History In Ink®  Historical Autographs







Thomas McKean

Timothy Matlack

McKean grants land in Pennsylvania to a large French landowner,

with the recording docket signed by Matlack, who engrossed the Declaration of Independence

Thomas McKean, 1734–1817.  Signer of the Declaration of Independence from Delaware; Governor of Pennsylvania, 1799–1808.  Partially printed Document Signed, Tho M:Kean, one page, 12” x 20”, [no place], August 18, 1803Signed on the reverse by Timothy Matlack III, 1736–1826, who engrossed the Declaration of Independence.

This is a beautiful vellum land patent in which McKean, as Governor of Pennsylvania, grants to James Donatianus LeRay de Chaumont “a certain tract of land called ‘Richmond’ situate on a branch of Wappasinng Creek in Luzerne County.”  The tract contained more than 415 acres of land.

The document is signed on the back by Timothy Matlack, who engrossed the Declaration of Independence on parchment for the members of the Continental Congress to sign.  Matlack has signed this document to attest that the document was “Inrolled in the Rolls Office” on October 13, 1803.

LeRay, the grantee, was described as “a distinguished French courtier and polished gentleman.”  Alfred L. Donaldson, A History of the Adirondacks 85 (1921).  He owned a lot of land in the United States.  In 1815, for example, he sold Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother and the former king of Naples and of Spain, more than 100,000 acres in the northern New York wilderness.  LeRay was the brother-in-law of Pierre Chassanis, a French gentleman who founded a French land company known as La Compagnie de New York to promote large-scale immigration and settlement in the United States in light of the French revolution.  The company folded following Chassanis’s death in 1803, but by the time its charter expired and its remaining property was sold to satisfy its creditors, most of its property had already passed into the hands of LeRay, an original shareholder of the company who had acquired controlling interest.

McKean, a native of Pennsylvania, studied law in New Castle, Delaware, where he lived with his first wife, Mary.  Along with Caesar Rodney, who later also signed the Declaration of Independence, McKean represented Delaware in the Stamp Act Congress in 1765.  Following Mary’s death in 1773, McKean remarried and lived with his second wife, lived in Philadelphia.  Nevertheless, McKean continued to represent Delaware in both the First Continental Congress in 1774 and the Second Continental Congress in 1775–1776. 

McKean strongly advocated independence.  When he and fellow delegate George Read split on the question of declaring independence from Britain, thus preventing the Delaware delegation from voting for it, McKean urged Rodney, who was absent, to ride all night from Dover to Philadelphia in order to cast his vote for independence and break the delegation tie.  Congress thus voted unanimously for independence on July 2, 1776. 

McKean participated in the debate over the language of the Declaration of Independence, which Congress approved on July 4.  He was not present on August 2 when the other delegates signed the formal declaration after Matlack had engrossed it, however, because he had left Congress to lead a Pennsylvania unit in General George Washington’s defense of New York City.  McKean”s name did not appear in the printed congressional journal entry for the Declaration, but he later signed the Declaration sometime in 1781, apparently becoming the last person to sign it.

Matlack, who was also an influential Revolutionary War leader, was an outstanding penman.  He engrossed the First Continental Congress’s formal address to King George III in 1774, and in 1775 he composed Washington’s commission as general and commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.  In July 1776, he engrossed the Declaration of Independence on parchment.

This is a very nice document.  McKean and Matlack have signed in brown.  All three paper and red wax seals, one on the front and two on the back, are intact.  Interestingly, the large seal on the front reads seal of the state of pennsylvania—not “Commonwealth,” as the document itself reads, but “State.”  The commonwealth counter seal on the back shows Lady Liberty defeating Tyranny, in the form of a lion, surrounded by the words both can’t survive.  The seal of the Enrollment Office accompanies Matlack’s certification.  For its age, the document is clean and bright overall, with a little soiling in the bottom blank area.  The printing and handwritten engrossments are dark and clear.  The document has one horizontal and two vertical storage folds and a series of small holes, perhaps due to the sealing process, near the commonwealth seal in the upper left.  Old dealer pencil notes on the back identify both McKean and Matlack.  Overall the piece is in fine condition.




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