David Moss, an Episcopal priest and psychotherapist from Atlanta, Ga., who vacations on the Island, is no stranger to history. Growing up, he had always been told he was related to the American patriot Timothy Matlack, the original penman of the Declaration of Independence.
Matlack was born in 1730 in New Jersey, moving to Philadelphia with his family when he was 16 years old, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Archives and Records Center. Matlack found success as a merchant and later as a brewer. With no formal political background, he then became a colonel during the Revolutionary war. After the war, Matlack went on to serve in many roles, including trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, secretary to the American Philosophical Society, Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, and as a prosecutor at the trial of Benedict Arnold. After Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft, Matlack was chosen to write out the Declaration due to his excellent penmanship — a highly valued skill in his time.
Moss learned of his patriotic lineage through his family, chiefly through his great-grandmother’s name — Belle Arline Matlack. Moss said he had not tried ancestry.com, the popular ancestry-tracking website, because his family had kept extensive notes on the family history.
Last month, Moss’s sister sent him 300 antiquarian books from their father’s book collection. While searching through the many tomes, Moss discovered a newspaper clipping between the pages of one of the books. The clipping was dated July 5, 1943, from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, a daily print newspaper in St. Louis, Mo., that published from 1852 to 1986.
The clipping was titled, “Research Shows Timothy Matlack was Penman of the Declaration of Independence.” Moss already knew much of the information in the article, but was shocked when he kept reading. The article described Matlack as the person selected to make the first public reading of the Declaration at the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, for his “rich, resonant voice,” the article read.
“I mean that’s it, that’s history,” Moss said.
Moss has been in contact with Cassie Brand, curator of rare books at Washington University in St. Louis, about writing a piece on his ancestry. Brand said Matlack’s connection to the Declaration is known, but his public reading is lesser known to the general public. The two plan to work on a written piece on Matlack and release it on a blogpost or in the university’s magazine.
Moss described his passion for learning about Matlack as “positive politics” in a time when he finds it difficult to read the news: “If you look at politics today, it’s negative. This is a positive thing in the midst of Trump-dom, this is a breath of fresh air.”