Skip Maine state header navigation
June 26, 2001
Contact: Jim Henderson
Copy of Declaration of Independence
to be Returned Wednesday
Pursuant to a settlement agreement reached this March with Stanley Klos and Kaller’s American Gallery, Inc., a copy of the Declaration of Independence belonging to the Town of North Yarmouth will be returned on Wednesday, June 27, 2001 at 2:00 p.m. to state and municipal officials at the law offices of Issacson & Raymond located at 75 Park Street in Lewiston. Several state and municipal officials, including Secretary of State Dan A. Gwadosky, North Yarmouth Town Clerk Scott Seaver, and Maine State Archivist James Henderson, will be on hand to receive this historic artifact. The document will be taken directly to paper conservator, Nina Rayer, of Rayer Conservation, for an evaluation of its condition.
"This will be an exciting moment for everyone," stated Secretary Gwadosky. "Historic documents of this significance are a rare discovery. An event like this provides a unique opportunity to consider the impact this document and its message had on the citizens of North Yarmouth in 1776."
This historic document was discovered in the home of Nellie W. Leighton, a long-term resident of North Yarmouth, following her death in May 1999. It was sold on June 26, 1999 by Thomaston Place Auction Galleries, and had been the object of a lawsuit brought by the State Archivist of Maine and the Town of North Yarmouth against the two buyers, Stanley Klos, a Pittsburgh businessman and historic manuscript collector and Kaller’s American Gallery, Inc.
The buyers contended that the original broadside was given away or discarded by the Town as soon as it had been copied into a permanent record book, a practice which, on occasion, did occur in public jurisdictions before laws and regulations more closely defined the custodial circumstances of public records. During the course of the lawsuit, however, evidence came to light which showed that the document had been retained by the Town of North Yarmouth for an extended period of time.
Analysis of this particular document revealed features unique to it, consistent with it being placed in a systematic filing scheme. Among other things, an identifying number, "16," was discovered on the reverse of the document. After a thorough examination of the Town’s archives, it was discovered that this docketing number followed in sequence other documents, similarly docketed, which still remain in the North Yarmouth archives, thus indicating that this specific imprint had been retained for a time as a municipal record.
Representatives of North Yarmouth, the State of Maine, and the buyers worked cooperatively with each other during this lawsuit to share information that would shed light on the chain of title to this rare copy of the Declaration of Independence.
The auction buyers agreed to turn over possession of the document to the Town of North Yarmouth and the State Archivist of Maine, after new information about the origin of the document came to light during the pending lawsuit over its ownership. During the past year, research has been conducted to determine the origin of this early imprint of the Declaration of Independence, which surfaced in the spring of 1999. The document has been analyzed by public officials and the purchasers in an effort to clarify the rights of ownership to the document.
"We are very grateful to Mr. Klos and Kaller’s for their willingness to objectively examine the archival evidence in this case which supported the claim of the Town of North Yarmouth to ownership of this important document," said James Henderson, State Archivist of Maine. "We are also pleased that the buyers and the auctioneer (Mr. Kaja Veilleux) have taken such good care of the document during the pendency of this lawsuit and have acted in such a responsible manner in bringing this litigation to a conclusion," Henderson added.
This version of the Declaration of Independence, which was printed in broadside form in Salem, Massachusetts in July 1776, under the authority of the Executive Council of Massachusetts Bay, was delivered to Ministers and Town Clerks throughout the jurisdiction as a means of disseminating its content to the people. This particular copy was sent to the Congregational Minister and Town Clerk of North Yarmouth.
It is still not known when the Declaration left the Town’s hands or how it came into the possession of Mrs. Leighton, whose late husband was a descendent of colonial-era residents of North Yarmouth, including the sister of David Mitchell, the Town Clerk in 1776. It is unlikely, however, that Mrs. Leighton was ever aware that she possessed a copy of the Declaration of Independence. As a founding member of the North Yarmouth Historical Society, a contributor to the Town’s tri-centennial history, an ardent genealogist, and a forceful advocate for improving the Town’s archival practices, it is considered improbable that she would have knowingly kept such an important historical document at her home, or failed to publicize its existence.