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New plaque in downtown drugstore honors little-known Revolutionary War hero

The wooden plaque in the downtown Baltimore drugstore begins simply, "Mary Katherine Goddard's Print Shop (1777)."

But because of the efforts of a historian, the Baltimore publisher is finally getting recognition for her efforts to galvanize public opinion on behalf of the 13 colonies during the Revolutionary War.

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"Most people don't know who Mary Katherine Goddard was," said Andrew Carroll, the author and historian who was instrumental in publicly memorializing Goddard's achievement.

"What she did was a total act of defiance. She was saying, 'I'm stepping forward and I'm putting my life at risk in the expectation that other people will do the same. There's no turning back now.'"

Carroll runs the Center for American War Letters for Chapman University in Orange, Calif. But in his spare time, he crisscrosses the country looking for historic sites that have been overlooked or forgotten, and then puts up a plaque commemorating these often intriguing, largely untold stories.

"There are so many secrets out there waiting to be found," he said. "There are these little-known, remarkable stories that are hidden away where we don't expect to find them. What I'm trying to do is to give people a greater appreciation of their own communities."

During the 18th century, women were likely to be overlooked in public affairs, and Carroll stumbled across Goddard's story while researching women who played an active role in the fight for American independence.

What he found after combing through the Maryland State Archives and other records at the Maryland State Historical Society fascinated him.

Goddard came from a printer's family that originally settled in New England. Her brother owned a shop that in 1777 was located at 80 E. Baltimore St.

But her brother traveled frequently, so Goddard assumed more of the day-to-day responsibilities of running the shop. She also published a newspaper, the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, and eventually put her name on the masthead. She also became the first female postmaster in Colonial America.

But it was the broadside (a name for a document printed on one side only) that Goddard published on Jan. 18, 1777, that made her famous and put her life at risk. The document was the Declaration of Independence — and though it was the second copy to be published, it was the first to name most of the signers.

Goddard, then 38, included her own name on that bottom of the sheet — and not the gender-obscuring "M.K. Goddard" she used on her newspaper articles.

Instead, the broadside reads: "Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katherine Goddard."

"You have to realize that this was high treason," said Patricia Anderson, director of publications and library services at the Maryland Historical Society.

"You also have to remember that the odds were very much stacked against the colonists. If the war had ended differently, the signers would have been convicted and hanged for treason, and she probably would have been hanged as well."

This copy of the Declaration helped galvanized the colonists, reminding them, as the plaque says, "that they were still united and far from beaten."

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The Historical Society helped Carroll find the likely location of the print shop, at what is now the Rite-Aid Pharmacy at 125 E. Baltimore St.

(Many Baltimore addresses changed when they were standardized in 1886, Anderson said. The new system ensured that the 100 block of E. Baltimore St. lined up with the 100 block of E. Pratt St., and so on.)

Carroll approached Rite-Aid's corporate headquarters and received permission to put up a commemorative plaque.

Ashley Flower, spokeswoman for Rite-Aid, wrote in an email, "We were proud to help [Carroll] celebrate this important American, and share the story with those who visit our store."

In the few days that the plaque has been up, Carroll is hearing that it's already piquing customers' curiosity.

"I've heard that people are going up to the marker and asking about it," he said. "I hope that customers who come into the store will realize that there's an incredible story connected to this spot."

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