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About Button Gwinnett
Button Gwinnett (1735 – May 19 or 27, 1777) was an British-born American political leader who, as a representative of Georgia to the Continental Congress, was the second of the signatories (first signature on the left) on the United States Declaration of Independence. He was also, briefly, the provisional president of Georgia in 1777, and Gwinnett County (now a major suburb of metropolitan Atlanta) was named for him. Gwinnett was killed in a duel by a rival, Lachlan McIntosh, following a dispute after a failed invasion of East Florida.
Early life and education
Gwinnett was born in 1735 in the parish of Down Hatherley in the county of Gloucestershire, Great Britain, to Welsh parents, the Reverend Samuel and Anne (née Button) Gwinnett. He was the first of his parents' seven children. There are conflicting reports as to his birth date, but he was baptized in St Catherine’s Church in Gloucester on April 10, 1735. After attending The King's School, Gloucester he started his career as a merchant in England. He then moved to Wolverhampton in 1755 and married a local, Ann Bourne, in 1757 at St. Peter's Church at the age of 22. In 1762 the couple left Wolverhampton and moved to America.
Arriving first in Charleston, South Carolina, by 1765 they had traveled to Georgia. Gwinnett abandoned his mercantile pursuits, selling off all his merchandise to buy a tract of land where he started a plantation. He prospered as a planter, and by 1769 had gained such local prominence that he was elected to the Provincial Assembly. During his tenure in the Assembly, Gwinnett's chief political rival was Lachlan McIntosh, and Lyman Hall was his closest ally. Gwinnett did not become a strong advocate of colonial rights until 1775, when St. John's Parish, which encompassed his lands, threatened to secede from Georgia due to the colony's rather conservative response to the events of the times.
American Revolutionary War
Gwinnett voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence, adopted by Congress on July 2, 1776, two days before the "fair copy," dated July 4, 1776, was presented to the Congress. He signed the famous parchment copy on August 2, 1776. After signing the Declaration, he was accompanied as far as Virginia by Carter Braxton, another of the signers, carrying a proposed state constitution drawn up by John Adams. During his service in the Continental Congress, Gwinnett was a candidate for a brigadier general position to lead the 1st Regiment in the Continental Army, but lost out to Lachlan McIntosh. The loss of the position to his rival embittered Gwinnett greatly.
Gwinnett served in the Georgia state legislature, and in 1777 he wrote the original draft of Georgia's first State Constitution. He soon became Speaker of the Georgia Assembly, a position he held until the death of the President (Governor) of Georgia, Archibald Bulloch. Gwinnett was elevated to the vacated position by the Assembly’s Executive Council. In this position, he sought to undermine the leadership of McIntosh.
Button died on 19 or 27 May 1777 from wounds inflicted during a duel on 16 May with his political rival Lachlan McIntosh.
Button's autograph is highly sought by collectors as a result of a combination of the desire by many top collectors to acquire a complete set of autographs by all 56 signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and the extreme rarity of the Gwinnett signature; there are 51 known examples, since Gwinnett was fairly obscure prior to signing the Declaration and died shortly afterward.
Gwinnett County in Georgia is also named after Button Gwinnett.
In popular culture
In the 2008 role-playing game Fallout 3, a Protectron robot wearing a powdered wig has been left in command of the National Archives and due to a memory malfunction believes itself to be the real Gwinnett. It will challenge the player to a duel or otherwise resist him if the player attempts to seize the copy of the Declaration of Independence that it is guarding. If the player manages to convince the robot that he or she is Thomas Jefferson, it will submit.
In Season 1 of Mr. Show, Button Gwinnett was played by Jack Plotnick in a skit surrounding the origin of the American flag's design. Gwinnett was portrayed as a pitiable stooge.
The 1932 film Washington Merry-Go-Round stars actor Lee Tracy as Button Gwinnett Brown, a (fictitious) modern-day Congressman and descendant of Button Gwinnett. He owns a letter written and signed by his ancestor Button Gwinnett, which is worth $50,000 because (according to this movie's dialogue) only three of the original Gwinnett's letters still survive, and this is one of them. This fictitious document is destroyed during the film's action; the film also includes a close-up of the real Gwinnett's signature on the Declaration of Independence.
Stephen Colbert has referenced Gwinnett in both airings of the segment "Better Know A Founder" featuring impersonators of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, joking that Gwinnett would be interviewed in a future segment.
Isaac Asimov wrote a science-fiction short-story named "Button! Button!", featuring a time-travel plot in which a collector may take possession of Gwinnett's signature on the Declaration of Independence.