Monday, August 31, 2015

Button Gwinnett

Button Gwinnett, born in England in 1735, became a merchant and emigrated to America in 1762. By 1765, he had given up his mercantile pursuits and owned a plantation in Georgia. He was elected to the Provincial Assembly in 1769 and became a strong advocate of colonial rights. He served as the second governor of Georgia for a brief period.
Gwinnett was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and, of all those men who signed it, his signature is the rarest and most valuable. It is perhaps because Gwinnett died of wounds received in a duel in 1777 that there are not many examples of his signature to be found.
Why am I telling you about a man with an odd name whose only claim to fame is being one of the 56 men who signed the Declaration? Because I happened upon the fact about the value of his signature and used it in a story many years ago.
And while I've occasionally brought it up as a "fun fact" over the years, I don't think I've ever seen anything about him in print.

But now I've just finished reading The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons, a new entry in the series about bookshop owner and gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr by Lawrence Block. It was an enjoyable read, as all the books in the series are, even if I did figure out ahead of time that Mr. Gwinnett's role in the past would play a part in the story.

It's just as I tell my writing students every summer: An interesting fact you come across can lead to an entertaining work of fiction. And here's a case where it happened more than once.


  1. I have a tickle in my brain about Button Gwinnett thanks to this! There was an....Asimov(I think) story about a time travelling con man. And yes, I could look it up, but I prefer letting my brain remember if I could just get it to agree...

    1. You are correct. "Button, Button" by Asimov was first published in Startling Stories in 1953, so he predates Block and yours truly.

    2. Looked it up in my copy of "Buy Jupiter" and I was a little off...kind of a goofy story, but weird how small a world it is sometimes!

  2. IIRC, there was a story in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in the very early 1970's. The MacGuffin was a document signed by Button Gwinnett. In the denouement, the detective explained that the signature was rare and valuable, because Gwinnett signed the Declaration of Independence, "but not much else."