Imagine a time before computers and the safety net of spellcheck and auto-correct. Imagine you are about to write by hand (or “engross”) the document that will set out the fundamentals of governing a new nation. And you have less than 48 hours to do it.
The Constitution (plus its “fifth page” were written by one man. Someone set quill to parchment and wrote over 25,000 letters (over 4,000 words) on four large pieces of parchment. Over a million visitors come to see his handiwork every day at the National Archives.
But for many years, his identity was unknown. Because most of the papers of the Constitutional Convention were ordered to be destroyed, the only paper trail was a single receipt for a payment of $30. No name was recorded.
In 1937, he was finally identified by historian John Clement Fitzpatrick, who wrote an article for the 150th anniversary of the Constitution. At last, the world knew the name of the engrosser: Jacob Shallus.
Shallus, the son of German immigrants, lived in Philadelphia with his growing family. He was also a Revolutionary War veteran. He volunteered and served as a battalion quartermaster under Col. John Philip de Haas. (In 1777, Shallus wrote to John Hancock from wartime headquarters in Lancaster, PA, about a beef supplier demanding payment. This is the earliest example we have of … [ Read all ]