Yes, declarations is plural in the title of this week’s post. The story that follows is another fun example of how we learn more about our collections, the expected and the unexpected. The subject of this puzzle first hit our “to do” list several months ago when identifying library treasures to rotate into MdHS’s “Inventing a Nation” exhibit. Charles Carroll of Carrollton’s facsimile copy of the declaration of independence was among the top choices, a luminously textured vellum document, meticulously created by engraver William Stone in 1823. Impressive thus far, but it is, after all, just a copy. Look closer, however, and in the lower left-hand corner is Carroll’s inscription, with signature, dated August 2, 1826, fifty years to the day that the Continental Congress put their names to the final copy of the Declaration of Independence, the paper by which they committed high treason against Britain. And that is the “wow” factor:
“Presented to his friend John MacTavish, Esq. by the only surviving signer of this important state paper exactly half a century after having affixed his name to the original document. Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Doughoregan Manor, 1826 August second”
We quickly identified MacTavish as Carroll’s grand-son-in-law, husband of Emily Caton, youngest daughter of Mary (Carroll) and Richard Caton. MacTavish, born in Scotland, served as the British Consul to the State of Maryland. The Mactavish family stayed in Baltimore County, close to Carroll, and he named Emily executor of his estate. When did the document come into the MdHS collections? We assumed (typically a mistake) that it came in with the Carroll-MacTavish Papers (MS220), but it did not and one of our intrepid archivists searched the society’s early acquisition ledgers and found that MacTavish donated a “copy of the Declaration of Independence” on December 5, 1844, the closing month of the society’s first year. The entry on the following line records Emily MacTavish’s donations of additional Carroll material.
Complementing part one of this story, we also have the 1824 Congressional resolution authorizing two hundred copies of Stone’s engraving be distributed in the manner following, “two copies to each of the surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence, . . .”(1) Carroll’s copy of this document is also personalized, with President John Quincy Adams’s letter to Carroll and the aging statesman’s reply—a neat and clear result.
Why is this copy of the great state paper so valuable and why did Congress commission an exact copy? The document we are all familiar with today is not the draft created in July 1776. Committing the treasonous act endangered those who declared independence and they did not sign their names. The first broadsides issued bore only President John Hancock’s and Secretary Charles Thomson’s names. Congressional secretary Timothy Matlack penned the now-recognizable text on a sheet of vellum and the delegates gathered to sign it on August 2, nearly a month after the first draft went to the printer. Still cautious, Congress withheld the names of the signers until January 1777. The document then traveled with the new government. Repeated rolling and unrolling, sunlight, humidity, and thirty-five years on the Department of State wall severely damaged the already iconic document. In 1820, then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, via congressional resolution, commissioned William J. Stone to create an exact copy. Engraved on a copper plate over a three year period and printed on vellum, Stone printed two hundred copies in 1823, making Carroll’s surviving copy and supporting pieces of the story profoundly important. But where is his second copy?
Our previously mentioned intrepid archivist found reference to Carroll signing another declaration the following year, at his ninety-first birthday dinner. “On this occasion Mr. Robert Gilmor obtained Mr. Carroll’s signature, dated at ‘Doughoregan Manor, 20th September, 1827’ to a facsimile copy of the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Gilmor afterward valued this relic very highly.”(2) The information came from an 1891 newspaper article summarizing the Maryland Historical Society’s recent meeting and discussion of local historian and collector John Thomas Scharf’s papers.(3)
If this was Carroll’s second copy, where is it? And, after more than sixty years was the information in the article correct? Did Gilmor attend the party? We found confirmation in the letters of Henry Gilpin who included a description of Gilmor raising a toast to Carroll.(4)
Gilmor, renowned art and autograph collector, died in 1848 leaving papers to the MdHS and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. His art and autograph ledger does not note the Stone facsimile.(5) Cross checking through Gilmor’s diary we learned that the last months of 1827 are missing. Complicating the question, the facsimile copy may not have been a Stone.(6) Clues abound and the search continues to learn more about the events at Carroll’s birthday dinner. We are sending queries to repositories with Gilmor holdings and checking the papers of other known guests, and will post updates on the search for Carroll’s second Stone. (Patricia Anderson)
Dr. Patricia Dockman Anderson specializes in U.S and Maryland History, Nineteenth Century; Social and Cultural History; Catholic History; and Civil War Civilians. She has served as a member of the History Advisory Council for the Women’s Industrial Exchange, the Baltimore History Writers Group, and the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. Dr. Anderson is the Director of Publications and Library Services for the Maryland Historical Society, editor of the Maryland Historical Magazine, and a professor at Towson University.
(1) John Quincy Adams to Charles Carroll, June 24, 1824, MS 1814, MdHS.
(2) Baltimore Sun, January 23, 1891. The MdHS, as did other cultural organizations, often published meeting reports/minutes in the newspapers.
(3) The letter detailing Carroll’s dinner is said to be among Scharf’s papers. The papers are in multiple repositories, including the MdHS, Eisenhower Library (JHU), and the Maryland State Archives.
(4) Ralph D. Gray and Gerald R. Hardagen, “A Glimpse of Baltimore Society in 1827,” Letters by Henry D. Gilpin, Maryland Historical Magazine, 69 (1974): 256–70.
(5) Autograph catalogue, Gilmor Papers, MS 2687, MdHS.
(6) Engravers Taylor and Binn also printed versions of the Declaration: email correspondence with Seth Kaller and Catherine Nicholson; see also www.sethkaller.com for complete list and Nicholson’s articles in Prologue [and forthcoming MdHS News]. Seth Kaller, historic documents and rare books dealer has compiled a list of the surviving Stones and found one with the Carroll Foundation. Catherine Nicholson, National Archives, has also done extensive work and notes that the foundation bought their copy in the 1990s.