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Timothy Matlack: The Penman Behind the Declaration

The creation of the parchment Declaration of Independence marked a pivotal moment in American history, as it solidified the united stance of the 13 American colonies. On July 19, 1776, after receiving unanimous approval from all 13 colonies, Congress ordered the Declaration to be "fairly engrossed on parchment." The term "engross" refers to the act of writing in a large, clear hand, ensuring the document's durability and readability for future generations. This crucial task fell to Timothy Matlack, an accomplished penman and assistant to the Secretary of the Congress.


The official signing of the Declaration occurred on August 2, 1776, an event meticulously documented in the journal of the Continental Congress. The delegates signed the parchment Declaration according to their respective states, starting with the northernmost state and proceeding southward. John Hancock, who served as the President of the Congress, famously placed his bold and prominent signature first, while the remaining delegates followed suit.


Some delegates added their signatures in the days following August 2, as not all could be present on that historic day. George Washington, for instance, was notably absent, as he was with his troops, actively engaged in the struggle for American independence.


Timothy Matlack, the skilled penman entrusted with the task of engrossing the Declaration, was a notable figure himself. Born in Haddonfield, New Jersey, in 1736, Matlack was a versatile individual, known not only for his calligraphy skills but also for his roles as a brewer, merchant, and public servant. His careful penmanship ensured the clarity and longevity of the Declaration for posterity.


The parchment used for the document was specially prepared for this significant occasion. Parchment, made from animal skin, was meticulously treated and smoothed to create a durable and long-lasting surface for the writing. This attention to detail ensured that the text and signatures would withstand the test of time.


In total, 56 delegates ultimately added their names to the parchment Declaration of Independence, signifying their unwavering commitment to the principles and ideals outlined in this historic document. Their signatures represented not only their personal dedication to the cause of liberty but also the collective resolve of the American colonies to assert their independence from British rule. The parchment Declaration, adorned with these signatures, remains an enduring symbol of American freedom and self-determination, inspiring generations to come.


Submitted by: Raymond E. Foster

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