YORKTOWN, Va., July 1, 2014 – A rare newspaper printing of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, a precursor of the United States Declaration of Independence, has been acquired for the future American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, replacing the Yorktown Victory Center by late 2016. The June 12, 1776, issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette containing the Virginia Declaration will be exhibited in the new museum galleries near a July 1776 broadside of the U.S. Declaration of Independence that currently is on exhibit at the Yorktown Victory Center.
It was the June 12, 1776, Pennsylvania Gazette version of the Virginia Declaration that was available to Thomas Jefferson and the other delegates selected by Congress to draft the U.S. Declaration of Independence, a task they began in Philadelphia on June 11, 1776. Expressing principles that citizens have the right to “enjoyment of life and liberty … and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety,” and that “all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people,” the Virginia Declaration of Rights directly influenced the composition of the Declaration of Independence adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and many later statements of basic human rights.
The Virginia Declaration of Rights was an outcome of a resolution passed by the Virginia Convention on May 15, 1776, appointing a committee to prepare a declaration of rights and plan of government and instructing Virginia’s delegation to the Continental Congress “to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states.” A draft of the Virginia Declaration, whose principal author was George Mason, first appeared in The Virginia Gazette on June 1, 1776. It subsequently appeared in newspapers outside Virginia, including The Pennsylvania Gazette on June 12, coincidentally the same date as a modified version of the declaration was adopted by the Virginia Convention.
The Pennsylvania Gazette, founded in 1728, was one of America’s most prominent newspapers during the 18th century and for a time was published by Benjamin Franklin. The June 12, 1776, issue containing the text of the Virginia Declaration of Rights was acquired with private gifts to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Inc., which directs fundraising efforts for private gifts, manages an endowment, assists with the acquisition of artifacts, and supports special projects and programs of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, a Virginia state agency that operates Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center history museums.
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will present a comprehensive overview of the people and events of the Revolution, from the mid-1700s to the early national period, through gallery exhibits, films and outdoor living history. The Yorktown Victory Center continues in daily operation as a museum of the American Revolution throughout construction, which is occurring in phases and will include a move from the existing museum building to the new facility in early 2015.