Currently, we are at a remove from our physical collections. The silver lining we’ve found in this is an opportunity to highlight our born-digital and digitized collections so you can explore them from wherever you are. We’re going to do just that in a series we call “Houghton From Home.” For more items from across the Harvard Library, visit Harvard Digital Collections.
It’s long been popular among collectors of Americana to assemble a collection representing each of the 56 delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence. As part of a massive project to digitize all of Harvard’s pre-1800 manuscripts relating to North America, we scanned the John Hubbard Collection of Signers of the Declaration of Independence, which contains handwritten letters from luminaries like John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Josiah Bartlett, the historical namesake of Martin Sheen’s character on The West Wing.
Hancock’s letter is especially significant; it was sent to General Artemas Ward, instructing him to read the newly printed Declaration to the troops under his command. But the most coveted autograph in the collection is of a name much less well known to history: Georgia delegate Button Gwinnett was killed in a duel less than a year after signing the Declaration, and today only around 50 items with his autograph are known to survive. The last to reach auction sold for $320,000 in 2017.