Mary Katherine Goddard's Declaration of Independence
This is how most Americans in the revolutionary period found out who actually signed the Declaration of Independence.
Not on parchment, but in print. Not in July of 1776, but in January of 1777. Congress, then meeting in Baltimore, ordered “That an authenticated Copy of the DECLARATION of INDEPENDENCY, with the Names of the MEMBERS of CONGRESS, subscribing the same, be sent to each of the UNITED STATES…” The job of printing this new copy of the Declaration, the first to list the signers, went to a woman named Mary Katherine Goddard. Publicizing the signers’ names was a bold step considering that they were endorsing treason.
Mary Katherine Goddard
Goddard was not new to the printing business when Congress gave her this assignment. Her younger brother, William, started a newspaper in Providence, Rhode Island in the early 1760s. Since William was often out of town pursuing business ventures, Sarah Updike Goddard (their mother) effectively ran the paper. Mary Katherine Goddard took an interest in the trade and also became involved in the family business. Sarah Updike Goddard died in 1770, but her daughter continued in the printing industry with her brother.
The family set up in Baltimore in 1773 and Mary took over printing the Maryland Journal and the Baltimore Advertiser in 1774. By the middle of the next year, Goddard started printing the paper under her own name, “M.K. Goddard,” instead of her brother’s. She was also the postmistress of Baltimore; printing offices often doubled as post offices.
Significance Of The Goddard Broadside
The first printings of the Declaration—both famous Dunlap Broadside and in newspapers—did not include a list of the signers. Only two names appeared: John Hancock and Charles Thomson (president and secretary of Congress, respectively). That was because the delegates had not yet signed.
Congress commissioned the famous parchment version—called the Engrossed Copy—of the Declaration of Independence a few weeks after they first issued the text. Evidence suggests that most members of Congress did not sign until August of 1776, and some well after that point. Thomas McKean’s (a delegate from Delaware) name does not appear on the Goddard Broadside but his signature is on the Engrossed Copy. This likely means he did not sign until some time after Goddard’s version went to print. Even once most of the delegates signed it, the Engrossed Copy was still not a public document. Congress carted it around as they moved to avoid encroaching British forces.
The Library owns two copies of the Goddard Broadside. The copy presented here is part of the Theodorus Bailey Myers Collection. Myers was a lawyer and businessman with an interest in revolutionary era history. He collected letters and documents with the autographs of prominent Americans, and organized his vast collection by grouping the signatories of documents into categories. One of those categories, in which there are over two-hundred documents, is for signers of the Declaration of Independence. That is where Myers filed the Goddard broadside. It makes sense that this document would interest someone who collected autograph documents of the Declaration’s signers. This particular copy of the broadside also contains the signatures of John Hancock and Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress.
All of which is to say the Goddard Broadside is significant for the names it bears. And one of those names is Mary Katherine Goddard. Unlike the Maryland Journal, where Goddard only used her initials, when printing the Declaration she included her full name. Perhaps Goddard was trying to secure her place in the story of the nation's founding. We can only speculate.
We do know that Goddard declared her country's independence, only to see much of her own autonomy slip away in the subsequent years. William Goddard slowly took back control of the Maryland Journal from his sister. By 1784, Mary Katherine was no longer listed as the printer.
Congress knew printing this copy was a significant step. So did Goddard. And so did Myers. Yet this version of the Declaration of Independence is not very well known to modern Americans. The digitization of the Myers collection and, with it, this copy of the Declaration of Independence offers an opportunity to reflect on key themes in revolutionary history: the creation of the Declaration of Independence; the role of women in the American Revolution; and how we choose to remember the Declaration in the twenty-first century.
About the Early American Manuscripts Project
With support from the The Polonsky Foundation, The New York Public Library is currently digitizing upwards of 50,000 pages of historic early American manuscript material. The Early American Manuscripts Project will allow students, researchers, and the general public to revisit major political events of the era from new perspectives and to explore currents of everyday social, cultural, and economic life in the colonial, revolutionary, and early national periods. The project will present on-line for the first time high quality facsimiles of key documents from America’s Founding, including the papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Drawing on the full breadth of the Library’s manuscript collections, it will also make widely available less well-known manuscript sources, including business papers of Atlantic merchants, diaries of people ranging from elite New York women to Christian Indian preachers, and organizational records of voluntary associations and philanthropic organizations. Over the next two years, this trove of manuscript sources, previously available only at the Library, will be made freely available through nypl.org.