For as long as the United States has been a country, it’s been taken for granted that there was only one, original, handwritten, parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence. How else would Nicolas Cage know which one to steal?
Well, it’s more complicated now, because Emily Sneff and Danielle Allen, two Harvard researchers, have announced the discovery of a second parchment copy of the Declaration that’s been hiding out in a tiny records office in southern England, of all places.
The researchers believe the copy dates back to the 1780s and may have been owned by the Duke of Richmond, who was known as “the radical duke” because he supported the Americans during the War for Independence.
Other than that, we don’t know much! The copy contains the same signatures as the one in the National Archives, though in a different order.
The copy may have been created in New York or Philadelphia, but who exactly made it and why remain mysteries.
However, there’s reason to believe that the copy was commissioned by James Wilson of Pennsylvania, who would help write the Constitution and was one of the original Supreme Court justices.
That may explain why the name are in a different order. In the original Declaration, the signatures are grouped by state. Wilson, however, was a believer in what we might today call “big government,” and may have wanted the signatures placed randomly to send a message emphasizing the “United” part of the “United States.