Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Button Gwinnett (1735 – May 19, 1777), was one of the signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of Georgia. He was also briefly the provisional president of Georgia in 1777, prior to his death, and has Gwinnett County (now a major suburb of metro Atlanta) named after him.
Button was born in the parish of Down Hatherley in Gloucestershire, England to Reverend Samuel and Anne Gwinnett. There are conflicting reports as to his birthdate, but he was baptized in St Catherine's Church in Gloucester on 10th April of 1735. He started his career as a merchant in Bristol, England. He then moved to Wolverhampton in 1755 and married a local, Ann Bourne, in 1757. In 1762 the couple left Wolverhampton and moved to America.
Arriving first in Charleston, South Carolina, by 1765 they had travelled to Savannah, Georgia. Gwinnet abandoned his mercantile pursuits, selling off all his merchandise to buy a tract of land on St. Catherines Island 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.
He was appointed commander of Georgia's continental militia, but declined the position, and was elected to attend the Continental Congress. After signing the Declaration of Independence, he returned to Georgia and served in the legislature there, helping to draft the state's constitution. As president of the Council of Safety , he led an unsuccessful attempt to invade Florida. He was cleared of wrongdoing in this undertaking and ran unsuccessfully for Governor. He challenged his chief political foe, Lachlan McIntosh, to a duel, which was fought on May 16, 1777. Both were wounded: McIntosh survived, but Button Gwinnett died three days later of his wounds.
A fairly obscure historical figure, Gwinnett nonetheless does hold one claim to fame: his autograph is among the most valuable in the world. Valuations usually suggest an example of an original Gwinnett signature would be valued only behind the likes of Julius Caesar and William Shakespeare, making Gwinnett's by far the most valuable American autograph. Single examples of Gwinnett's autograph have been sold for as much as $150,000. Its extraordinarily high value is a result of a combination of the desire by many top collectors to acquire a complete set of autographs by all 56 signatories of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and the extreme rarity of the Gwinnett signature (there are less than 30 known extant examples, since Gwinnett was fairly obscure prior to signing the Declaration and died shortly afterwards).
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