About Button GwinnettButton Gwinnett was born in Gloucestershire, England in 1735. His father was a minister of the Church of England. In 1757, Gwinnett married Ann Bourn and began a career as a merchant alongside his father-in-law. He and Ann emigrated to the colony of Georgia in 1765 and set up shop as a merchant in Savannah. Finding limited success in business, Gwinnett disposed of his store and purchased a large tract of land on Saint Catherine’s Island and began farming and raising cattle. He eventually lost the land to creditors.
Gwinnett became involved in local government serving as a Justice of the Peace and a member of the Colonial Assembly. In 1776, he was elected as one of Georgia’s delegates to the Continental Congress and on August 2, 1776, Gwinnett became one of Georgia’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence (along with Lyman Hall and George Walton).
Returning to Georgia, Gwinnett was elected Speaker of the Colonial Assembly, helped draft the new state’s first constitution, and was appointed acting President and Commander-In-Chief of Georgia. After political fallout regarding Gwinnett’s unsuccessful invasion of British East Florida, he was defeated in his bid for election to the office of Governor of Georgia in 1777.
Gwinnett had a long standing political feud with General Lachlan McIntosh. On May 15, 1777, McIntosh called Gwinnett a “scoundrel and lying rascal.” Incensed, Gwinnett challenged McIntosh to a duel in order to settle the matter. Both men met on the morning of May 16, 1777, in a pasture near Savannah, stood 12 feet apart, and fired pistols at each other at the count of three. Both were shot. McIntosh survived his wounds but Gwinnett died three days later from a wound received to his leg.
Most famous for signing the Declaration of Independence, Gwinnett’s signature is very rare with less than 30 known copies in existence.
On December 15, 1818, Gwinnett County was created by legislative act and named after Button Gwinnett.
History of Gwinnett County, Georgia 1818-1943 – J.C. Flanigan
Gwinnett: A Little Above Atlanta – Elliott E. Brack
Photo: Library of Congress