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R.I.’s copies of the Declaration of Independence were nearly destroyed. The state restored them. Take a look

The $16,800 restoration uncovered a surprise on the back of Rhode Island’s copy of the document

One of the original 13 copies of the Declaration of Independence that was signed by John Hancock and sent to the colonies during the early days of the Revolutionary War in 1777. This copy was restored in 2018 through a delicate process that cost $16,800 and took 14 weeks to complete. It's housed at the Rhode Island State Archives.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — John Hancock supposedly made his signature on the Declaration of Independence large so that the King of England could read it without special assistance. While the Declaration of Independence is housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., as the president of the Continental Congress, he also forwarded what’s known as the second printing of the Declaration to each of the 13 colonies for their endorsements.

Rhode Island received its copy on January 31, 1777. It was then entered into the proceedings of the Rhode Island General Assembly.

It was then signed by two representatives of the colony. The first was Stephen Hopkins, who was previously governor of Rhode Island, who had to steady one hand with the other as he signed. It’s said that while signing, he said, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.”


Stephen Hopkins and William Ellery were selected as Rhode Island's two representatives in Congress and both signed the Declaration of Independence.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The second signature was by William Ellery, whose signature is nearly as large as Hancock’s. Ellery would go on to become twenty-third Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

But unlike the official copy in Washington, D.C., Rhode Island’s copy has a woman’s name on it as well. At the bottom of the document is printed: “Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katherine Goddard.”

First printed by a Philadelphia print shop owned by John Dunlap on July 4, 1776, after being approved by Congress that day a second printing was authorized to be done byConnecticut native and printer Mary Katherine Goddard, who lived in Baltimore at the time. She was also a postmaster to the Second Continental Congress in Baltimore, and it’s said that she could have been the first female postmaster in the colonies, according to the Smithsonian Museum. Her brother went on to start the Providence Gazette, among other newspapers.

Rhode Island's original copy of the second printing of the Declaration of Independence before it was restored in 2018.Rhode Island State Archives

Goddard was a revolutionary woman for her time, publishing statements under pen name “Britannicus” criticizing the British parliament for their taxes on the colonies.


This second printing is particularly important because it was the first time that the names of each signer were made public. And Rhode Island’s State Archives still holds four versions of the Declaration, including the second printing by Goddard.

After years of being stored in an outdated case, the second printing document itself became fragile and brittle, and was hidden from public view. It wasn’t until 2018, under Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who oversees the State Archives, that the document selected to be restored.

The State Archives partnered with the Northeast Document Conservation Center, which “rescues” all sorts of historical records throughout New England. To restore the document, they had to remove the excess lining on the back and the fragments of the document that had been torn off previously had to be matched up like a puzzle.

After 14 weeks of delicate restoration, and at a cost of $16,800, the project was complete.

This copy was restored in 2018, which costed $16,800 in a delicate process that took 14 weeks to complete.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The document was then returned to the state’s care in specially designed archival housing, which is acid-free, UV-filtered on the inside, and provides protection from light, dust, pests, and environmental risks. The new casing also allows the back of the document to be viewed, showing the date it was originally received by the Rhode Island General Assembly.

Prior to 2018, the state archives did not know what the back of the document said, but did know that there was writing on the back, according to state archivist Ashley Selima.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.