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.
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.”