Two hundred forty years ago on July 4, the Founding Fathers weren’t grilling and watching fireworks. So what actually happened on July 4, 1776?

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Contrary to popular belief, the Declaration of Independence was not actually signed on July 4. On this date, 12 of the 13 delegations from the colonies officially adopted and announced the Declaration at the Second Continental Congress. (New York waited until July 9 to officially adopt the draft.)

After the delegates adopted the Declaration, they had to get the message out to the states, so on the night of July 4 (and into the morning of July 5), the Committee of Five, including Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, headed to the shop of Philadelphia printer John Dunlap.They printed and distributed about 200 copies across the 13 colonies.

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Twenty-six of the copies, known as “Dunlap broadsides” still survive today. Two copies have been found in the last 25 years: one in 1989 at a Philadelphia flea market and another in 2009 at the British National Archives.

After adoption, the Continental Congress commissioned Pennsylvania delegate Timothy Matlack to engross the Declaration. The process of engrossment, or official writing in a large, clear hand on parchment, took about a month. Most of the delegates signed the completed parchment document on Aug.2, 1776.

Colonial legislatures, precursors to today’s state legislatures, played a direct role in choosing who would be the signers of this historic document. Each colony used a different means to choose its delegates to the Continental Congress. In Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, the assembly chose its delegates. New York held a general election, and South Carolina held an open meeting. Virginia’s assembly reconvened to choose delegates in a tavern after its governor officially dissolved the assembly. The delegates chosen with the help of state legislators throughout the colonies would later become the Declaration’s signers.

John Hancock was the first to sign the Declaration on Aug.2 with his famous large signature, one of the few signatures still barely legible on the original document. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest signer at age 70, while South Carolina delegate Edward Rutledge, 26, was the youngest (a 44-year age difference).

A total of 56 delegates eventually signed the Declaration, at the risk of their own lives in the midst of the Revolutionary War. Only one signer, Richard Stockton of New Jersey, after being captured and tortured by the British, took a British pardon and supposedly recanted his support. However, Stockton renewed his oath of loyalty to the colonies once he regained his freedom in 1777.

Today, the original engrossed and signed parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence rests under strict humidity, light and temperature encasings in the Rotunda of the National Archives.

The document has suffered much wear and tear throughout history, despite the best intentions of its keepers. In the mid-1800s, Secretary of State Daniel Webster framed and hung the Declaration to keep it safe and make it more visible to the American people. However, his placement of the frame in front of a window quickly caused sun damage to the parchment, giving today’s Declaration its yellow color and extremely faded lettering.

A few thieves throughout history have stolen from the National Archives, but no one has ever pulled off a Nicolas Cage-style robbery of the Declaration. And while there is no treasure map on the back of the document, there is a message: “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.” Which history shows may not be exactly correct.

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Paige Scobee was an steustatiushistory.org intern when she wrote this last year. Since then she has graduated from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism-strategic communications and Latin, with a focus in political science. She is communications and government relations manager for Hamilton Consulting Group in Madison, Wis.