Harvard researchers find rare 18th-century American document

U.S. history buffs recently received some exciting and unexpected news: a second parchment manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence has been found in Chichester, England, reports the New York Times.

Before the discovery was announced, the only handwritten parchment copy believed to exist was the official version from 1776 that is currently held at the National Archives.

The find was made by a pair of Harvard University researchers, Emily Sneff and Danielle Allen, who had been working to catalog the different 18th-century incarnations of the Declaration as part of an effort called the Declaration Resources Project.

Sneff reportedly spotted an archival notation about the U.K. copy, and when she and Allen went to the West Sussex Record Office where it was said to be located, they were able to confirm its authenticity, notes Atlas Obscura.

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The recently discovered document, whose origin has since been dated to the 1780s and traced to New York or Philadelphia, appears to have some similarities and differences with the one created in 1776. Both measure 24″ × 30″ but the later one is oriented horizontally.

A press release issued by the university also points out that "In contrast to all other 18th century versions of the Declaration, on this parchment, the list of signatories was not grouped by states."

Sneff and Allen attribute this change to a nationalist faction which the release says believed "that the authority of the Declaration rested on a unitary national people, and not on a federation of states."

In fact, one of the most vocal members of this group is the one who is suspected of commissioning the copy, a lawyer named James Wilson, notes the Times.

The two researchers are in the process of finalizing a paper about their findings; they are also continuing to work with U.S. and British officials to examine the parchment further using non-invasive methods.