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 John A. Treutlen
Succeeded by Archibald Bulloch
Personal details
Born 1735
Gloucestershire, Great Britain
Died May 19, 1777
near Savannah, Georgia, U.S.
Nationality British/American
Spouse(s) Ann Bourne
Signature

Button Gwinnett (1735 – May 19, 1777) was a British-born American political leader 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 birth date, 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 married a local, Ann Bourne, in 1757, at St. Peter's Church at the age of 22. In 1762 the couple left Wolverhampton and emigrated to America.

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. During his tenure in the Assembly, Gwinnett's chief political rival was Lachlan McIntosh, and Lyman Hall was his closest ally. 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.

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. In this position, he sought to undermine the leadership of McIntosh.

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".

Gwinnett then challenged McIntosh to a duel, which they fought on 16 May 1777. The two men exchanged pistol shots at twelve paces, and both were wounded. Gwinnett died of his wounds on 19 May 1777.[1]

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, since Gwinnett was fairly obscure prior to signing the Declaration and died shortly afterward. Only ten of those are in private hands.[2]

Gwinnett County, Georgia, now a suburban area of Atlanta, is named after Button Gwinnett.[3]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lanman, Charles (1887). Biographical Annals of the Civil Government of the United States. New York: J. M. Morrison. p. 177. 
  2. ^ "Buttons Not Buttons". Radiolab. WNYC. Retrieved December 12, 2014. 
  3. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 146. 

External links[edit]

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