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Honoring Georgia's signers of Declaration of Independence

Signer's statue

Augusta used to host an annual celebration for the Georgia natives who signed the Declaration of Independence. Some residents are trying to bring it back. (WRDW-TV / July 4, 2011)

News 12 First at Five / Monday, July 4, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Americans typically kick off the Fourth of July with hot dogs, fireworks and family time. Many say the true importance of the holiday is not how we celebrate, of course, but remembering exactly what we're celebrating.

The history of the holiday hits close to home in the CSRA.

This morning, James Hanby Sr. and his daughters placed flowers at the Signer's Monument in Augusta. The 50-foot-tall granite obelisk pays tribute to the three Georgians who signed the Declaration of Independence more than 200 years ago.

Many years ago, the community started an annual ceremony at the statue every Fourth of July, but it eventually died out. Now, after five years, Hanby hopes it can be revived.

"Some of us thought it was important to have something to honor those who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honors to give us our country," he said.

Hanby is visiting with his family from Delaware and grew up in Hephzibah.

Army veteran Gary Engen used to help with the Signer's Monument events as a member of the Military Order of World Wars. He hopes the crowds will come back.

"Over the years because of other things going on on this date, the crowd was not very large, which was disappointing," Engen said.

Button Gwinnett, Dr. Lyman Hall and George Walton were all involved in Georgia politics throughout the Revolutionary War. All represented Georgia at the Constitutional Convention, which eventually led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Only two people, John Hancock and Charles Thomson, actually signed the Declaration of Independence on July Fourth. Other delegates like Gwinnett, Walton and Hall signed during the following months.

Hall and Walton are now buried in tombs under Signer's Monument on Greene Street. Historians believe Gwinnett was killed during a duel in Savannah as his body was never found.

"Most people don't know that this monument is here," Engen said. "Most people don't know that the veteran's monument down at Fifth Street and Broad is there. We need to educate ourselves and our children on what is here."

South Carolina boasts four signers of the Declaration: Thomas Heyward Jr., Thomas Lynch Jr., Arthur Middleton and Edward Rutledge. The closest grave of those four is Heyward's in Jasper, S.C.

From Independence Hall in Philadelphia to Signer's Monument in Augusta, memorials across the United States now serve as a reminder of America's birthday and independence on this patriotic holiday.

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