Georgia Signers of the Declaration of Independence
“Intelligent and spirited men, who made a powerful addition to our phalanx” –
John Adams on the Georgia signers of the Declaration of Independence.
George Walton did not arrive at the Continental Congress until late June of 1776, taking his seat on July 1, just in time for the vote to adopt a declaration of independence. At age twenty-six, he was the youngest signer of the famous document. Walton continued to serve in the Continental Congress until October of 1777, then stayed active in political and military affairs upon his return to Georgia. His militia was involved in an attack on British-held Florida in early 1778, and in defending Georgia’s borders. When the British attacked Savannah in December of 1778, Walton was wounded and taken prisoner. He recovered and was exchanged in October of 1779. Upon his release he toured the Georgia back country encouraging citizens to keep up the fight for independence.
After the Revolution, Walton served two terms as Georgia governor, in the United States Senate, and as a superior court judge. He finally retired to his farm in Richmond County – dying in Augusta on February 2, 1804. In 1848 his remains were removed from their original burial site and placed with a monument honoring Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Dr. Lyman Hall was one of only five physicians to sign the Declaration of Independence. While not an active participant in the debates at the Continental Congress, Hall was a tireless committee worker–particularly in trying to procure medicine and clothing for soldiers. He returned home in February, 1777, to help defend the state. Hall was a longtime friend of Button Gwinnett, one of his fellow delegates to the Congress. Hall supported Gwinnett in his famous feud with Lachlan McIntosh, which eventually led to the duel that cost Gwinnett his life. Hall was executor of Gwinnett’s estate.
When the British captured Savannah, both of Hall’s homes were torched and he was accused of high treason. He fled to Charleston, which subsequently also came under British attack. Hall fled again, probably to Connecticut to stay with relatives. When the fighting ended he reclaimed his lands in Georgia. Elected as delegate to the House of Assembly in 1783, that legislature then elected him governor. Hall worked diligently addressing the new state’s many problems–defense, disputes with natives, meager food supply, and chaotic finances. He suggested to the assembly that they set aside tracts of lands to establish educational academies in the future. This suggestion, continued by another transplanted man from Connecticut–Abraham Baldwin–was instrumental in the chartering of the University of Georgia. As one of his final acts as governor, Hall was able to announce the signing of the Treaty of Paris which officially ended the war. Hall eventually retired to a plantation in Burke County, where he died in 1790.
Button Gwinnett is the most famous of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence–likley because he died less than a year after signing the document. Gwinnett was very adept at Revolutionary politics. He arrived at the Continental Congress in May of 1776, and like his friend Lyman Hall, was heavily involved in committee work, while taking no recorded part in the debate over independence. His support for the cause was clear though, as he voted to separate from England on July 2, voted for the Declaration itself on July 4, and signed the actual document on August 2. Soon thereafter he left Philadelphia to return to Georgia.
Back home Gwinnett was as heavily involved in Georgia politics as he had been on the national scene. He hoped to be named leader of the Georgia Revolutionary military forces, but that appointment went to Lachlan McIntosh, a long time political rival. Their rivalry became even more heated as the war progressed, finally culminating in McIntosh calling Gwinnett “a scoundrell and lying rascal.” Gwinnett challenged McIntosh to a duel, which took place on May 16, 1777. Both men were injured in the duel; McIntosh recovered, but Gwinnett died three days later. His death so soon after the signing of the Declaration of Independence has made his signature one of the most valuable of all the signers.