First presented to Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), the last surviving signer of the original document, and later inscribed by his grandson-in-law John MacTavish (1787-1852), this rare document is the last of the six signers’ copies known to still be in private hands.
Commissioned by then-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in 1820, Stone’s copperplate engraving on vellum is considered the most accurate representation of the original 1776 document. This specific copy is one of two presented to Founding Father Charles Carroll of Carrollton in 1824.
The document is signed, dated, and annotated on the front, lower left corner by John MacTavish (1787-1852)—a Scottish-Canadian diplomat and businessman who served as British Consul to the State of Maryland and married Charles Carroll's granddaughter and later executrix, Emily Caton (1794/5-1867). The two inscriptions jointly elucidate how each of Charles Carroll’s two copies passed through MacTavish’s hands: One copy was presented to him by Carroll in 1826 and then gifted to the Maryland Historical Society (now the Maryland Center for History and Preservation) in 1844; this present copy presumably passed to him and his wife by descent after Carroll’s death in 1832. Though the couple primarily resided and eventually died in Maryland, John’s ancestors in Scotland, Emily’s relations in Britain, and their first son Charles Carroll’s diplomatic career in the United Kingdom all provided ample opportunity for the document’s subsequent transatlantic travel.
Prior to its discovery in an ancestral Scottish home by our Rare Books, Manuscripts & Maps Specialist, Cathy Marsden, the document had been unaccounted for for 177 years.
“It was a wonderful surprise to find the Stone facsimile unknowingly hidden in the family home,” says Marsden. “What at first glance appeared to be an unassuming old document nestled within a pile of papers, has turned out to be a fascinating and important piece of American history.”
According to Seth Kaller’s current census of the Stone facsimiles, of the original 201 copies printed, approximately 52 survive.
Says Darren Winston, head of Freeman’s Books and Manuscripts department, “I marvel that this amazing document probably left America in the mid-19th century on a sailing ship bound for the British Isles, then likely continued by horse-drawn coach or rail—or both—to Scotland, and the whole journey probably took six weeks. 177-odd years later, it was rediscovered and shipped back across the Atlantic, this time by automobile and airplane, and it took two days. That’s not just a long time between trips; that’s practically the entire history of transportation! Now, not only has it returned ‘home,’ but it is about to be offered for sale in the same city where its original owner put quill to paper on August 2, 1776, and signed his name in support of American independence.”
Though undoubtedly a symbol at the very core of American identity, the original Declaration of Independence was, in fact, signed by eight men who were not native-born Americans; James Wilson and John Witherspoon both hailed from Scotland, while many other signers—not to mention important politicians and notable figures instrumental in shaping the young country—were of Scottish descent. The present copy’s links to Scotland through both its more distant and most recent past is a reminder of just how interconnected America remained with Great Britain in spite of their newfound freedom.
Founded in 1805 mere blocks from Independence Hall, Freeman’s is America’s oldest auction house, and throughout its storied history has had the privilege of stewarding the sale of numerous historically significant items, including the 1969 sale of John Dunlap’s 1776 broadside of the Declaration of Independence, which sold for an unprecedented $404,000 ($2.97 million in today’s dollars). Freeman’s forthcoming 1 July 2021 sale continues this long-standing tradition, offering collectors the opportunity to own a piece of previously-unaccounted-for American history.
Freeman's and Lyon & Turnbull formed a strategic marketing alliance in 2000. United by a shared commitment to customer service and special focus on single-owner collections, the two companies have successfully staged a wide range of joint international projects over the last two decades including specialist auctions in Hong Kong and London as well as exhibitions and events on both sides of the Atlantic.
Lyon & Turnbull’s dedicated team of Rare Books, Manuscripts & Maps specialists have established an international reputation for their auctions, selling both through our UK auction house, and via live online auctions. Our specialists are experts not only on books and manuscripts, but also on current market conditions, an essential combination to the successful sale of fine antiquarian books, modern first editions, folios, autographed letters and important archives.