Hon. Paul Martin Newby talks about the lost Original Bill of Rights

Posted By Brad Walker

President Karlene Turrentine welcomed the Hon. Paul Martin Newby, serving the NC Supreme Court since 2004 and currently running for the position of Chief Justice.  He told members that he too had joined Rotary in his early career and complimented the club’s debt relief program as “laudable,” taking the heavyweight off the recipients’ shoulders.

Justice Newby then related the unusual odyssey of North Carolina’s original copy of the Bill of Rights, beginning in 1865 and ending, finally, with an FBI sting in 2003. Congress approved the Bill of Rights in 1789 and the original 13 American states, of which North Carolina was one, received their own copies, to be stored away for safety. Following the Union occupation of Raleigh, however, a departing soldier broke into the archives storage area and stole the parchment as a souvenir to take back home to Ohio.  He soon sold it for $5 to a Mr. Charles Shotwell from Indiana who later tried but failed to sell it back to North Carolina, which refused to pay for stolen property.  Shotwell eventually passed it down to his son. 

From there, the document mostly disappeared for decades until another owner again tried to sell the document back to North Carolina, which again refused. Not surprisingly, time’s passage brought increased interest in the Bill of Rights, along with the heightened value. 

In 2003, North Carolinian’s archivists, historians, and officials met with Newby to determine how the state could legally retrieve its original, valuable, stolen artifact while not endangering its very existence. A decision was made to involve the FBI and, with a “sting operation” that matched movie-made intrigue and high drama, the state reclaimed its now-precious property with no monetary exchange. 

Addressing his students, Justice Newby indicated to his students that Rotary’s 4-Way Test, which we say to close each meeting, is a good marker for how to treat others. He commended Wake Forest Rotary for its continued good work.

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