Virginia Gazette printed parts of Declaration of Independence on July 19, 1776

It is not known how word of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed in Williamsburg. It simply may have been posted as a notice outside the city’s public buildings or by a vocal proclamation from the town crier. Nevertheless it took 21 days before the July 4, 1776, action in Philadelphia became official in Virginia’s colonial capital.

The date was Thursday, July 25, 1776.

Alexander Purdie’s July 26th edition of the Virginia Gazette announced: “Yesterday afternoon, agreeable to an order of the Hon. Privy Council, the DECLARATION of INDEPENDENCE was solemnly proclaimed at the Capitol, the Courthouse, and the Palace amidst the acclamations of the people, accompanied by firing of cannon and musketry, the several regiments of continental troops having been paraded on the solemnity.”

Readers of Scottish-born Purdie’s Virginia Gazette, however, read the notice a week earlier in his July 19th edition of the paper on page two. Purdie printed excerpts of the Declaration with the notice that the declaration “will be published at full length in next week’s Gazette.”

The rival publication that historians have termed the original Virginia Gazette, published by Dixon & Hunter, printed a near complete version of the Declaration, the next day (July 20) also on page two. (At that time there were two Virginia Gazette newspapers published in Williamsburg simultaneously. John Dixon and William Hunter had succeeded as editors of the Dixon & Hunter Gazette, which was begun in 1736. Purdie’s paper began in 1775.)

The printing of the text of the declaration in the Williamsburg newspapers is believed to be the first outside of Philadelphia.

Proclamations of the declaration happened many times prior to Williamsburg. It was proclaimed in Philadelphia on July 8 “at 12 o’clock at the State House.” It also was announced on the same day in Trenton, New Jersey. Gen. George Washington ordered the declaration proclaimed to his troops in various locations around New York City on July 9.

The declaration cannot be discussed without the intermingling of Virginia patriots. It was Richard Henry Lee of Virginia who proposed a resolution for independence to the Second Continental Congress on June 7. The resolution contained three parts: a Declaration of Independence, a call to form foreign alliances, and a “plan for confederation.” The Congress decided to debate each one separately.

Earlier, the Fifth Virginia Convention meeting in Williamsburg adopted a resolution on May 15, 1776, instructing Virginia’s delegates to the Congress to propose independence. Edmund Pendleton, president of the Virginia Convention, sent the text of the resolution to Lee with instructions to present it to the Congress.

A congressional committee of five members — John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Roger Sherman of Connecticut — was created on June 11, 1776, to draft a text of a declaration. Jefferson was the principal author.

The committee’s work was presented to the Congress on June 28. Ultimately, debate — examining the document word for word — took place between July 2 and 4. Twelve of the thirteen colonies voted for independence from Great Britain on the morning of July 4, 1776. New York abstained because instructions from their assembly had not arrived.

The actual signing of the declaration document took place on a series of dates beginning on Aug. 2 when the vast majority of the 56 “signers” inscribed their names. At least seven delegates signed it later, including Virginians George Wythe and Richard Henry Lee.

Just prior to the debate over the declaration , Congress had voted on July 2 for independence. Elated over the action, Massachusetts delegate John Adams had written to his wife Abigail: “The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epoch in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as a great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Adams, however, miscalculated.

It would be July 4 — when the declaration document was adopted — that would go down in history as the date to remember.

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