On this day in, May 16th, 1777, British-born Georgia Patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence Button Gwinnett receives a bullet wound in a duel with his political rival, Georgia city Whig Lachlan McIntosh. Three days later, Gwinnett died as a result of the gangrenous wound. McIntosh was also shot in the duel, but the wound was not fatal.
Button Gwinnett was born in Down Hatherly, Gloucestershire, England, and was baptized in Gloucester in 1735. He was married and began a career in trading while still in Britain. In the 1760s, Gwinnett moved first to Charleston, South Carolina, then to Savannah, Georgia, where he had established himself as a trader by 1765. Entering politics in 1769, he was elected to the Commons House of Assembly. Taking up residence on St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia, in 1770, Gwinnett left commerce for farming. His politics were deeply influenced by his contempt for the wealthy and powerful city Whigs of Savannah. Gwinnett’s political base of country Whigs consisted of less prosperous coastal dwellers like himself and backcountry farmers. When first made commander of Georgia’s Patriot forces, Gwinnett was forced to resign by the outcry of city Whigs. He went on to win election to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia and became a signatory of the Declaration of Independence.
Gwinnett returned to Georgia immediately after signing the declaration to find city Whig Lachlan McIntosh commanding Georgia’s nascent military efforts. Determined to take control of Georgia politics, Gwinnett became speaker of the legislature, guided the Georgia Constitution of 1777 into existence and took over as governor when Archibald Bulloch died suddenly in office.
Gwinnett then wanted to lead an expedition to secure Georgia’s border with Florida. A dispute between McIntosh and Gwinnett over who would command the effort ultimately led to their duel and Gwinnett’s death.