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Students view historic documents

by Jennifer Biller

STAFF WRITER

A letter written by John Hancock to his brother asking him not to wear his old shoes anymore because they looked "scandalously" drew laughter from a group of sixth-graders gathered Monday morning at the Gaston Caperton Center of Fairmont State College in Clarksburg.

Students from local counties were invited to view the Absure Collection's touring exhibit, "Rebels With A Vision," which features historical letters, manuscripts and rare books from the Revolutionary War period.

The centerpiece attraction of the collection is a rare copy of the Declaration of Independence.

"I think this is great, especially for people who like history," said Sarah Jafri, a sixth-grader from Bridgeport Middle School.

Jafri said the tour was a good learning experience, and she was glad for the opportunity to see the exhibit.

"I knew a little before, but I know more now," she said.

Kathryn Greer, also a sixth-grader at Bridgeport Middle School, said she wished she had had more background before the visit.

"It's interesting but we haven't got that far in history yet, so some of it was confusing," she said.

John Byrer, a West Virginia history teacher at Salem Middle School, accompanied his eighth-grade class to the exhibit. He said he was impressed with the questions the students asked and thinks the older students had a good understanding of the history before seeing the exhibit.

"I'm surprised at how interested they are," Byrer said. "It is great the students were invited to see something like this."

The exhibit has been displayed at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh before it came to Clarksburg.

After it leaves Clarksburg, it will be featured at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, said Blair Montgomery, director of the Gaston Caperton Center.

The exhibit is a real coup for Clarksburg, Montgomery said.

"This is a world-class exhibit and a significant collection," he said. "It's a chance for people to see the original documents that are so important to our history."

The idea to bring the exhibit to Clarksburg originated with the Professional Insurance Agents of West Virginia.

"They were having a conference here and came to us with the idea to bring the collection here," Montgomery said.

For the students, the most popular parts of the collection were an Indian deed signed by Native American chiefs selling land to colonists and the parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Tour guides from the Harrison County Historical Society and from the Waldomore Association explained the documents to the students.

The copy of the Declaration was produced in 1820 from the original, tour guides said. The original Declaration was in poor condition, so John Quincy Adams commissioned Willam J. Stone to create official copies using a wet-ink transfer process.

Stone printed 201 copies on parchment. Of those 201 copies, only 31 are still known to be in existence today and are housed at places such as the White House, Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress.

Tour guide Helen Jones of the Waldomore Association made the tour more interesting for the students by explaining the colorful anecdotes that went along with the documents, such as the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

She also explained to students the risk the men were taking by signing the Declaration.

"They were signing their death warrants," she said. "If the Americans didn't win the Revolution, they would have been killed for committing treason. That is why we honor those signatures today."

Nathaniel Lutyens, sixth-grader at Bridgeport Middle School, said he liked all the exhibits, but the Declaration was his favorite.

"I think it is amazing the bravery they showed," he said.

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1443.

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