Signers of the Declaration of Independence
Button Gwinnett(1732- May 19, 1777 ) spent his early life in England. Born as the third child to Rev. Samuel Gwinnett and Ann Eames in Down Hatherly, Gloucestershire, England, his parents were of modest means, and Button attended the basic local public schools. He did not receive an advanced education. Once he reached sixteen, he removed to Bristol and worked with a merchant, eventually taking over the business.
Through his time as a merchant, he gained an appreciation of the power of the British navy. When trouble began with the Colonies, he was not optimistic about the chances of independence. He was, therefore, something of a reluctant patriot.
In the course of business, he met Anne Bourne, daughter of a grocer who was three years his junior. After a short courtship, the couple wed on October 24, 1757, in Wolverhampton, England. After five years of marriage, Button saw a commercial opportunity in the Colonies, and moved his family first to Charleston, South Carolina, and then to Georgia in 1762. He and Anne had one daughter, Amelia, just before coming to America.
In Georgia, he bought an island and began a plantation. As he attempted commerce in the colony, he became more aware of the strictures, regulations, and taxes the citizens of Georgia faced. Lyman Hall, another signer, became his good friend and influenced his views. Button was present at the meeting at Peter Tondee’s Tavern in Savannah in 1774. His views became so altered that by 1775 he was appointed to the Continental Congress, and helped to frame the constitution of Georgia. He was re-elected to Congress and continued to serve.
Button was ambitious and desired a military appointment. He was instead elected as president of the colonial assembly. His tactics in attempting to gain control of Georgia’s militia were not well received, and when the election for brigadier general of the militia was held, he lost. Unsuccessful as a planter, and now thwarted in politics, he was angry. His rival for the generalship was one Lachlan McIntosh. Button ordered McIntosh to invade East Florida and circumvented his authority as general at every turn. He ordered McIntosh’s brother arrested for treason. McIntosh, losing patience with Button’s interference and attacks on his brother, publicly called Gwinnett “a scoundrel and lying rascal”. Button challenged him to a duel.
The duel was held on May 16, 1777, at a plantation owned by the deposed Royal Governor. The opponents shot from an unusual distance of only twelve feet, and both men were wounded, Button mortally. Lachlan McIntosh survived his wound. Button died May 27, 1777, at forty-five years old.