Button Gwinnett and the Duel

This Day in History


Meet the man whose signature is worth more than $722,500- Button Gwinnett. 

The reason for his expensive John Hancock is mainly due to the limited quantities. There are only 51 copies (41 of which are in museums). Ten months after fixating his signature to the Declaration of Independence, the delegate from Georgia was tragically killed in a duel by Lachlan McIntosh on this day in 1777. 

Although the British-born Patriot arrived in the colonies only a mere ten years before the beginning of the American Revolution, Button Gwinnett was a faithful and dutiful patriot. After serving as a merchant and a planter, he soon gained local political prominence and was elected to the Provincial Assembly. Along with his Georgia delegates, he voted for independence on July 6, 1776. 

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 to rival Lachlan McIntosh. By this, the signer was greatly embittered. 

In addition to serving on the Georgia State Legislature, he also wrote the original draft to the Georgia first state Constitution and served as Speaker of the Georgia Assembly.

Button Gwinnett

After Gwinnett imprisoned McIntosh’s brother for treason, Lachlan publicly called his rival a scoundrel and a lying rascal.

At the time, a man’s name and honor were important to his place in society. To not address McIntosh’s claims was to admit defeat. On May 16, 1777, Button Gwinnett challenged McIntosh to a duel in Savannah, Georgia at the planation owned by Governor of Georgia, James Wright. As customary to duels, the two men fired their pistols at the twelve paces mark and were both wounded. 


While McIntosh recovered from his wounds, Gwinnett, unfortunately, did not. He died three days later. Due to the limited circulation of his signature, Button Gwinnett’s John Hancock is extremely rare and highly sought after by collectors. 

In his memory, the Atlanta suburban area of Gwinnett County is named after the Georgia signer.  (His rival, McIntosh, also has a Georgia county near St. Simons Island named after him as well). 

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