The county of Gwinnett was chartered on December 15, 1818. The first trials, elections and sheriff's sales were held at the Hog Mountain home of Elisha Winn in 1819. The first jail was located adjacent to Winn's barn, which served as the county's first courtroom.
The city of Lawrenceville, to be the county seat, was chartered in 1821, three years to the day after the creation of Gwinnett County. The genesis of the county seat's name came from Captain James Lawrence, commander of the frigate Chesapeake during a battle with HMS Shannon on June 1, 1813, off the coast near Boston, Massachusetts. Lawrence's command to his crew, "Tell the men to fire faster and not give up the ship!" inspired Gwinnett resident William Maltbie to suggest that the town be named in the Captain's honor. A paraphrase of Lawrence's words, "Don't Give Up the Ship," later became the motto of the U.S. Navy, which has named numerous ships in his honor.
In 1861, the three-man Gwinnett County delegation voted against seceding from the Union, but when Georgia's resolution to leave the United States passed, they amended their vote to include a statement supporting the defense of Georgia. And when the call to arms rang out, Gwinnett County formed 18 companies: one artillery unit, five cavalry units and 12 infantry units, totaling about 2,000 men, a substantial contribution from a county of about 12,000 people.
The Gwinnett County soldiers saw some of the hardest fighting in the war, including the Seven Days battle, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Chickamauga and Petersburg. Many served to the end, surrendering with Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.
The city was largely spared during the war save for a July 17, 1864, raid by a Union cavalry brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. Kenner Garrard. In the raid, they brushed aside a weak Confederate cavalry force and torched the Lawrenceville Manufacturing Co., one of Gwinnett's largest cotton mills. Its loss hobbled the county's economy for some time. The Union troops also rounded up all the mules and horses they could find.
Members of the Ku Klux Klan burned down the courthouse on Sept. 10, 1871. It seems a Klansman had been bootlegging and there was evidence inside that he wanted to get rid of. Some of the records from Inferior Court were saved, but most documents burned. The evidence against the Klan members was housed in the sheriff's house at the time and was not damaged.
That December the legislature authorized Gwinnett County to build another courthouse, which was completed in 1872. This new building, however, was widely criticized for its poor construction, and in 1884 was torn down. The signature two-story structure that stands today was erected in 1885.
The courthouse was the scene of two lynchings. In 1865, soon after the war ended, Mart McConnell, a former slave, was accused of assaulting a white woman. He fled to Union soldiers camped at the square. After hearing the facts, the soldiers took him into custody, bought a rope and hanged him on the courthouse square. Georgia Congressman Charles H. Brand mentioned it from the floor of Congress in 1922 to make the point that the first lynching in Georgia was done by Yankees.
On April 7, 1911, a black man named Charlie Hale, also charged with assaulting a white woman, was dragged from the jail and hanged.
In 1978, the city made national news when pornographer Larry Flynt was put on trial for obscenity charges. A sniper shot him and paralyzed him on Perry Street as he returned from lunch.
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Pictures and information were provided by Lawrenceville Chamber of Commerce
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