Portsmouth Historical Society Hosts Lecture and Display of 1776 Declaration of Independence at Town Hall

The Portsmouth Historical Society, in conjunction with the Town Clerk’s office, will host a lecture by noted local scholar John Parrillo on William Ellery, one of Rhode Island’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, and a display of Portsmouth’s original 1776 copy of the printed declaration itself.

The lecture and display of our country’s founding document will take place in the Council chambers at the Portsmouth Town Hall on Thursday, 7 July, from 5:30 to 7 PM. Admission is free.

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William Ellery was one of two signers of the Declaration from Rhode Island, the other being Stephen Hopkins. Both men were active in Rhode Island politics (Hopkins serving as Governor of the Rhode Island Colony four times), and both represented Rhode Island at the Continental Congress in 1776. Local history scholar, John Parrillo, has researched William Ellery’s life and career in some detail and will present his findings at this public event.

Portsmouth’s copy of the Declaration is believed to be one of the few remaining copies printed by Solomon Southwick in Newport. The original first generations copies, called the “Dunlap broadside” were printed the night of July 4, 1776 by John Dunlap, the official printer of the Congress. Only 26 Dunlap copies are known to exist and are listed on the National Archives web site. An original “Dunlap” copy is said to be in the Rhode Island State Archives, but it is not mentioned in the National Archives list.

Portsmouth copy indicates that it is a version printed shortly after the Dunlap copies were distributed and that it was commissioned by the State and printed prior to July 9, 1776 (the date that New York finally voted on ratification) for distribution to towns in RI. The Historical Society believes that it is one the “Solomon Southwick” copies printed in Newport, of which only 6 copies still exist.


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