American schoolchildren always learn of the United States Declaration of Independence, printed July 4, 1776. They are also told that a copy (not the original) is on view at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C.
The same schoolchildren may or may not be told that 200 copies were printed on July 4, 1776. What they usually are not told is that at least 26 copies are known to still exist. What fascinates me is that three of those copies are held in one place: The National Archives in Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England.
Yes, The National Archives of Great Britain has more original 1776 copies than does the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
In 1776, one copy was officially entered into the Congressional Journal and the additional copies were distributed, some by horseback, throughout the colonies to be read aloud to colonists and the militia. In addition, one copy was sent to King George III. I guess the Colonials felt they should notify the King that his subjects in the 13 North American colonies were rebelling.
Two other copies came from senior officers of the British Army and Navy who were commanding troops in North America at the time. It isn’t clear if the documents were sent directly to the officers or if they obtained the copies from captured documents.
I saw the documents in Kew (a neighborhood of London) on a trip I made a few years ago. They certainly looked the same as the copy I had seen at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. a few years earlier!
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