Button Gwinnett

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Button Gwinnett
Button Gwinnett.jpg
Portrait by Nathaniel Hone
2nd Governor of Georgia
In office
March 4, 1777 – May 8, 1777
Preceded by Archibald Bulloch
Succeeded by John A. Treutlen
Delegate from Georgia to the Continental Congress
In office
1775–1775
Personal details
Born 1735
Gloucestershire, Great Britain
Died May 19, 1777 (42)
near Savannah, Georgia, U.S.
Nationality British/American
Spouse(s) Ann Bourne
Signature

Button Gwinnett (1735 – May 19, 1777) was a British-born American founding father who, as a representative of Georgia to the Continental Congress, was one of the signatories (first signature on the left) on the United States Declaration of Independence. He was also, briefly, the provisional president of Georgia in 1777, and Gwinnett County (now a major suburb of metropolitan Atlanta) was named for him. Gwinnett was killed in a duel by a rival, Lachlan McIntosh, following a dispute after a failed invasion of East Florida.

Early life and education[edit]

Gwinnett was born in 1735 in the parish of Down Hatherley in the county of Gloucestershire, Great Britain to an English father, the Reverend Samuel Gwinnett, and his wife, Anne. He was the third of his parents' seven children, born after his older sister Anna Maria and his older brother Samuel. There are conflicting reports as to his exact birthdate, but he was baptized in St. Catherine's Church in Gloucester on April 10, 1735. It is believed that he attended the College School, held in Gloucester Cathedral (now called The King's School) as did his older brother, but there is no surviving evidence to substantiate this. He started his career as a merchant in England. He moved to Wolverhampton in 1754, and in 1757 at age twenty-two he married a local, Ann Bourne, at St. Peter's Church. In 1762 the couple left Wolverhampton and emigrated to America.

Gwinnett's business activities took him from Newfoundland to Jamaica. Never very successful, he moved to Savannah in 1765 and opened a store. When that venture failed, he bought (on credit) St. Catherine's Island,[1] off the coast of Georgia, to the south of Savannah, and attempted to become a planter. Though his planting activities were also unsuccessful, he did make a name for himself in local politics.[2]

Career[edit]

Arriving first in Charleston, South Carolina, by 1765 Gwinnett and his wife had traveled to Georgia. Gwinnett abandoned his mercantile pursuits, selling off all his merchandise to buy a tract of land where he started a plantation. He prospered as a planter, and by 1769 had gained such local prominence that he was elected to the Provincial Assembly.

Gwinnett did not become a strong advocate of colonial rights until 1775, when St. John's Parish, which encompassed his lands, threatened to secede from Georgia due to the colony's rather conservative response to the events of the times. During his tenure in the Assembly, Gwinnett's chief rival was Lachlan McIntosh, and Lyman Hall was his closest ally. Gwinnett's rivalry with McIntosh began when McIntosh was appointed as brigadier general of the Georgia Continentals in 1776.[3]

American Revolutionary War[edit]

Gwinnett voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence, adopted by Congress on July 2, 1776, two days before the "fair copy," dated July 4, 1776, was presented to the Congress. He signed the famous parchment copy on August 2, 1776. After signing the Declaration, he was accompanied as far as Virginia by Carter Braxton, another of the signers, carrying a proposed state constitution drawn up by John Adams. During his service in the Continental Congress, Gwinnett was a candidate for a brigadier general position to lead the 1st Regiment in the Continental Army, but lost out to Lachlan McIntosh. The loss of the position to his rival embittered Gwinnett greatly.

Gwinnett served in the Georgia state legislature, and in 1777 he wrote the original draft of Georgia's first State Constitution. He soon became Speaker of the Georgia Assembly, a position he held until the death of the President (Governor) of Georgia, Archibald Bulloch. Gwinnett was elevated to the vacated position by the Assembly’s Executive Council.[4] In this position, he sought to undermine the leadership of McIntosh.

Tensions between Gwinnett and McIntosh reached a boiling point when the General Assembly voted to approve Gwinnett's attack on British Florida in April of 1777.[5]

Death[edit]

In early 1777, Gwinnett and his allies gained control of the Georgia Provisional Congress, and he became acting President of the Congress and commander-in-chief of Georgia's militia. As such, he was now the superior of his rival Lachlan McIntosh. Gwinnett had McIntosh's brother arrested and charged with treason. He also ordered McIntosh to lead an invasion of British-controlled East Florida, which failed. Gwinnett and McIntosh blamed each other for the defeat, and McIntosh publicly called Gwinnett "a scoundrel and lying rascal".[6]

Gwinnett then challenged McIntosh to a duel, which they fought on 16 May 1777 at a plantation owned by Governor James Wright.[7] The two men exchanged pistol shots at twelve paces, and both were wounded.[8] Gwinnett died of his wounds on 19 May 1777.[9]

Legacy[edit]

Button's autograph is highly sought by collectors as a result of a combination of the desire by many top collectors to acquire a complete set of autographs by all 56 signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and the extreme rarity of the Gwinnett signature; there are 51 known examples,[10] since Gwinnett was fairly obscure prior to signing the Declaration and died shortly afterward. Only ten of those are in private hands.[11]

Gwinnett County, Georgia, now a suburban area of Atlanta, is named after Button Gwinnett.[12]

In December 2015, Stephen Colbert performed a parody clip about Gwinnett entitled Button!,[13] with special guest Lin-Manuel Miranda on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Gwinnett House (Saint Catherines Island, Ga.)". John Linley, Box 19. Georgia Archives. Retrieved 24 May 2016. 
  2. ^ Jackson, Harvey H. (2010). American National Biography. London: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 May 2016. 
  3. ^ Russell, David Lee (2006). Oglethorpe and colonial Georgia : a history, 1733-1783. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 84. ISBN 0786422335. Retrieved 24 May 2016. 
  4. ^ "Gwinnett, Button, Appointment as President and Commander-in-Chief of the State of Georgia, Mar. 4, 1777". Commissions, State Officers Appointments, Assembly, Colony of Georgia, RG 49-1-10. Georgia Archives. Retrieved 23 May 2016. 
  5. ^ Jackson, Harvey H. (1979). Lachlan McIntosh and the politics of Revolutionary Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia Press. p. 64. ISBN 082030459X. Retrieved 24 May 2016. 
  6. ^ "To George Washington from George Walton, 5 August 1777". Founders Online. National Archives. Retrieved 24 May 2016. 
  7. ^ Brooking, Greg (2014). ""Of Material Importance": Governor James Wright and the Siege of Savannah". Georgia Historical Quarterly. 98 (4). Retrieved 24 May 2016. 
  8. ^ Fleming, Thomas H. (2011). "When politics was not only nasty… but dangerous". American Heritage. 61 (1). Retrieved 24 May 2016. 
  9. ^ Lanman, Charles (1887). Biographical Annals of the Civil Government of the United States. New York: J. M. Morrison. p. 177. 
  10. ^ "Gwinnett, Button, Signature". Memorials and Quit Rents, Assembly, Colony of Georgia, RG 49-1-17. Georgia Archives. Retrieved 24 May 2016. 
  11. ^ "Buttons Not Buttons". Radiolab. WNYC. Retrieved December 12, 2014. 
  12. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 146. 
  13. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhFeQSBZUSk. Retrieved September 15, 2016.  Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Archibald Bulloch
Governor of Georgia
1777
Succeeded by
John A. Treutlen