Engrosser of the
Declaration of Independence
the past, master penmen or engrossers were called upon to
letter in large, clear handwriting such legal documents as
land deeds, mortgages, baptism certificates, and military
commissions. A large staff of engrossers was once used on
Capitol Hill to letter Congressional Bills prior to submission
July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was approved
by the colonies and on July 19 the Continental Congress ordered
that the Declaration be "fairly engrossed on parchment,
with the title and stile [sic] of 'The unanimous declaration
of the thirteen United States of America,' and that the same,
when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress."
On August 2 the journal of the Continental Congress records
that "The declaration of independence being engrossed
and compared at the table was signed."
Joseph M. Vitolo
someone thinks of the Declaration of Independence, a beautifully
penned calligraphic document usually comes to mind. However,
did you ever wonder who penned that beautiful specimen of
our country's history? Historians believe Timothy Matlack
was the man chosen to engross the Declaration of Independence
after the first draft was penned by Thomas Jefferson. Official
documents of the time were usually engrossed, i.e. copied
in large, clear script/text.
in the colonial period was heavily influence by Europe, in
particular England. Indeed, examining the script used by Matlack
in the Declaration of Independence one can easily see these
influences. In particular, his use of English roundhand script
stands out. This form of script was executed with a feather
quill pen and was actually a form of handwriting. The script
is known today as Copperplate.
the 1780s Matlack became a delegate to the Continental
Congress representing Pennsylvania. He was also known to be
a sword-toting patriot around the streets of Philadelphia.
Interestingly, historians also identify Matlack as the person
who penned George Washington's commission as commanding general
of the Continental Army.
in Haddonfield, NJ in 1730, Timothy Matlack was a Quaker who
spent a majority of his life in Pennsylvania. He died near
Hornesburg, PA in 1829 at the incredible age of 99.
Rather than amend the existing Articles of Confederation,
the Federal Convention, meeting in Philadelphia in 1787, decided
to draft an entirely new frame of government. All through
the summer, in closed sessions, the delegates debated and
drafted the new Constitution.
order to be approved by the Constitutional Convention on Monday,
September 17, 1787, the draft had to be copied onto parchment
over the weekend. The honor fell to Jacob Shallus, clerk of
the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
wrote a very legible script with titles that were engrossed--that
is, made larger and darker. His tools were quill pens cut
from large feathers, and ink made from oak galls, iron, and
gum arabic, often with a colorant such as logwood added to
the initially pale ink. Following English practice, Shallus
wrote important legal documents on parchment, animal skin
that was specially treated with lime and stretched. It was
expensive, generally imported from Great Britain, but could
be expected to last a very long time. Before beginning to
letter, he drew guidelines on the parchment in pale brown
crayon. Corrections were difficult to make--words were scraped
away with a penknife or inserted carefully in the lines of
text, and then listed in an errata paragraph to attest that
the approved document was unaltered.