Other Things to See and Do in Savannah: Colonial Park Cemetery
201 E. Oglethorpe Avenue; open daily from 8 AM to 8 PM.
This cemetery, the second in colonial Savannah, was the burying ground for the city from about 1750 until it was closed against burials in 1853. A tribute to southern efficiency, the cemetery is adjacent to a former dueling ground.
During the Civil War, Union troops were stationed at the cemetery because it was ideal for horses. The troops often searched for valuables among the graves. Since most of the soldiers were young fellows a long way from home looking for mischief, they switched a number of dates on some of the tombstones. If the tampered dates are correct, then the oldest person buried there lived to be 1700.
The cemetery became a city park in 1896. Among the distinguished dead who rest here are Archibald Bulloch, first President of Georgia; James Habersham, acting Royal Governor of the Province; Joseph Habersham, Postmaster General under three Presidents; Samuel Elbert, Revolutionary soldier and Governor of Georgia; Capt. Denis L. Cottineau de Kerloguen, who aided John Paul Jones in the engagement between the "Bon Homme Richard" and the "Serapis"; Hugh McCall, early historian of Georgia; Edward Green Malbone, the noted miniaturist; and Colonel John S. McIntosh, a hero of the War with Mexico. The remains of General Nathanael Greene, who died in 1786, reposed in the Graham vault until they were reinterred in 1901 in Johnson Square.
A couple of other of Georgia's early heroes reside here: Button Gwinnett, one of the three Georgia signatories to the Declaration of Independence, and General Lachlan McIntosh, whose interests crossed Gwinnett's with fatal consequences during the American Revolution.
A failed merchant and planter but brilliant politician, Button Gwinnett was a member of the Continental Congress, Speaker of the Georgia Assembly, and President of the Executive Council. He also was a member of the convention that met in Savannah in October, 1776, in which he played a prominent part in drafting the first Constitution of the State of Georgia.
However, the job he really coveted was to become a general of the Georgia troops, but Lachlan McIntosh, an experienced officer who in 1776 had repulsed the British assault at the Battle of the Rice Boats on the Savannah River, was appointed instead. McIntosh was commissioned a brigadier general in the Continental Army and made responsible for the defense of Georgia’s southern flank from British attacks from Florida.
When the President of the Georgia Assembly, Archibald Bulloch, died in March 1777, Gwinnett, as Speaker of the Georgia Assembly, was immediately elevated to fill the former’s position, effectively becoming governor and commander-in-chief of the army.
An open dispute arose between Gwinnett and McIntosh concerning the abortive Georgian invasion of Florida in 1777, which was an attempt to wrest that land from the English while their attention was diverted by the American uprising. Gwinnett designed a plan for the Georgia militia and the Georgia contingent of the Continental Army, under McIntosh’s command, to move south, surprise the English, and take Florida. The two rivals engaged in a series of gamesmanship maneuvers and McIntosh was required to withdraw from the campaign by Georgia’s Council of Safety. Just as well for him, perhaps, as Gwinnett's plan was flawed and resulted in the militia's commanders losing themselves in south Georgia swampland. But when the mission failed, Gwinnett and McIntosh were separately brought before the Georgia Assembly to offer their accounts of the disappointing and embarrassing events. In the end, Gwinnett won a modest vote of confidence from the tribunal, which dealt rather more harshly with the general.
McIntosh responded with heated words that included unpardonable insults—he called Gwinnett a “scoundrel and a lying rascal.” On May 15, 1777 a written challenge was delivered to McIntosh in which Gwinnett demanded satisfaction for the public insult.
The exchange took place the next dawn in a pasture in Thunderbolt, a small town adjacent to Savannah on the way to the seashore, on one of former Royal Governor James Wright’s 11 plantations. At a distance of approximately one dozen feet, the men faced each other and fired. Each shot struck its target in the thigh and Gwinnett fell. Thinking Gwinnett no worse wounded than himself, the general asked his rival whether he would care to exchange another shot. However, their seconds ended the duel and Gwinnett was removed for treatment. The wound was severe and he died within three days.
McIntosh was brought to trial for murder, but was acquitted of the charge, as the dispute was freely entered by Gwinnett, a fact substantiated by Mrs. Gwinnett, who refused to condemn McIntosh for her husband's death.
Nevertheless, public feeling ran strongly against the general, who subsequently headed north for a command under George Washington. He redeemed his reputation by leading troops at the Siege of Savannah in 1779 in the noble but failed attempt to lift the English siege of the city. In his later years, he became one of the city's most esteemed citizens.
In death, however, Gwinnett may have had the last laugh. True, both are buried in Colonial Park Cemetery.
But while McIntosh rests under a typical tombstone circa 1806 (and sharing billing with his great grandson, for heaven's sake),
his nemesis resides almost royally, since 1964, under a monument. The Gwinnett memorial is a 15-foot high structure of veined Georgia marble. Three rectangular marble platforms, each successively smaller, ascent to form the base and steps. Four attenuated Doric columns support an entablature, inscribed in gold with the name "BUTTON GWINNETT.” Beneath this baldachin is a tabloid or pedestal of marble, with the bronze inscriptional tablet mounted on it.
But even more triumphal for Gwinnett—and for this he has to give McIntosh some of the credit—is that his autograph is among the most sought after in the world. Valuations usually suggest an example of an original Gwinnett signature would be valued only behind the likes of Julius Caesar and William Shakespeare. In April 2010 a 1776 letter signed by Gwinnett sold for $722,500 at Sotheby's in New York. His signature’s extraordinarily high value is a result of a combination of the desire by many top collectors to acquire a complete set of autographs by all 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence and the extreme rarity of the Gwinnett autograph—51 known extant examples, according to Sotheby’s. So had he lived a full life, he would have had many more opportunities to sign his name, but thanks to McIntosh he did not and thus has become immortal.