The Rhode Island State Archives recently provided a rare opportunity for members of the public to view four copies of the Declaration of Independence that are normally kept in a climate controlled vault for preservation purposes. In addition, an original draft of the Bill of Rights was also on display among the millions of documents, photographs, and letters the Archives holds. One of the copies on display was printed by Solomon Southwick of Newport, who used a printing press that had previously belonged to Benjamin Franklin’s older brother. Another copy was printed by Mary Katharine Goddard, making her the first woman to sign her name to the Declaration of Independence. The engraver William Stone also made 200 printings in 1820, which are likely the most recognizable. One of 13 original drafts of the Bill of Rights, initially including 12 Amendments and signed by George Washington, was displayed as well. Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea hopes to establish a state archive and history center in downtown Providence in the future to provide a space for reflection and to showcase the state’s rich history.

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