Friday, July 4, 2008

Button Gwinnett

Button Gwinnett was one of three Georgia signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Gwinnett was born in April 1735 in Gloucestershire, he arrived in Savannah in 1765 and became a merchant. After this venture failed, he purchased St. Catherines Island and set himself up as a planter. He became active in local politics, winning election to the Commons House of Assembly in 1769. By 1773 Gwinnett was again in financial straits; he sold most of his personal property and possessions and withdrew from the political scene.

The Revolutionary crisis brought him back into politics. After rallying rural and coastal dissidents and creating controversy with the dominant Whig party in Savannah, he stepped aside and accepted an appointment to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, Gwinnett served on a number of committees and supported separation from England. He voted for independence in July, signed the Declaration of Independence in August (along with other Georgians George Walton and Lyman Hall), and soon afterward returned to Georgia, where he became embroiled in more political controversy.

After an abortive expedition into British East Florida, pushed forward at Gwinnett's initiative, his longtime rival and enemy, Lachlan McIntosh publicly denounce him. Gwinnett challenged him to a duel. Both men sustained wounds. McIntosh recovered. Button Gwinnett did not. He died on May 19, 1777. He is buried in Savannah's Colonial Park Cemetery, though the exact location of his grave is unknown.

Gwinnett's signature is one of the rarest and most valuable of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In 1979 a letter signed by Gwinnett brought $100,000 at a New York auction; its value was estimated in 1983 to be up to $250,000.

For more
5 Forgotten Founding Fathers
Leonard Bernstein on the Declaration of Independence

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