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Mr. Gwinnett visits ancestor's namesake

LAWRENCEVILLE - Met any members of the Gwinnett family lately?

They are few and far between on this side of the pond, but one of Button Gwinnett's cousins made a tour through his namesake county this week.

Paul Gwinnett traveled from his Melbourne, Australia, home to vacation in the Caribbean. Since Gwinnett County is located within the same hemisphere, he took a few extra days to visit.

Gwinnett County is named after Button Gwinnett, one of the three Georgia signers of the Declaration of Independence. Paul Gwinnett is Button's first cousin, eight times removed, he said.

"I came down from Button's Uncle George," he said.

According to Paul Gwinnett, all three of Button's children died of swamp fever, leaving him with no descendants. That's why members of the Gwinnett family are hard to find in Georgia. The Gwinnett County phone book reveals no Gwinnett surnames.

"England's full of them," Paul Gwinnett said. "I was born in Staffordshire, England, which is next to Wolverhampton, where Button Gwinnett got married."

Gwinnett, age 59, learned about Gwinnett County and his ancestor from his dad, who researched the family's history back to the year 1604.

"The family came from Wales to England. Gwynnedd is the Welsh spelling," he said.

According to The New Georgia Encyclopedia, Button Gwinnett arrived in America in 1765 as the country was struggling to evolve into its own identity, either as a territory of England or an independent nation. That environment pulled him into politics, and he served in the Commons House of Assembly, as commander of Georgia's Continental battalion, as speaker of Georgia's Provincial Congress and as Georgia's president and commander-in-chief. Gwinnett died May 19, 1777, from injuries suffered in a duel and was buried in Savannah's Colonial Park Cemetery, although the exact location of his grave is unknown. His autograph is considered one of the most valuable in the U.S. due to its scarcity.

The fascination with politics did not extend throughout the Gwinnett line. Paul Gwinnett, a grandfather of two, is retired from the computer consulting business and his father was an engineer.

"No other of my family members have gone into politics," Gwinnett said. "I've had no interest in it whatsoever."

Gwinnett made a whirlwind two-day tour of the county, during which time he visited the county's four corners, lunched at the Gwinnett Rotary Club, made a sojourn to Stone Mountain and met Charles Bannister, Gwinnett County's Chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

"We talked about his family," Bannister said. "He's quite an interesting guy. He was happy just to be visiting the county."

The detour was worth it, Gwinnett said.

"I've had a ball and I met so many people that are fascinated that I am a Gwinnett," he said. "I was introduced as Mr. Paul Gwinnett from Australia and I felt very proud. People find it hard to believe I am a real Gwinnett."