Born: England, about 1735
Died: Savannah, May 19, 1777
Button Gwinnett came to Georgia from England via Charleston, South Carolina, a route frequently traveled by Georgia settlers in the 1760's. After becoming disillusioned while running a Savannah store, Gwinnett landed at St. Catherine's, a coastal island now protected because of possible historical significance and its fragile ecosystem. When Gwinnett purchased the island (actually a thirty-six sq. mile tract of land including St. Catherine's) he tried to raise cattle and farm with limited success. He turned to politics in 1767, serving as justice of the peace and later in the Lower Assembly.
His lack of success at farming forced Gwinnett to withdraw from politics and he struggled to pay off his debt. St. Catherine's was sold to the highest bidder along with other personal property. Still an active member in both the community of Sunbury and St. John's Parish (now Liberty County, Georgia), Gwinnett came in contact with Lyman Hall, the Midway-based physician who would heavily influence Gwinnett's Radical mindset. At first Gwinnett was uncommitted to the cause of the Patriots, but by 1774 he became an outspoken Radical. Gwinnett was present at the meeting at Peter Tondee's Tavern in Savannah on July_24, 1774 that debated the right of England to impose the "Intolerable Acts" on the colonies.
Over the next two years Gwinnett rose quickly and played a pivotal role in Georgia politics, although he was disliked by a number of factions within the state. When Lyman Hall journeyed to the Second Continental Congress, Gwinnett became the de facto leader of the radical faction. Button saw two enemies to battle: England and the so-called "city party," a more conservative element of the radicals that represented the wealthier merchants and shipping interests in Savannah including Lachlan McIntosh and his brother George. Forming a coalition of backcountry farmers and the more radical coastal growers, Gwinnett tried to get elected to command the state's Continental soldiers. Reaction to Gwinnett's strongarm tactics from the city party was swift. Gwinnett lost to his nemesis, Lachlan McIntosh on January_30, 1776 when the Georgia Assembly made him commander of Continental battalion.
Instead Gwinnett became one of five men elected by the assembly to attend the Second Continental Congress. He arrived at Philadelphia in May, 1776 and voted for the Declaration of Independence on July 2. Shortly after signing the document on August 2, he returned to Georgia.
Button Gwinnett came back to Georgia with hopes of becoming military commander, a position he coveted. It was given to Lachlan McIntosh with the help of Gwinnett's rival city party on September_16, 1776. Gwinnett swore to gain control of the legislature during the next session, a feat he surprisingly accomplished. With rural elements in control of the Georgia House, he was elected speaker and played a fundamental role in the creation of the State Constitution of 1777.
On January_23, 1777, South Carolina representatives made public a long-whispered rumor -- South Carolina wanted to annex the state of Georgia for the common welfare of both states. Gwinnett organized and led the opposition to the proposal, voting it down in the Assembly. It then became apparent that merely voting down the proposal was not enough. Georgia needed a constitution, not the Rules and Regulations it had been governed under for almost a year.
Borrowing heavily from John Adams, Gwinnett and others drew up the state constitution and presented it to the assembly, which adopted it on February_5, 1777. One of the most critical of the new state constitution was Lachlan McIntosh, who complained that it gave "power...to irresponsible and avaricious individuals and groups." Two weeks later Archibald Bulloch was elected governor and commander-in-chief under this document, but he died under suspicious circumstances on the day he became head of the executive branch. Gwinnett was tapped to finish Bulloch's term until a new election could be held.
Gwinnett desperately wanted to command the army on the Second Florida Expedition, which was forming in April, 1777. He tried to raise this army, but failed miserably. Turning to McIntosh, whom Gwinnett had managed to alienate by attacking McIntosh's brother, the commander of the Continental forces in Georgia insisted that he alone lead his troops to Florida. Gwinnett and McIntosh battled each other from Savannah to Sunbury, where they both were recalled. Gwinnett was defeated in a reelection bid to become governor again because of his actions during the Second Florida Expedition.
On May_16, 1777 Gwinnett and McIntosh fought a duel, probably on a piece of land owned by former royal governor James Wright in Thunderbolt. Although both were injured, only Gwinnett's wound was fatal. He died three days later.
American Revolution In Georgia Georgia's role in the American Revolution Biographies Biographies of famous, not so famous and infamous people from the North Georgia area or who had an effect on North Georgia