7 Documents that Illuminate the History of Independence Day

Sharing Stories of Revolution, Independence, and Liberty at Raab 

From the rumblings of the American Revolution to the creation of the Statue of Liberty as a landmark commemorating the fight for democracy, The Raab Collection is celebrating the Fourth of July with a close-up look at seven documents that shed light on the history behind this great American holiday.    

John Hancock Mobilizes the Continental Army

John Hancock Letter Signed 1775

The Revolutionary War officially started in April, 1775, all but forcing the delegates to the Second Continental Congress to appeal to Britain for an amicable solution. They waited all summer and into the autumn. King George III, however, had declared war, and as the Founding Fathers scrambled to mobilize the Continental Army, Congress President John Hancock sent this signed letter to the New Jersey delegates, calling for troops and issuing an inspirational message.

New York City During the Revolution

Manuscript NYC in 1776

This fascinating unpublished and previously unknown autograph manuscript takes its reader on a stroll through the streets of Manhattan in June, 1776. In the first-person account, the anonymous, though clearly English, author describes his visits to Broadway, the harbors, parks, and churches, and mentions the Liberty Pole and the statue of George III, which was pulled down only weeks after this text was written, upon the city’s first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. 

George Washington: Independence and Peace with Great Britain

George Washington Signed Letter 1783

The Revolutionary War officially ended when General Charles Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in 1781. But peace took much longer. In this remarkable signed letter from 1783, George Washington asks spymaster Benjamin Tallmadge to report on British activities: “what their Movements or Operations—the State & No. of their Transports, and Ships of War—What the Number, State & Situation of their Troops…” Washington also wanted to know if they have yet evacuated New York.  

Standing by Washington’s Pledge of Neutrality

Samuel Huntington Letter 1793

In this autograph signed letter of 1793, signer of the Declaration of Independence and third governor of Connecticut Samuel Huntington is writing to the Secretary of War, Henry Knox. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, President George Washington felt it necessary to issue a Proclamation of Neutrality so as not to be drawn into a European war and to clarify America’s position. Here, Huntington writes of his state’s willingness to abide by that policy. 

The Marquis de Lafayette Calls America the “Land of Freedom” 

Marquis de Lafayette Letter 1827

As a major-general in the Continental Army, the Marquis de Lafayette was one of the most important players during the Revolutionary War. After the war, the Frenchman continued to fight for the ideas he believed in: liberty and freedom. In this autograph letter signed from 1827, Lafayette reiterates those beliefs to a Harvard professor, calling the United States the “land of freedom” and contrasting it with his homeland, where too many elites held power.    

A Poet Originates the Idea for a Monument Given by the French People to the U.S. 

Laboulaye Letter 1871

The French people took inspiration from the American Revolution when they launched their own, thereby cementing a connection between the two countries forged by democratic ideals. In 1865, a French lawyer and poet named Édouard René Lefèbvre de Laboulaye originated the idea and raised funds for a monument to be presented by the French people in gratitude to the U.S. That idea resulted in the Statue of Liberty. Laboulaye autographs are uncommon; this signed letter from 1871 shows his benevolence in helping a friend. 

The Sculptor Behind the Statue of Liberty

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi signed postcard Statue of Liberty 1886

The idea proposed by Laboulaye took form in the hands of his fellow Frenchman, sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. His Statue of Liberty, also known as Liberty Enlightening the World, was installed and officially dedicated in New York Harbor in October, 1886, marking America’s centennial. This postcard engraving, inscribed and signed by Bartholdi, depicts Lady Liberty upon her debut and was likely signed in the wake of that momentous occasion.    

The Revolutionary World   

Interested in learning more about Revolutionary War-era historical documents and autographs? Check out our curated selection: The Life and Times of George Washington

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