The original declaration was signed on 4 July 1776, officially declaring the 13 colonies independent from Great Britain. The only previously known surviving ceremonial parchment copy of the document is housed in the American National Archives in Washington DC, but now a second has been found in a most unassuming place, at Chichester’s West Sussex County Council.
Ceremonial parchment copies of the declaration were displayed in the US following the birth of the nation. Over the past year, the Chichester copy has undergone a series of extensive testing in collaboration with the US Library of Congress and Harvard University, which have concluded that the document is authentic.
Researchers have uncovered that the declaration was written in the States, probably in Philadelphia or New York.
“This was an incredibly surprising discovery; we thought that there was only one,” Harvard’s Danielle Allen tells the BBC. “We didn’t expect much, but we asked for a picture and we were blown away when we got a photo of the image, which was unlike any other version of the declaration we have seen.”
The pinnacle document of American history, its second sentence is one of the most recognisable in the world: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The question remains as to how the historical treasure ended up in Chichester. This is what the team is now hoping to uncover as their research continues.