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They are also notaries! Shakespeare, Mark Twain...

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

The origins of Notaries can be traced to ancient Egypt -- a time when making records official transactions became important to humanity. The following are a few snapshots of how Notaries and notarization played a key role in the development of governments, commerce and organized society:

Ancient Egypt: scribes

Ancient Egyptian “sesh,” or “scribes,” were established in the Old Kingdom and were the earliest known chroniclers of official communications in recorded history. Scribes made up an entire level of the ancient Egyptian bureaucracy. Personal letters, official proclamations, tax records, and other documents all went through their hands. The recording of events was so highly valued that Pharaoh Tutankhamen even included writing equipment in his tomb for the afterlife.

Order of the Knights Templar: 1099-1307

The Knights Templar were a monastic military order formed at the end of the First Crusade with the mandate of protecting Christian pilgrims on route to the Holy Land. From humble beginnings, within two centuries they had become powerful enough to defy all but the Papal throne, and created the modern system of banking, mortgages and loans. The Clergy of the Order were highly educated and became the critically important Notaries for all Templar business, official documents, orders and proclamations.

They Didn’t Trust Columbus.

Notaries accompanied Columbus on all his voyages just as they accompanied nearly all early Spanish explorers. The reason: King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella wanted to ensure that all discovered treasures were accounted for. On October 12, 1492, when Columbus first beheld the New World, a Notary named Rodrigo de Escobedo was on hand to document the landing on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas.

Notaries in Early America: 1600-1800

In Colonial America, only persons of high moral character were appointed as public Notaries to certify and keep documents safe. Their contributions to colonial life are largely seen as the reason American business became a huge success. For example, in colonial times Notaries were invaluable to trans-Atlantic commerce, as parties on both sides depended on them to be honest third parties in reporting damage or loss to a ship’s cargo. While Notaries were held in very high regard during this time, life for Notaries in early America was anything but easy. Some were even killed for their involvement in authenticating official documents and recordkeeping as conflicting factions fought for control of the New World.

To Be Or Not To Be.

Historical records show that Shakespeare worked at a notary office in Warwickshire, England. He also had contact with a number of other English notaries within his professional network. It’s said that his play, The Merchant of Venice, was based upon his experiences. The story revolves around a man who needed to borrow money from a friend in order to court a wealthy heiress. Shakespeare drew from his experience as a notary to describe the loan transactions and required documentation.

Mark Twain in Public Service

Samuel Clemens, the man behind Mark Twain’s pen name, became a notary public in Nevada in 1864. It was the only public office he ever held.


Frank DeMarco, Jr., a California tax attorney/Notary was accused of fraudulently backdating forms relating to former President Richard M. Nixon’s donation of papers to the National Archives to beat a tax deduction deadline. After months of controversy, DeMarco resigned his Notary office in June 1970 to forestall an investigation by the state. Evidence of the alleged transaction was sent to the Watergate Special Prosecutor and was but one more incident eroding Nixon’s political support and leading to his resignation from office.

First American Notary A Forger

The American Colonies’ first Notary, Thomas Fugill, appointed in 1639 in the New Haven Colony, miserably failed to live up to his duties and was thrown out of the office for falsifying documents.

Suffering Suffragettes.

Not only could women not vote, but, until the early 1900s, women in America were also prohibited from becoming Notaries. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. held that since there was no record of women holding the office in England, it could not be affirmed that women were capable of being Notaries. Today, more than two-thirds of America’s Notaries are women.

Breakfast Of Champions.

When Wheaties executives asked baseball player Pete Rose to appear on a Wheaties box, he had to sign and swear in the presence of a Notary that he’d eaten the cereal ever since he was a kid.

Tom Cruise in Collateral

In this 2004 thriller, Cruise plays a contract killer needing to complete five “jobs” before heading to the airport; Jamie Foxx’s character is the cab driver hired to transport him to the five stops and then on to LAX. During one of the scenes, Tom Cruise poses as a notary public in order to gain entrance to a victim’s home, lying that he needs some documents signed.

Edmond O’Brien in D.O.A.

This 1950s classic film centers on O’Brien’s character, In the film, the hero played by Edmund O’Brien was a Notary who had two hours to find an antidote to a deadly poison.

Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant in Notary Publix

This web-based series takes a humorous view of the life of a notary public. Set in 1980s New York City, the videos are brimming with big hair and thick accents as they follow the notarial exploits of Gina Fra Diavolo and Erin Oatmeal. These two women are rivals in the notary public world, and the hilarious intensity will have you on the edge of your seat.

Source: National Notary Association


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