Button Gwinnett, signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in 1732 in
. His parents had limited finances but were able to give Button a good basic education. Button became an apprentice to a merchant in England . After he completed his apprenticeship, he married and opened his own business. He found Bristol attractive due to the "promises of wealth and distinction." He emigrated from America England and settled in in 1770. He opened a business in Charleston, South Carolina but sold it two years later. He "purchased large tracts of land on St. Catharine's Island" off the coast of Charleston ; he also purchased slaves and "devoted himself to agricultural pursuits." Georgia
Mr. Gwinnett cautiously favored the colonists' opposition to the oppressive rule of
, but he considered the move for independence to be "highly problematical." When England considered joining the patriot cause of liberty in 1774, he was unconvinced of the wisdom of the idea, considering it "fraught with danger and many evils." Dr. Lyman Hall and other supporters of the cause convinced Mr. Gwinnett that "some powerful movement was necessary." He eventually became a firm supporter for the Americans' cause. He became "very popular" with the people because of his "cultivated mind and superior talents." Georgia
When Mr. Gwinnett openly supported the cause of liberty in 1775, he was elected to represent the
parish as a delegate to the Continental Congress. In the early stages of the revolution, the patriots of St. John parish were the only Georgians to be actively involved. St. John Georgia as a whole refused to send delegates to the Continental Congress of 1774; therefore, the parish separated themselves and sent their own delegate. By 1776 the patriot fever had spread throughout St. John Georgia, and Mr. Gwinnett was elected to be 's representative in the Continental Congress. There he followed the instruction of the General Assembly as well as his own personal feelings and voted for the Declaration of Independence, which he signed on August 2, 1776. Georgia
Mr. Gwinnett continued as a member of the Continental Congress until 1777 when he became a member of the Convention charged with writing a constitution for
. Soon after the State Convention adjourned he was elected to be the president of the council due to the death of Mr. Bullock, the previous president. Mr. Gwinnett enjoyed the "civil honors" that were "rapidly and lavishly bestowed upon him" and decided that he also wanted military honors. Colonel M'Intosh, "a man highly esteemed for his manly bearing and courageous disposition," and Mr. Gwinnett were competitors for the office of Brigadier General. When Colonel M'Intosh was selected for the office, Mr. Gwinnett began to look upon him as his personal enemy. Whereas the two men had previously been friends, the breach between them "constantly widened" due to the "continued irritations which Mr. Gwinnett experienced at the hands of Colonel M'Intosh and his friends." Georgia
"… native born Englishmen were in the habit of regarding the colonists as inferior to themselves, and they were apt to assume a bearing toward them highly offensive. In some degree Mr. Gwinnett was obnoxious to this charge, and he looked upon his rapid elevation in public life, as an acknowledgment of his superiority. These feelings were too thinly covered not to be seen by the people when he was president of the council, and it soon engendered among the natives a jealousy that was fully reciprocated by him. This was doubtless the prime cause of [his] difficulties…."
The irritations and his "thoughts of having his fair fame tarnished in the eyes of the community" drove him to consider challenging Colonel M'Intosh to "single combat." Both men were injured with the first pistol shots, and Mr. Gwinnett died from his wounds in the prime of his life at age forty-five. "He could well have said, in the language of the lamented
, when fatally wounded in a duel by Aaron Burr: `I have lived like a man, but I die like a fool.'" Hamilton
Mrs. Button Gwinnett nursed her husband for twelve days as he suffered with a shattered hip. Mr. and Mrs. Gwinnett had several children, but apparently none of them survived for long after Button died.
Facts and quotes are from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp. 227-229.
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