paid it a great deal of attention.

But last year, when the old courthouse was replaced by a new one, the County Executive, Alfred DelBello, suggested that it might be a good idea to have the copy checked by experts; perhaps it was valuable.

It was. The document is one of the oldest existing copies of the Declaration of Independence and is worth about a quarter of a million dollars.

In early July of 1776 there was a British fleet off Manhattan, and the New York Provincial Congress had fled to White Plains. Loyalist sentiment was strong in the colony, and the congress paltered and hesitated before finally adopting the Declaration of Independence on July 9; New York was the last colony to do so. At that time five hundred copies of the Declaration were run off and posted on trees, fences, and taverns, where they stayed until time or the Tories destroyed them. The White Plains copy is one of only three known to have survived.

A few days later the Declaration was read aloud from the steps of the court-house in White Plains by John Thomas, the sheriff of Westchester, and was seconded by Michael Varian and Samuel Crawford of Scarsdale. Within a year those three men were dead, victims of the violence that the war unleashed in Westchester.

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