A rare copy of the Declaration of Independence has turned up across the pond — tucked away in a records office in southern England, researchers discovered.
The document, held at the West Sussex Record Office in Chicester, UK, and dubbed “The Sussex Declaration,” apparently dates back to the 1780s, according to a press release from Harvard University.
It is believed to have once belonged to the Third Duke of Richmond, known as the “Radical Duke” for his support of the Americans during the Revolution. The historic find is on the same “ornamental scale” as the Matlack Declaration, housed in the National Archives, the release said.
Researcher Emily Sneff, of the Declaration Resources Project, was attempting to assemble a database on every known edition of the Declaration when she came across the listing in August 2015, she told The Harvard Gazette. She and Harvard Professor Danielle Allen then embarked on a two-year-long investigation of the document.
“I’d found vague descriptions of other copies of the Declaration that turned out to be 19th-century reproductions of the signed parchment in the National Archives, so that was what I was expecting,” Sneff told the paper. “What struck me as significant was that it said manuscript on parchment.”
She then contacted the archive, whose staff mailed her a disc with photos of the historic manuscript.
“When I looked at it closely, I started to see details, like names that weren’t in the right order — John Hancock isn’t listed first, there’s a mark at the top that looks like an erasure, the text has very little punctuation in it — and it’s in a handwriting I hadn’t seen before,” she added. “As those details started adding up, I brought it to Danielle’s attention and we realized this was different from any other copy we had seen.”
The signatures were also not grouped by states — which may have been a deliberate effort to argue that the authority of the Declaration rested on the nation’s people as a whole, not on a federal of states, according to the release.
In a paper, the researchers argue that the draft was likely commissioned by James Wilson of Pennsylvania — one of the original Supreme Court justices who later helped draft the Constitution, the Gazette reported.
The document was produced during a tumultuous period for the new nation, Allen told the Gazette.
“Victory was not sweet,” Allen said. “There was financial disaster, the Articles of Confederation were not working … so the 1780s were a period of great instability, despite victory. And this parchment belongs to that decade.”
The researchers will continue to study how the document reached England, as well as attempt to decipher some text that appears to be scraped away at the top of the parchment, according to the Gazette.
This article originally appeared on nypost.com