Daily TWiP Archives

Something interesting has happened on (just about) every day of the year, and Daily TWiP provides the proof. An offshoot of my local events column The Week in Preview (affectionately known as TWiP), Daily TWiP was published April 2008-Aug. 2011 and is still giving readers reasons to celebrate.

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Daily TWiP – May 16, 1777: The American with the most valuable autograph is fatally wounded in a duel

The most valuable American autograph doesn’t belong to a pop star or a sports hero, but to Button Gwinnett, one of Georgia’s representatives to the Continental Congress and the second signer of the Declaration of Independence. This is due mainly to the rarity of his signature, as Gwinnett had a relatively brief political career prior to signing the Declaration of Independence and died soon after from wounds sustained in a duel fought May 16, 1777.

Gwinnett, who was less than three months into his tenure as Governor of Georgia, had ordered an invasion of British East Florida but found himself unable to lead the invasion due to his gubernatorial responsibilities. Instead, he was forced to rely on Lachlan MacIntosh, a fellow political figure and military leader and Gwinnett’s bitter rival.

The invasion was an utter disaster. MacIntosh publicly blamed Gwinnett in a speech to the Georgia assembly, denouncing him as a “scoundrel and a lying rascal.” The humiliated Gwinnett demanded an apology and, when MacIntosh refused, challenged him to a duel.

MacIntosh accepted the challenge and the men agreed to duel with pistols at 12 paces in a field a few miles east of Savannah. Gwinnett and MacIntosh fired at the same time and each wounded the other, with MacIntosh being shot in the hip and and Gwinnett in the leg.

MacIntosh recovered from his injury, but Gwinnett’s wound quickly developed gangrene. He died three days later on May 19, 1777, less than a year after signing the Declaration of Independence, at the age of 41 or 42.

His relatively short life and even shorter political career has made his signature the most valuable autograph in the United States, especially among historically-inclined collectors looking to own the signatures of all 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.

There are only 51 known examples of Gwinnett’s signature in existence, with an individual signature being sold for as much as $150,000. In comparison, the autograph of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, only fetches up to $7,500.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published May 16, 2011.

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