We fired up the DeLorean and headed back to May 16, 1777 – the day Button Gwinnett was shot in a duel with his political rival, Lachlan McIntosh.
The DiG: Hello, Mr. Gwinnett! Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me for a few quick questions.
Button Gwinnett: And a good day to you!
DiG: So you signed the Declaration of Independence less than one year ago! Can you tell me about that experience?
Gwinnett: Certainly. ‘Twas my honor to be one of three Georgia signers of the United States Declaration of Independence. I became a strong advocate of colonial rights in 1775, when St. John’s Parish – which encompassed my lands – threatened to secede from the Province of Georgia due to the colony’s rather conservative response to the events of the times. I was elected to the Commons House of Assembly in 1776.
My politics were influenced by my contempt for the wealthy and powerful Whigs of Savannah. I myself represented the less prosperous coastal dwellers and farmers. Those Whigs so hated my political leanings that they forced me to resign, but I was victorious in my bid for the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia and thus became a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, on July 2, 1776.
DiG: July 2? I thought it was signed on July 4?
Gwinnett: The fair copy was presented to the Congress on July 4, 1776. I didn’t actually sign the official parchment copy until August 2, 1776. My signature is the first one on the left.
DiG: Wow, so many historic accomplishments! And when did you go to Gwinnett County for the first time?
Gwinnett: To where?
DiG: Gwinnett County? Umm…it’s kind of in the northwest part of Georgia?
Gwinnett: Pray, have you a map? I cannot say that I have ventured into the northern regions. I resided in Charleston, Province of South Carolina, prior to my current residence in Savannah, Province of Georgia.
DiG: I noticed you have a pistol at your hip; is it common to carry a weapon around like that? Do you have a carry conceal permit?
Gwinnett: Fie! One does not need a permit to protect himself! ‘Tis just so happens to be my dueling pistol; I have a duel scheduled with the deplorable radical Whig, Lachlan McIntosh. That rapscallion usurped my military position whilst I was in Philadelphia, ratifying the Declaration of Independence. I thwarted him by becoming speaker of the legislature and aiding with the creation of the Georgia Constitution of 1777, and after that I was named Governor of this fine land.
DiG: So…why the duel?
Gwinnett: Well, McIntosh was none too pleased when I had his brother arrested and tried for treason. I tried to let bygones be bygones by allowing him to lead an invasion of British-controlled East Florida, but the fool blundered the entire operation. McIntosh placed the blame on me and publicly declared me a “scoundrel and lying rascal!” I sent a written challenge to McIntosh demanding an apology or satisfaction. McIntosh refused to apologize, and so we shall duel in James Wright’s field today. I must take my leave; it has been an exceedingly agreeable evening and I wish you a good day.
At a distance of 12 paces, Button Gwinnett and Lachlan McIntosh leveled and fired virtually simultaneously. Gwinnett received a ball to the thigh and McIntosh was struck in the leg; Gwinnett died as a result of the gangrenous wound three days later. McIntosh’s wound was not fatal. He was never charged in connection with Gwinnett’s death.
Gwinnett never set foot in his namesake county, and – due to his death occurring so soon after signing the Declaration of Independence – his signature is incredibly rare, valuable and sought after by collectors.