Today in history was a fateful day for America. It is the 237th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Today is also the 150th anniversary of the surrender of Confederate forces at Vicksburg, Mississippi (July 4, 1863)to General Grant. This Union victory severed the Confederate West from the rest of the Confederacy, and opened the Mississippi River to Union gunboats and armies to move without challenge.
General Robert E. Lee withdrew his Confederate army from the Gettysburg battlefield 150 years ago, today. His proud army had been defeated, and this day is considered the turning-point in the Civil War, especially with the coincident loss of Vicksburg and the Confederate states west of the Mississippi River.
On this day in 1826, John Adams died. It is said that his last words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Strangely, Thomas Jefferson had died a few hours earlier at Monticello, his famous residence.
Button Gwinnett’s signature is at the top of the first column of signatures on the bottom left of the Declaration. His signature is one of the most sought after of all the men who were there. Gwinnett was a leader of the radical faction of the Whigs. The other Whig faction was not as enthusiastic for American independence. Those loyalists who favored British rule were called Tories.
Button Gwinnett was killed in a duel by his political enemy, Lachlan McIntosh, in May, 1777. Both men were wounded in the duel, but McIntosh recovered and Gwinnett died three days later. His early demise less than a year after the signing has made his signature very valuable, and it may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s market.
Gwinnett’s second in the famous duel was my ancestor, George Wells. He was a leader of the radical Whig faction. In early 1780 as president of the executive council, Wells acted as governor when Richard Howley, Governor, and George Walton traveled to Philadelphia as representatives to the Continental Congress.
George Wells was killed in a duel on February 15, 1780 by a political enemy, Major James Jackson. The politics in Georgia during the Revolution were dirty and dangerous. The leaders of the radical Whig faction, Gwinnett and Wells, although killed in duels, had a lasting effect on democratic rule in the State of Georgia.
At one time, there were three state governments in Georgia. The Tories (Loyalists) convened in Savannah, and the Whigs, of which there were two factions, convened in Augusta. It was a confusing time, and choosing the winning side could be a hazard to your health.
Gwinnett County, Georgia was named for Button Gwinnett. It is in the Atlanta metropolitan area, and is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation.