Button Gwinnett (1735 – May 19, 1777) was born in England and would become an American political leader and patriot who would sign the Declaration of Independence. He served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress alongside fellow Georgians George Walton and Lyman Hall. His signature was the second signature on the Declaration of Independence. He served as the provisional president of Georgia in 1777. Unfortunately what is most researched about him is his signature and his duel with Lachlan McIntosh in which he was mortally wounded.
Button Gwinnett Facts: Early life and career
- Button was born in 1735 in Gloucestershire, England to Welsh parents Revere and Samuel and Anne Gwinnett and was the oldest of his seven siblings.
- He attended The King’s School in Gloucester and shortly after began his career as a merchant in England. While working as a merchant in Wolverhampton he married Ann Bourne in 1757 at St. Peter’s Church when he was 22.
- Button Gwinnett and his wife Ann moved to America in 1762.
- Button and his family arrived as the busiest port in the Southern Colonies, Charleston, South Carolina.
- He found that America was much different from England. Taxes were lower, land was plentiful and there was more money to be made in the agricultural industry.
- By 1769 he had sold off his merchandise, moved to Georgia, bought a large piece of land and began a plantation. Gwinnett used his experience as a merchant along with his business acumen on his plantation and was successful in the trade. In that same year he was elected to the Provincial Assembly. During his time in the assembly, Gwinnett became great friends with future fellow delegate Lyman Hall and bitter enemies with Lachlan McIntosh.
- Unlike the other colonies, Georgia was a little more hesitant to join the push for American Independence. Georgia was the youngest of the 13 original colonies and depended heavily on British military support in fighting off the Indians. Regardless, the movement continued to grow and in 1775 St. John’s Parish threaten to secede from Georgia if Georgia did not support the revolution. Button Gwinnett then became a strong advocate for American independence from Britain.
- While Button was an ardent patriot, his first decision to support the American Revolutionary War was probably because his land was encompassed by St. John’s Parish. If they were to secede then it would leave him not other choice. Regardless of his reasoning, he would go on to serve faithfully and would put his name and life on the line during the Second Continental Congress.
Button Gwinnett Facts: American Revolutionary War
- Button Gwinnett supported the Declaration of Independence and signed it on August 2, 1776.
- He would be the second to actually sign the document. After he had signed the Declaration of Independence he and fellow signer Carter Braxton of Virginia colony journeyed home to present a state Constitution that had been written by John Adams. Carter went as far as Virginia with Button and then Button continued to Georgia.
- The Continental Congress also placed Button Gwinnett up against Lachlan McIntosh for brigadier general in the 1st Regiment of the Continental Army. He would lose to McIntosh which continued to fuel his hatred towards him.
- He continued to serve his nation throughout the American Revolutionary War. During this time he served in the Georgia state legislature and in 1777 he penned the original draft of the first State Constitution of Georgia.
- He continued to rise in power and influence throughout Georgia and was made Speaker of the Georgia Assembly.
- He would serve faithfully and show great ability until the death of Governor Archibald Bulloch. After Bulloch’s death Gwinnett again continued to rise in political rank as he would be promoted to the Governorship of Georgia. Here he would actively begin to thwart Brigadier General Lachlan McIntosh which would end in a famous duel between the two.
Button Gwinnett Facts: Duel
- Button Gwinnett and Lachlan McIntosh had been fierce political rivals since 1769, but it did not evolve into complete hatred for Gwinnett until after McIntosh’s appointment to brigadier general by the Continental Congress.
- Once Gwinnett was elected to Governor he believed that he was the new head of Georgia’s military and that McIntosh would need to be relieved of command.
- He did everything in his power to discourage the efforts of McIntosh and took an active role over the Continental Army in Georgia. Unfortunately for Gwinnett, McIntosh was appointed by the Continental Congress and has been serving in his position for some time and had gained a positive rapport with the men fighting alongside of him. This push by Gwinnett caused much division within the ranks from officers trying to undermine McIntosh. McIntosh was planning an expedition into Florida in order to secure the southern border of Georgia.
- Gwinnett took control over it and when he was unable to perform the expedition he placed one of McIntosh’s subordinates in charge. This expedition would not only be a complete failure but would also cost Button Gwinett the Governorship of Georgia. Gwinnett was charged with malfeasance (or official misconduct) and put on trial. He would be cleared of all charges but still faced harsh scrutiny by Lachlan McIntosh. The attacks took a toll on Gwinnett’s honor and he would challenge McIntosh to a duel.
- The duel took place near Savannah in the town of Thunderbolt on May 16, 1777. The two men stood back to back and then walked only twelve feet apart and fired a shot at each other. Both were hit hard, but McIntosh’s wound was less severe and Gwinnett’s was mortal. Three days later he died from gangrene due to the bullet wound. It was a sad end to such a promising life.
Button Gwinnett Facts: Legacy
- Button Gwinnett was possibly the most promising delegate from Georgia to attend the Continental Congress and sign the Declaration of Independence. During his lifetime he showed great ability to be successful in many different venues and adapt to his surroundings.
- He was a successful merchant in England, then moved to America and became a wealthy plantation owner. He then took up politics in which he rose to the Governorship of Georgia while he was still in his mid 40s. He accomplished this all within less than two decades of arriving in America from England.
- However, he allowed his jealousies against Lachlan McIntosh to control too much of him and it led to his untimely end. It was a tragic end to an American who if he could have reined in his passions would have been a highly influential politician and possibly played a role in the United States Constitution. He could not do that and the result was his death just a year after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
- Today Button Gwinnett is most-known for his famous signature and not his life.
Button Gwinnett Facts: Online Resources
- Wikipedia – Button Gwinnett
- Colonial Hall – Button Gwinnett Biography
- All Things Liberty – Button Gwinnett Duel
- Button Gwinnett – Find a Grave
- Signers of the Declaration of Independence Ancestry
- The History Junkie’s Guide to the Signers of the Declaration of Independence
- The History Junkie’s Guide to the American Revolutionary War
- The History Junkie’s Guide to Georgia Colony