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March 7, 2008
Contact David Cheever, 287-5790

State Archivist Looks to Continue Effort to Reclaim Maine Copy of Declaration of Independence

AUGUSTA – The State of Maine today expressed its disappointment at a Virginia court ruling in a case to decide ownership of Wiscasset's 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence. The Court ruled that the Declaration may remain with Richard L. Adams, who acquired it through a private purchase late in 2001.

"Our contention remains that Wiscasset's copy of the Declaration is a public document, owned by the citizens of Wiscasset,” State Archivist David Cheever said. "We intend to appeal the decision.”

Judge R. Terrence Ney ruled on Friday, February 22, in Fairfax County (VA) Circuit Court, that Adams could claim title to the document that he had purchased from a book dealer in London, England. Adams had sued the State of Maine to gain "quiet title" to the print of the Declaration of Independence. The case was argued before Judge Ney in January.

The State of Maine continues to believe that the print of the Declaration of Independence belongs to Wiscasset, as a public record, because it was ordered printed by the Executive Council of Massachusetts and ordered to be delivered to the Town Clerk. It was, in fact, received by the Clerk in October, 1776, on behalf of the Town. The evidence shows, among other facts, that the Town never authorized any transfer of ownership to the Declaration of Independence to anyone at any time. "This is not a case of 'finders keepers, losers weepers,'" Cheever said, "The Town never relinquished its ownership of the Declaration, therefore, the document was not for sale then, and it is not for sale now."

The print was discovered in 1995, in the attic of the Wiscasset home owned by the daughter of Sol Holbrook, who served for 44 years as Town Clerk in Wiscasset. The State of Maine contends that the only logical and reasonable explanation for how the print came into the possession of Sol Holbrook’s daughter is that it was not passed along to Sol Holbrook’s successor as Town Clerk when Mr. Holbrook died in office in 1929.