It’s a day that changed the face of American history - July 4, 1776.
And on Saturday as Americans in their own country and in Northern Ireland celebrated Independence Day, thoughts turned to the famous Strabane man John Dunlap who had the honour of printing the first copies of the Declaration of Independence.
Richard Hurst of the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh paid tribute to man from the town a few miles down the road.
He explained how John Dunlap trained as a printer and travelled to America and on the third night of July 1776 he took the declaration of the independence which was a handwritten document with signatures and through the night made 200 copies which were distributed through 12 of the 13 colonies.
“The declaration was read out to George Washington’s fighting men, and two copies of John Dunlap’s declaration were sent to King George of England to tell him the news so it’s a very important document,” said Richard Hurst.
Another twist in the story is that the ship carrying the declaration from the US to England got into trouble in bad weather and had to dock in Derry and travel by coach to Belfast, where a ‘Newsletter’ reporter got his hands on the copy and printed it in the paper before the King of England even set eyes on it - the world’s first ever exclusive!
John Dunlap was born in Meeting House Street in Strabane in 1746. When he was ten years old, he went to work as an apprentice to his uncle, William Dunlap, a leading printer and bookseller in Philadelphia, in the American colonies.
In 1773 Dunlap married Elizabeth Hayes Ellison. The same year, representatives from the 13 American colonies set up the ‘Continental Congress’ in order to work towards setting up a republic.
Dunlap was to play an important role in this American Revolution. He became an officer in the First Troop of Philadelphia City Cavalry, and saw action with George Washington as his bodyguard at the battles of Trenton and Princeton. He continued in the Troop after the war, rising to the rank of major - and leading Pennsylvania’s cavalry militia to help suppress the Whiskey Rebellion.
It was in 1776, however, that Dunlap secured a lucrative printing contract as ‘Printer to Congress’. On July 2, the Second Continental Congress voted to declare independence, and on July 4 they agreed to the final wording of the Declaration of Independence. Dunlap printed 200 copies.