People Who Have Uncovered the Declaration of Independence In Random Places

By: Kate Row | Published: Nov 02, 2023

There were only 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence ever printed. Extra copies were made because the founding fathers were concerned about preserving the historical document. These copies were distributed to the founding fathers and overtime, many have been lost.

However, there are some incredible discoveries of these copies that have popped up all over the world! These lucky few people have found copies of the Declaration of Independence in their own homes!

A rare discovery

There are only 200 total copies of the Declaration ever made. They were printed by a man named William Stone who was commissioned by John Quincy Adams, the secretary of state in 1920.


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The copies were made to preserve the history of the document. As such, it is unbelievably rare to find a copy of one of the most historically significant documents of all time.


Cathy Marsden

Cathy Marsden is an auction-house specialist of Lyon & Turnbull. She lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. She works as the assistant head of the department of rare books and manuscripts as well as maps and photography.


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She specializes in 19th and 20th century photography. In addition, she is also the point of contact for queries about buying and selling items at auction. Little did Cathy know, she would be in for an exciting and historic surprise.

Cathy found a copy in her home

While Cathy was looking through piles of old papers in her home, she came across a folded document that looked a lot like the Declaration of Independence. Thankfully, Cathy’s experience with historic texts made her realize the significance of this find.


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She completed extensive research to make sure it was indeed what she thought it was. She was able to discover that it was Chrles Carroll’s copy of the document.

She brought it to auction

She worked with Freeman’s, an auction house in Philadelphia to bring the document to auction. Freeman’s is a sister company of Lyon & Turnbull, so it was as if she was destined to find the document and share it with the world.


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She worked specifically with Darren Winston, a specialist based in Philadelphia, to auction it off. Together, they sold one of the very few copies of the Declaration of Independence. That is quite a resume booster!

It sold for about $4.5 million

The document sold for a whopping $4,420,000. This is actually almost 5 times what Freeman’s had estimated it would go for. This made it the highest selling copy of the Declaration made by Stone.


Unfortunately the mysterious buyer elected to remain anonymous so we don’t know who now owns this historic piece of paper. We hope they are taking good care of it, regardless.


History of the Declaration

The 200 copies of the declaration have Stone’s engraving. Charles Carroll was given 2 copies of the document. He happened to be the last survivor of the 56 people who originally signed the Declaration of Independence.


When Carroll died in 1832 he passed the copy on to his grandson-in-law John MacTavish, who married Carroll’s granddaughter Emily Caton. MacTavish signed the document himself.


Bringing it to Scotland

The document made its way to Scotland because it was sold to a Scottish family. Since it was sold to this family there was no sign of it for 177 years. Researchers thought that it was lost. That is, until Cathy found it in the Scottish home!

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She originally thought it was nothing special. She said it “appeared to be an unassuming old document nestled within a pile of papers”. That “unassuming old paper” turned out to be an incredible historic discovery.


Speculating how it got there

Researchers speculate that the document is most likely transported on a sailing ship to the British Isles. From there it was placed in a horse-drawn carriage or train. They guess that it probably took about 6 weeks to get from A to B.

While it is impossible to confirm with certainty how the copy made it from Philadelphia to Scotland, researchers have a pretty good idea that this is how it made its way to Cathy’s home.


About Charles Carroll

Charles Carroll was a founding father who was a very early advocate for the independence of the Thirteen American Colonies. As the last survivor of all the signers of the Declaration, the discovery of one of his copies was extremely rare.

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Carroll represented the state of Mryland at the Continental Congress. He also happened to be the only Catholic signer and served on the war board.


Cathy Marsden is not the only one who has found a copy of the Declaration

Michael O’mara discovered a different copy of the Declaration of Independence! Like Cathy Marsden, this was a complete and total surprise to him. When he found the document he first thought it was worthless.


But he couldn’t have been more wrong. His family used to display it on the mantelpiece but he moved it into a bedroom close, thinking it was nothing special.


Whose copy of the Declaration is it?

Former president of the United States, James Madison, received 2 copies of the Declaration. It was widely thought that this copy had not survived all these years. In reality, it had actually been held by a family in Texas for years.

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Interestingly, James Madison was considered a founding father but he, himself, did not actually sign the Declaration. This copy was discovered in 2014 by Michael O’Mara. 


How did it get to the O’Mara family?

The document had been given to Michael O’Mara’s mother. She is a descendant of Robert Lewis Madison, who is James Madison’s nephew.

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Apparently, Robert Lewis Madison was James Madison’s favorite nephew so the copy was passed down to him. From there, it was passed down to Robert Madison’s son, Robert Lewis Madison Jr. He served in the Confederate army during the civil war.


Where was it found

The document was found in Michael O’Mara’s family home in Houston, Texas. Madison Jr.’s wife hid the Declaration copy in the wallpaper of the home while the conflict was going on.


She was worried it would be taken or damaged by Union soldiers during the Civil War conflicts and wanted to preserve the important piece of paper. 


It was Sold

The copy was authenticated and conservationists spent tons of hours improving the condition of the Declaration. It had suffered water damage due to being stored in the walls and being rolled and unrolled many times. This impacted the signatures on the page. Philanthropist David M. Rubenstein purchased it.

He bought it for an undisclosed price but we can assume it did not go for cheap. Fortunately, after a lot of conservation efforts, the document was restored to a better condition.