Georgia's three Declaration of Independence signers honored

Wednesday, July 4, 2012 2:34 PM
Last updated Thursday, July 5, 2012 1:14 AM
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Augustans gathered along Greene Street’s grassy median Wednesday to remember three special men – much as they did on a very different Fourth of July 164 years ago.

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People gather for an Independence Day ceremony at which Georgia's three signers of the Declaration of Independence - George Walton, Lyman Hall and Button Gwinnett - were honored Wednesday. The Signers' Monument stands at Monument and Greene streets.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
People gather for an Independence Day ceremony at which Georgia's three signers of the Declaration of Independence - George Walton, Lyman Hall and Button Gwinnett - were honored Wednesday. The Signers' Monument stands at Monument and Greene streets.

On that holiday in 1848, the marble Signers’ Monument was dedicated to the memory of George Walton, Lyman Hall and Button Gwinnett – Georgia’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Their bravery long ago, and willingness to attend the first Continental Congress in 1776 with 53 other men, helped establish the freedoms that define our nation today, said James Hanby Jr., who is working to re-establish an annual signers’ tribute in Augusta.

“These three men traveled some 700 miles to Philadelphia to represent what was, at the time, the small colony of Georgia,” he said during a ceremony Wednesday morning. “Remember, Georgia was only about 40 years old at this time.”

The Signers’ Monument serves as a monument to the three men and is also where two of them – Walton and Hall – were reinterred when the obelisk was dedicated.

Walton, wounded and taken prisoner during the Revolutionary War, later became Georgia’s governor. He was the Declaration’s youngest signer.

He died 44 years before the Signers’ Monument was erected, and his remains – identified by a bullet hole through his thigh bone from a battle wound that left him with a lifelong limp – were moved from a local cemetery to Greene Street.

Also buried there is Hall, a doctor who practiced in Charleston, S.C., and later moved to Georgia, where he also became one of the state’s early governors. Hall bought Shell Bluff Plantation in Burke County after the war and died there.

Georgia’s third Declaration signer, Gwinnett, was an English-born merchant who died in 1777. He is not buried at the Signers’ Monument, mainly because the precise location of his remains – suspected to be in Savannah – has eluded historians. Of the 56 signers, his is the only one whose grave has not been unquestionably identified.

Hanby, a former Augusta resident who now lives in Delaware, hopes to expand the signers’ tribute to become a larger annual event.

“We’d like to have as many people, and as many groups, as possible,” he said.

The monument, he added, is showing its age, with water seeping into the seams between the stone blocks. The bronze historical marker is starting to tilt.

“It is an important monument,” he said. “A little care now would save a lot of money later.”

ABOUT THE SIGNERS

BUTTON GWINNETT: Unlike his fellow Georgia signers, Button Gwinnett was not born in the Colonies but rather in England, in 1735. He was the son of a Church of England vicar. He came to Georgia in 1765 and set himself up as a merchant. He plunged into Georgia politics in the late 1770s, which resulted in several confrontations with Gen. Lachlan McIntosh, of Darien, Ga., and his brother, George. The feud escalated to a duel between Gwinnett and McIntosh on the morning of May 16, 1777. Both were wounded, but McIntosh recovered and Gwinnett died three days later. Today, no one is certain where his body is buried.

LYMAN HALL: Born in Wallingford, Conn., in 1724, Lyman Hall moved to Charleston about 1756 to practice medicine. He was granted land in Georgia in 1760 and established a plantation near Midway. He also built a home in Sunbury, Ga., now a ghost town. Hall’s plantation was burned by the British after the fall of Savannah. He fled with his family, first to Charleston and then north, probably Connecticut, when Charleston was attacked by the British. Hall became governor of Georgia in 1783. His background of higher education resulted in his asking the General Assembly to grant land for “seminaries of learning,” a request that eventually led to the founding of the University of Georgia. He moved in early 1790 to a plantation at Shell Bluff in Burke County and died there the same year.

GEORGE WALTON: Born in Virginia. His parents died when he was young, and he was raised by his uncle and aunt. He moved to Savannah in 1769 and studied law. He was selected in January 1776 as one of Georgia’s delegates to the Continental Congress, but he didn’t take his seat in Philadelphia until July 1, just three days before the critical vote adopting the declaration. He became a colonel in the state militia during the Revolutionary War and was wounded in December 1778. In the mid-1780s, he moved from Savannah to Richmond County, where he died in 1804.


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