Rare parchment American Declaration of Independence found in Chichester records office

The Sussex Declaration. West Sussex Record Office Add Mss 8981.
The Sussex Declaration. West Sussex Record Office Add Mss 8981.

A priceless copy of the American Declaration of Independence has been unearthed at the West Sussex Records Office in Chichester.

Named ‘The Sussex Declaration’, the manuscript is only the second known parchment version of the declaration in existence alongside the Matlack Declaration in the National Archives.

The Sussex Declaration. West Sussex Record Office Add Mss 8981. Photo by Danielle Allen

The Sussex Declaration. West Sussex Record Office Add Mss 8981. Photo by Danielle Allen

The parchment dating from the 1780s has been identified by Harvard scholars with work now underway to compare it with other documents.

It is thought the West Sussex version originally belonged to the Third Duke of Richmond, nicknamed the ‘Radical Duke’ for his support of the American Revolution.

Harvard researchers Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff have said the manuscript is American and was most likely produced in New York or Philadelphia.

The parchment had been held at the West Sussex Records Office for several years, but the full significance of what it might be was not known until 2015, when researchers on the look out for copies got in touch.

Wendy Walker, West Sussex County Archivist, said: “We are looking forward to seeing the results of the hyperspectral imaging work and other analyses later in the summer.

“We are delighted to be working with Harvard, the Library of Congress and the British Library to find out more about this fascinating document and welcome this interest in the West Sussex archives.”

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