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Rare Sussex Declaration displayed during US Presidential State Visit to UK

West Sussex County Council is delighted that the Sussex Declaration – a rare copy of the American Declaration of Independence – has been displayed in No 10 Downing Street during the Presidential State Visit to the UK.

The Declaration is one of only two contemporary handwritten ceremonial parchment manuscript copies, the other being the signed copy housed in the National Archives in Washington D.C.

West Sussex County Archivist Wendy Walker will be delivering a short presentation to Prime Minister Theresa May and President Donald Trump about the document and its historical significance.

“It is a huge privilege to speak to the President about this important piece of West Sussex history. It further demonstrates the close ties between the UK and the US spanning more than three centuries.”

Great efforts were taken to transport the document from the Record Office in Chichester to Downing Street this week. A conservation expert from the National Conservation Service was involved and a specially-designed exhibition case, previously used for the Magna Carta, was loaned by Hereford Cathedral Perpetual Trust to display the historic document.

Louise Goldsmith, Leader of West Sussex County Council, said: “West Sussex County Council is the guardian of the county’s history and we are all so proud of the considerable work the Record Office does to protect, conserve and preserve the heritage of West Sussex. The significance of the Sussex Declaration cannot be underestimated and we are thrilled it has helped in demonstrating the country’s transatlantic ties. It’s a historical treasure that we are very honoured to house in West Sussex.”

In the event of celebrations to mark 250 years since the declaration of independence, the Record Office is keen to explore options for this important historical document to form part of the commemorations in 2026. We look forward to being part of future work with both the UK and US governments and academic institutions, to celebrate transatlantic ties and the richness of our shared heritage.

Key facts about the Sussex Declaration

The full significance of the document was uncovered by Harvard University in the West Sussex Record Office, a service run by West Sussex County Council which holds and protects the county’s archives, in April 2017. Testing and authentication work on the document was completed in time for American Independence Day, 4 July 2018.

Detailed scientific tests were carried out and the results analysed by conservation scientists at the British Library, the Library of Congress and the University of York including multi-spectral imaging, X-ray fluorescence, and DNA testing.

Imaging revealed a date beneath an erasure on the document. The date reads either “July 4, 178” or “July 4, 179”. It is impossible to say whether there was originally a fourth digit in the year.

Analysis of the ink shows that the document was written in a single hand in a relatively short period of time. X-ray fluorescence analysis showed that the parchment was hung up using iron nails at some point.

The parchment was believed to have been held originally by the Third Duke of Richmond, known as the “Radical Duke” for his support of the Americans during the Revolution. It is thought that the document came to the UK in the late 18th or first half of the 19th century.

There is an accompanying document with a comprehensive briefing on the document available on request to West Sussex County Council press office.

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