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A celebration of the American Notary

A Celebration Of The American NotaryTo celebrate Notary Public Day, here's a look at Notaries who have played significant roles in some important events from history.

The discovery of America

Notarization has played a part in American history from the beginning — including the discovery of our nation. When Christopher Columbus set out on his voyage of exploration in 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain wanted to make sure any treasures and valuable resources his men discovered were strictly accounted for, so a Notary accompanied the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria on their journeys to do just that! And on October 12, 1492, when Columbus made his first landing in the New World on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas, a Notary named Rodrigo de Escobedo was on hand to document the momentous event.

The founding of our nation

Did you know there were Notaries standing alongside famous figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin during the founding of the United States of America? Thomas McKean of Delaware (1734-1817), who served as a lawyer, judge and Notary, was a member of the colonial Legislature and cast a decisive vote for Delaware to support the Colonies’ bid for independence from England. McKean was also the last signer of the Declaration of Independence, but he wasn’t the last Notary to play a key role in the birth of our country. Nathanial Gorham of Massachusetts (1738-1796), a Massachusetts Notary and businessman, served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and his signature can be found along with those of John Hancock, Alexander Hamilton and others on that historic document.

Lone Star Notaries

Texas is renowned for producing larger than life characters, so it makes sense that Notaries from Texas would lead colorful careers. Charles Bellinger Tate Stewart (1806-1885) moved to Texas in 1830. Prior to being appointed as a Notary in 1841, Stewart worked as a pharmacist, physician and soldier, and he served in the fledgling Republic of Texas government when it declared its independence from Mexico. He’s also credited with the original design of Texas’ famous “Lone Star” flag that’s still an iconic symbol of the state today. Another Texas Notary well-known in Western folklore is the eccentric Judge Roy Bean (1825-1903). Bean was notorious for holding court in a saloon he owned, which advertised him as the “Law West of the Pecos,” and offering Notary services along with ice-cold beer.

Riverboat pilot, author and Notary

One of America’s most beloved literary figures is Samuel Clemens, more famous by his pen name of Mark Twain (1835-1910). Though he’s most famous for his novels “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Twain’s lengthy and remarkable career included stints as a newspaper reporter, riverboat pilot and miner — and a brief commission as a Notary Public in Virginia City, Nevada. He resigned his commission in 1864 just prior to leaving Nevada in a hurry for San Francisco, California. Twain claimed in later years that he was forced to leave quickly to avoid legal trouble after he challenged a local resident to a duel following an argument over one of Twain’s newspaper articles.

SEE ALSO: A Traveler’s Guide To Historical Notary Sites In The U.S.

Ending the Civil War

One of the most devastating conflicts in U.S. history, the American Civil War, ended in 1865. Once again, a Notary was on hand to witness a key part of that finale. After his surrender at Appomattox, Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the surrendering Confederate forces, took an amnesty oath swearing to remain loyal to the United States and follow its laws. A West Virginia Notary, C.A. Davidson, witnessed and notarized Lee’s oath. However, the document was misplaced and as a result, Lee never received a pardon or had his citizenship restored in his lifetime. It wasn’t until 1975 that Lee’s citizenship was posthumously restored by Congress following the rediscovery of the notarized amnesty oath in State Department records.

The Notary and the president

One of the most well-known U.S. Notaries of the twentieth century is John Calvin Coolidge, Sr. (1845-1926), who was the first Notary to administer the oath of office to the new President of the United States — his own son, Calvin Coolidge. When President Warren Harding died in 1923, Vice President Calvin Coolidge was staying with family in Vermont. Upon receiving word of Harding’s death, Calvin Coolidge took the oath of office before the nearest qualified official, his father John. Calvin Coolidge became famous for his quiet manner (he was nicknamed “Silent Cal”) and his reputation for ethics, integrity and honesty while serving as President.

The heroic Notary priest of World War II

Many U.S. soldiers held prisoner in Italy during World War II owed their lives and freedom to an extraordinary Irish priest, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty (1898-1963). A Vatican diplomat who later served as a Notary for the Catholic Church, O’Flaherty risked his life to rescue and hide thousands of Allied prisoners of war and Jewish refugees. Operating out of the Vatican, which was neutral territory and safe from the German army, O’Flaherty went out repeatedly to aid escape efforts and was hotly pursued by the Nazis during this time. He managed to evade repeated attempts to capture him and even survived an assassination attempt. He was awarded high honors by the United States and Great Britain after the war.

21st-century Notaries

Today, Notaries can be found in all walks of life throughout the United States, fulfilling their important role verifying signer identity and preventing document fraud. Notaries can be found in real estate offices, hospitals, law firms and courts. They’ve served in our nation’s armed forces, helped deliver relief supplies in disasters like the NNA’s 2006 Notary of the Year Frank Marcial, and have helped pioneer the use of technology such as electronic signatures and much more. Even today, people are often surprised to learn that there are quite a few modern celebrities who have served as Notaries. Popular syndicated columnist and humor writer Dave Barry became a Florida Notary in 1994 to officiate a friend’s wedding, and says he’s still proud to hold a commission today. “I enjoy the look of surprise on my friends’ faces when I inform them that I am an actual Notary and can legally notarize their documents — most people who know me have trouble seeing me in any kind of official capacity!” Barry said. Another famous former Notary is singer, actress and “American Idol” judge Jennifer Lopez. In an interview on “The Tonight Show,” Lopez talked about how she worked as a Notary in a law office when she was young, and host Jay Leno joked that there may be notarized documents somewhere out there with her famous autograph on them! No matter who they are or where they come from, Notaries have played many important roles since America’s earliest days — and can take pride in their remarkable heritage as we journey through the 21st century and the years to come.

David Thun is the Assistant Managing Editor with the National Notary Association.

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Willie Moore

08 Nov 2014

Very interesting.

Kim K Saavedra

09 Nov 2020

What a fascinating read!

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