Declaration of Independence

The Engrossed Declaration of Independence, circa. 1776 (source: Library of Congress)

Lost from History: Josias Wilson King

Josias Wilson King is a name that would probably not ring any bells. In fact, even when Google-searched, it takes a great amount of effort to find much if anything about him. In life, however, he interacted with some of the most prominent men in American history – Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – was involved in the first scandal in the Library of Congress’ history, and helped to save America’s keystone documents.

Damaged records from the 1890 census. Most of these records ended up being destroyed. (Image source: National Archives)

Just Stick It in the Basement: Before the Archives

Today, the founding documents of America - the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights - are on display at the Charters of Freedom exhibit in the Rotunda of the National Archives. Tourists from across America and the world make pilgrimages to see the most revered documents in American history. Extensive preservation measures have been put in place. But this wasn’t always the case. For most of our nation’s history, these charters, now considered priceless, were kept with the United States’ other government documents - that is, shoved wherever officials could find space. Before the National Archives was founded in 1934, these documents were stored essentially at random, in basements, on walls, or even piled in hallways.