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Declaration Signer James Wilson’s Signed Copy of, 1774 Maryland Guide, the First Original American Legal Work, Earliest on Law of Wills
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An important association copy of a rare book with many first claims: this is the only edition of the first original American legal work, and the earliest book published in America on the law of wills. It also contains the only engraving from a colonial Maryland press, by Thomas Sparrow, the only engraver south of the Mason-Dixon Line before 1775.

[JAMES WILSON]. Signed Book. Vallette, Elie. The Deputy Commissary’s Guide within the Province of Maryland. Annapolis: Ann Catherine Green and Son, 1774. Octavo. Engraved title & table by Thomas Sparrow. Signed twice by Wilson at head of title & on front free endpaper recto. Both signatures ruled through in ink by subsequent owners, other owner’s signatures on endpaper. A little blue & red crayon underlining & scrawl at head of title.

Inventory #23609       Price: $10,000

Historical Background

James Wilson (1742-1798) was born in Scotland and educated at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow, imbibing the principles of the Scottish Enlightenment. Unable to graduate due to his father’s death, Wilson immigrated to America, and became a tutor at the College of Philadelphia, and assistant to Pennsylvania lawyer John Dickinson. For many years, Wilson practiced law in Reading and Carlisle, and became a powerful force in Pennsylvania politics. In 1774, he published “Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament,” an influential revolutionary pamphlet. Wilson was twice elected to the Continental Congress, and served concurrently as a brigadier general in the state militia. Like other Pennsylvanians in Congress, including his mentor, Dickinson, Wilson was pressured by his constituents to forestall declaring independence. Wilson himself eventually changed his mind, voting for and signing the Declaration. As a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Wilson sat on the Committee of Detail, which produced the first draft. He proposed the Three-Fifths Compromise, and was, next to James Madison, the most active participant in the Convention. Wilson was a major proponent for ratification in his Pennsylvania, which became the second state to approve the new constitution in 1787. President Washington named him as one of the six original justices of the Supreme Court.


Original sheep, gilt-ruled spine, later red morocco spine label. Some dampstaining primarily extending from bottom gutter & bottom fore-edge corners.


Evans 13742; Worth, Maryland 338; Worth, Colonial Printer 290; Cohen, Early American Law 4632.

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