One Duel. One Died. One Didn’t – E-6

32.077938° -81.082580° Season 1, Episode 6

Hey, everyone!

What a great day for a podcast!

Do we have a great country or what?

Yes… our country has problems… all countries have problems.

But at the time of the forming of our nation during the American Revolution, things got pretty bad, not just in the way the war was going, but in the political landscape of the founding fathers. Tensions were high between the early patriots.

Some said that in 1777, at the early phases of the fighting, Georgia’s war-time President was murdered by poisoning.

Yes or no, his death definitely had suspicious circumstances surrounding it… but no one could prove foul play. When Archibald Bulloch died… some people suspected that a man named Button Gwinnett had something to do with it.

 The wake of that incident washed over emotions, heated tempers, and created mistrust among Georgia’s founding fathers.

As a result, two American patriots fought a duel in Savannah, and one of them died. But today, we’ll look into WHERE the duel took place.

By the way, you’ve heard of six degrees of separation? President Theodore Roosevelt, who was born 81 years later, has a link to these events and this duel.

 I’m JD Byous. Welcome to History by GPS, where you travel through history and culture, GPS location by GPS location. So, click on your favorite map app and follow along.

Ready?… Here are the coordinates for today’s spot.

It is 32.077938° -81.082580°

Now, you’re going to find that this location is in the middle of a grassy park on the east side of town. But it is an important spot, and here’s the story behind it.

The President was a guy named Archibald Bulloch, a member of the Continental Congress and a veteran of the fight for freedom.

As an interesting note… Bulloch had to leave the meetings of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and make a hasty trip to Georgia to help defend Savannah from an imminent British attack. If he had stayed in Pennsylvania, he would have been Georgia’s fourth signer of the Declaration of Independence.

You remember the others… Lyman Hall, George Walton, and Button Gwinnett.

Archibald Bulloch

Also… if Bulloch had not died when he did, one signer of the Declaration of Independence might have lived a little longer.

So, to clarify… Bulloch was the first President and Commander in Chief of Georgia… in the temporary government… in the soon to be new State while the war with England was still going on. After his death, he was replaced by the ambitious and recent English immigranta guy named, Button Gwinnett.

The President’s death and the suspicions surrounding it… illuminate the power struggle that was taking place among the American Rebel leadership.

Factional game-playing was debilitating the security of the Revolution, the state, and especially the city of Savannah.

Gwinnett is often remembered as a mystery man with a cloudy past. A decade earlier, when he immigrated from England, he purchased St. Catherines Island off of the South Georgia coast.

His investment failed, leaving him up to his eyeballs in debt. So, he was forced to sell his property in 1773. He turned to politics three years later, and the political winds pushed him into public office and a position in the newly formed Georgia Assembly.

Okay, where the GPS coordinates will take you are to a recently elevated section of lawn that is within a few feet of the spot where in 1777, Button Gwinnett fought a duel with a guy named Lachlan McIntosh.

Trustees’ Garden in Savannah, Georgia and the location of the duel.

The rift between the patriots was due to differing political opinions and the resultant insults that went with them. Gwinnett, a member of the Continental Congress, was a candidate for a position as brigadier general in the 1st Regiment of the Continental Army… But Georgia’s one-house General Assembly gave the position to McIntosh. That decision made Gwinnett furious.

See, Gwinnett rose to the office of Speaker of the Georgia Assembly… the \top /dog position So after Bulloch’s death, HE, Gwinnett, became the President.

In taking office, he carried with him the belief that he was a wronged man… so Gwinnett started getting even with the people who opposed him.

In his power quest, Gwinnett began purging his opponents’ from their positions in the assembly and in the military. He ordered McIntosh to march on an ill-conceived and ill-planned campaign to seal off the border from British Florida. I said, “ill-conceived.” The expedition was a disaster.

The debacle created shouts of accusation from both sides, both pointing blame at each other.

And Gwinnett was set on using the failure to take over command of the military and oust McIntosh. But the stubborn Scotsman McIntosh refused to be blamed and refused to give up his position.

In the political chess game, Gwinnett attacked Lachlan’s brother, George McIntosh, and called him a traitor. Gwinnett charged that George had sold provisions to British ships then promptly relieved Lachlan of his command. Gwinnett did not know, nor did he look into, the fact that the traitor was a business partner who had detoured a cargo of rice and other provisions to the British… all without George McIntosh’s knowledge. Gwinnett had George hauled off to jail.

Lachlan was furious, he knew his brother’s loyalty to the American cause and called Gwinnett “a scoundrel and a lying rascal.”

Back then, those terms were a bit more incendiary than they are today. However, today we do still have a few scoundrels and lying rascals in Washington, DC… so I’m told.

By the way, as I always say, I’ve researched this stuff for thirty years. This is my understanding and interpretation on what happened.. and I hear there are several other interpretations.

If you have an opinion, or if you just want to comment, please leave a note in the comment section below the transcription. Or, if you’re listening on a platform that doesn’t have them… check out the show notes and other information on our website… There are also photos and illustrations that go along with the story.

So…….. Gwinnett, in his hot-headed way, challenged Lachlan McIntosh to a duel. That action scored points for Gwinnett in the Georgia Congress, but though others tried to talk him out of it, he was determined to go on with the duel.

Which, when you look at the facts… was a very dumb thing to do… Lachlan McIntosh was a Scottish Highlander who was a child when the founder of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, recruited his clan to settle Georgia’s southeastern coast to protect against the Spanish.

In fact, the Spanish captured his father, and Oglethorpe arranged for Lachlan and George to be put under the care of Reverend George Whitfield at his Bethesda orphanage.

But the independent Scottish boys didn’t do well at the orphanage. I mean, they were Scottish. Now, I can say that because my name Byous is a VERY Scottish name. Other Scots will understand.

As I was saying, the brothers didn’t get along with things at the orphanage.

So, they decided they would return to Scotland to fight with the Jacobites in what is called the 1715 uprising that tried to overthrow the English protestant monarchs, William and Mary. I’ll talk about Jacobites in another episode.

Fortunately for them, Oglethorpe convinced them to stay in Georgia because the whole war was a fiasco for the Jacobite cause.

To emphasize why a duel with McIntosh was a bad idea for Gwinnett…The McIntosh boys had warrior training from their youth and were excellent marksmen. That fighting ability, along with Lachlan’s quick wit, helped him advance through the ranks of local military units.

His Scottish Highland honor would not allow him to be insulted by the English-born newcomer-to-the-cause, Button Gwinnett, nor any other man. As a result, the men would duel to settle the argument and restore their honor.

Hmmmm. What kind of guy has the name Button anyway… sounds like something you’d find in the lint trap of a clothes dryer.

Okay, so now you’re asking me, where does Teddy Roosevelt come into the story?

That’s coming up. You’ll see how he is “very” connected to this occasion.

I promise.

Okay… continuing… Several locations have been suggested as to where the fight took place. However, combining all the accounts by participants, historians, and recorded evidence, one place comes out as the spot where the clash happened… Trustees’ Garden here on the edge of Savannah’s eastern bluff, where the GPS coordinates will take you.

Here’s the evidence…

That site, as described by historian and Savannah Mayor Thomas Gamble, has been long known as a favorite dueling ground for Savannahians as well as for those across the river who wanted to avoid South Carolina, law officials. It was located “ below the fort” at Trustees’ Garden.

Now, the location of the Gwinnett/McIntosh duel has been in dispute for over a century.

But records indicate that the duel happened in a field owned by Royal Governor James Wright east of the city. According to a map in the Georgia Historical Society Library, Wright owned many of the lots at Trustees’ Garden that were along what is now named Randolph Street and… ironically… MacIntosh Boulevard.  

And we have the testimony of Gwinnett’s second, you know… the guy who hands them the guns and then backs out of the line of fire… On that day, the guy was Charles Wells, the brother of the Sugar Party Liberty Boy, Andrew Elton Wells, that we talk about in another History by GPS episode.

Charles stated that a crowd was gathering, so Gwinnett and McIntosh moved “a little lower down the hill.” That means it was close enough to town for a crowd of onlookers to gather and that it took place in a field with a slope. There are few slopes in or near Savannah that were owned by James Wright.

As I said… according to the old map in the Georgia Historical Society, at the time of the duel, Royal Governor James Wright owned the residential parcel that has the coordinates that I gave you. Other accounts of the event say it was below the old fort…

If you look on the map, the eastern wall of the fort that was \there in 1777 was about where the current wall stands today. And, in combining the records and reports from historians Thomas Gamble, Hugh McCall, and Charles C. Jones, along with Wells’ testimony, the location notes point to Trustees’ Garden.

McCall wrote that it was on Governor Wright’s land east of the city — that checks out. Jones said it was within the city limit, which ran across the marsh next to this location – another check. Wells said it was on a hillside…

By the way, Hugh McCall was about ten years old at the time of the duel, and his father fought in Savannah. So, he may have had first-hand information.

There is only one place where all of those things match up… the grassy knoll in Morris Park at Trustees’ Garden.

Now, that’s interesting… gunfire around grassy knolls in the South always seems to be shrouded in mystery… and they tend to change history.

But anyway…

Here’s an interesting tidbit of history about THIS duel.

The distance between participants in most duels of that time would typically be ten paces or more, which separates the combatants by about thirty feet.

McIntosh insisted that eight or ten feet would be sufficient. The seconds, Joseph Habersham and George Wells stepped and marked the distance. Habersham then told the men to stand back-to-back as was traditional. But McIntosh refused, saying, “By no means… let us see what we are about.” And Gwinnett agreed.

So the men stood about ten… feet… apart……

Ten feet apart! That… is… insane!

At ten feet… with the pistols of that day… the muzzles of their guns were only about three and one-half feet apart. Like I said… That’s insane.

The two men fired at almost the same time.

Gwinnett fell to the ground with a wound above the knee and a broken thigh bone.

McIntosh, though shot through his thigh muscle, stood still. He was thinking that Gwinnett’s wound was no worse off than his, so he asked Gwinnett if had had enough or if he wanted to try another round. Gwinnett said… now, this is not a quote, but today it would be something like… Yeah, dude… let’s get it on!

Well… the seconds demanded that one round was enough. Then after the seconds helped Gwinnett to his feet, the two combatants shook hands.

Wells later testified that both men behaved like gentlemen and men of honor.

Now here’s a question… If they were only ten feet apart, why weren’t they both killed?

They must have been very bad shots on that day… Right?

Well… one answer is that it was a common practice in those days… to attempt to wound your opponent rather than kill them. It was an act of bravery and honor… a macho show of manhood,some would say.

The fact that both men were struck in the thigh at ten feet indicates that they attempted to regain honor without killing each other.

Heck. If these guys wanted to kill each other, they’d both be dead.

The protocol in dueling was to stand with the pistol pointing upward. It would be hard for both men to lower their weapons and miss the intended target if it was the upper chest or upper body… so it was gentlemanly to wound your opponent.

Now, here’s my theory of how it may have happened. The seconds said the two men fired almost simultaneously. I suspect that Gwinnett fired first, hitting McIntosh in the thigh, which made him flinch and miss his mark… the flesh on the side of Gwinnett’s leg… and instead… in flinching… the ball was fired directly into the center of his leg, breaking his thigh.

McIntosh healed in a few weeks. But Gwinnett didn’t fare so well. His… death was unintentional. See, the weather was hot and muggy, and things were not very sanitary back then…, especially musket balls. It was gangrene that did him in.

As a political result, McIntosh was ostracized by many in Georgia’s Revolutionary leadership, and he was sent up north to let things cool off. They did… He was ordered to serve under General George Washington just in time for the deadly winter camp at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

I’ll bet that cooled him down a bit.

Ironically, today the two men are buried just a few yards apart in Colonial Park Cemetery in the Historic District.

So… did people still duel after that?

Yes… similarly for the next century.

Now, an other irony, George Wells, you remember… Gwinnett’s second at the duel… he died a few days after Gwinnett… killed in a duel with McIntosh’s good friend, Major James Jackson… who was known to be one of the greatest duelists and marksmen of the time… and didn’t aim for the thigh. Fort Jackson, just outside of Savannah… it’s named for him.

Another tragedy of the infighting of the patriots was that the defenses around Savannah were incomplete and inadequate because of that factional friction. But we’ll look at that timeframe in another episode.

I almost forgot.

Okay, so what about Teddy Roosevelt?

 Teddy… had a son that he named Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt.

You remember Archibald Bulloch, the former commander in chief of Georgia who died under suspicious circumstances…

 …he was Theodore Roosevelt’s great-great-grandfather.

President Theodore Roosevelt with family. Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt is boy on right.

Cool trivia, huh?

Cool indeed.

So… if you didn’t already know this story… now… you know/.

Please remember to click the like button and then to go to our website to find more… and our store where you can buy something… help support the program.

See you next time.



Gwinnett grave, 32.075561° -81.089862° 

Monument to Button Gwinnett, Colonial Park Cemetery.


McIntosh grave, 32.075323° -81.090607°

Home of Lachlan McIntosh, 32.076679° -81.091240°

Valley Forge, PA site, 40.099543° -75.424750°


Historic Duel Recalled; Affidavit Recounts the McIntosh-Gwinnett Encounter in 1777, The New York Times. 1914-04-10, via Wikipedia; The History of Georgia, C.C. Jones, Vol. II, pp 270: Other sources indicate “east” of town which was outside the city limit at that time. The area below the “Old Fort” was a known dueling ground as recorded by Thomas Gamble in his book, Savannah’s Duels and Duelists, 1923: The statement of “within the city” corresponds with Savannah, Ga. Sewerage Map. From Report on the Social Statistics of Cities, compiled by George E. Waring, Jr., United States, Census Office, Part II, 1886 as well as and the 1868 Map of the City of Savanah by John B. Hogg, showing the city limit ran one-quarter mile to the east of Trustees’ Garden. Wells mentions that a crowd was gathering, so Gwinnett and McIntosh moved “a little lower down the hill,” indicating a field with a slope. At the time of the duel, Governor James Wright owned the land below the fort site. Combining the records and reports from

Gamble, Jones, and Wells, the location notes point to Trustees’ Garden.  

George Wells Affidavit, copy, Georgia Historical Society, Lachlan McIntosh papers, June 1777, Some accounts state that upon McIntosh’s question to fire again, Gwinnett agreed but was overruled by the Seconds.

Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, Vol. 11, No. 11 March 2016 noting, Lyman Hall to Roger Sherman, 1 June 1777, reprinted in; Button Gwinnett, Charles Francis Jenkins, 1926, pp 229.

Wade Elliott, The Death of Dueling, 1997, pp 66,