A document from 1776 was advertised on eBay a few months ago. The listing described the document as an "important proclamation announcing the forming of a new government." The document is addressed to the town clerk of Danvers, Massachusetts. Danvers Town Archivist Richard Trask saw the eBay listing and immediately began investigating. He then notified the town manager and began negotiations for its return. Since it was addressed to the town clerk, the town manager and town archivist claim that the document belongs to the Town of Danvers.
The document was pulled from eBay's listings before the auction ended. The current holders of the document, John and Maureen Poole of Scituate, claim that the document belongs to them, not to the town. "There were probably only 100 to 200 ever printed," Trask said about this document, which is called a "broadside," estimating its value between $8,000 and $10,000. Negotiations between the Pooles and town officials stalled, and the town won a temporary injunction last week to bar the sale.
The document in question measures 17 x 13-inches. It does have Danvers' own Samuel Holten listed as one of the senders. Trask said, "He was the most important man who came out of Danvers during the Revolution," a friend of John Hancock, John Adams, and other revolutionists, a member of the Continental Congress, and a signer of the Articles of Confederation.
The document also has the very specific address to "Danvers Town Clark," which was how they said "clerk" in those days and which also seems to indicate the broadside belongs to the town. A legal term called "replevin" comes into play. Replevin refers to documents that are in the public's possession in perpetuity; if one "goes astray," it should be brought back to the public holdings. Replevin states that such documents always belong to the public, not to private individuals.
The Pooles recently sold a letter from Thomas Jefferson for $36,000 and a military commission to Gideon Foster of Danvers, a captain at Lexington and Concord, sold for $38,000 or $40,000. Those documents were not public documents, however. As such, they were legally sold. Only the broadside addressed to the town clerk of Danvers, Massachusetts, is in question.