I spent the first 24 years of my life living in Gwinnett County, Georgia. When I was born, Gwinnett had a population of 72,349. At the time, much of the county resembled Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show. Everyone knew almost everyone else, and there was a sense of “community” there that I haven’t really felt since.
During the 1980s, however, Gwinnett experienced massive growth. The county frequently placed at or near the top of “America’s fastest growing counties” lists. The county grew so much that the 2010 census estimates its population at 808,167. More people live in Gwinnett County than within the city limits of San Francisco, Memphis, Charlotte, Baltimore, Boston or Seattle. Hell, the Gwinnett school system – the largest in Georgia – has more students (159,258) than Dayton, Ohio (155,461), Springfield, Missouri (154,777) or Salem, Oregon (151,913) have residents. The Gwinnett Arena, originally considered a boondoggle by many area residents, has hosted concerts by Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Depeche Mode, Snow Patrol, Bon Jovi and more. The county has their own East Coast Hockey League team (the Gwinnett Gladiators) and in January of this year, the Atlanta Braves announced that they were moving their AAA club from Richmond (population: 200,123) to Gwinnett.
Gwinnett is big. It’s for real. So why the hell do people still misspell it? To this day, I’ll see “Gwinet”, “Gwinnet”, “Gwinett”, “Gwinnet” or “Gwinnette” on websites and blogs. Just the other day, I was looking at a band’s page on MySpace, only to find that they were playing the “Arena at Gwinnette Center” soon. And it drove me nuts!
Gwinnett County is named for Button Gwinnett, who, along with Lyman Hall and George Walton, signed the Declaration of Independence for the colony of Georgia. Born to Reverend Samuel and Anne Gwinnett in Gloucestershire, England around 1732, Button Gwinnett was a merchant who initially moved to Charleston, South Carolina in 1762. He quickly abandoned his mercantile pursuits and bought a plot of land on St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia and became a planter. He was a rousing success, and quickly moved up the social and political ladder.
After signing the Declaration in 1776, Gwinnett returned to Georgia with a draft of a new constitution for the state that John Adams had written for him. After tweaking it to his liking, Gwinnett’s constitution became Georgia’s first constitution. He then became Speaker of the Georgia Assembly, a position he held until the untimely death of Archibald Bulloch, the President (governor) of Georgia. Gwinnett was then made “president”, and he used his office to continue a long-standing feud with Lachlan McIntosh. Gwinnett and McIntosh would go ’round and ’round so often and so brutally that Gwinnett eventually challenged McIntosh to a duel. The men wounded each other in the duel, but while McIntosh survived, Gwinnett would succumb to gangrene from his wounds. He died on May 19, 1777, three days after the duel.
Here’s an interesting bit of trivia about Button Gwinnett: his autograph is, by far, the most valuable American autograph of all time. Only 30 copies of his signature are known to exist, as he was an obscure figure before the American Revolution and died less than a year after signing the Declaration of Independence. Gwinnett’s signature routinely fetches $150,000 or more on the rare instances that it comes up for auction. In fact, Gwinnett’s signature is one of the most sought after in the entire world, behind only Julius Caesar and William Shakespeare. Why is this, you ask? Because there is a group of high-end autograph collectors that try to get the autographs of all 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. While you might think that George Washington or Thomas Jefferson’s autographs are “more important”, you have to remember that those two men signed their names thousands of times, and many, many copies of their autographs still exist. A low-end Washington or Jefferson signature can, in fact, go for as little as $2500 at auction.
One last bit of trivia: Archibald Bulloch might seem like an obscure figure that only Georgia historians would care about. However, his great-great-grandson was Theodore Roosevelt, and his great-great-great granddaughter was Eleanor Roosevelt. In the early 1830s, Bullcoh’s grandson James Stephens Bulloch moved to what was then the North Georgia wilderness with his friend Roswell King, who founded the city of Roswell, Georgia. James Stephens built Bulloch Hall, a Greek revival mansion in 1840. Martha Bulloch, Theodore Roosevelt’s mother, was born there in 1835. The house is now a museum, but until recently it was available to rent for parties. One of my relatives even held their wedding reception there in the 80s.