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Dueling in America

General overviews | Revolutionary War period | The Old South | Canada | Primary sources | Decatur-Barron | Terry-Broderick | Other noted duels and duelists

General overviews

The History of Dueling in America, from The American Experience: The Duel, official site.

Web Archive: "Death of Dueling Shows Power of the Law" from Off The Record with District Attorney General Clayburn L. Peeples. The effectiveness of "legislating against morality."

Duels in America. A useful set of dueling links, sorted geographically and annotated by Carol Dean.

"Law, Honor, and Impunity in Spanish America: The Debate over Dueling, 1870–1920" by David S. Parker, Law and History Review 19.2.

Revolutionary War period

Complete testimony of the Court Martial of John Lawrence, Loyalist officer during the Revolution. Lawrence killed a British officer in a duel. This is a fascinating document. Here is Lawrence's defense of dueling:

I considered myself bound by the Laws of honor, to give him the Satisfaction he demanded. My reputation as an Officer and a Gentleman, in short my all was at stake--had I omitted meeting him in the manner he requested, I must ever after been treated as a Rascal and Coward--unhappy alternative.
From the On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies, an excellent site.

Documents from the General Court Martial of Anthony Allaire. Allaire, a loyalist officer during the American Revolution, was court martialed for a duel/brawl. From the On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies, an excellent site.

History of the King's American Regiment, New York Loyalist regiment. Includes information on a duel between Lt. Col. Cambell and Major Coffin. From the On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies, an excellent site.

The Duel of 1777. About the duel between Burton Gwinnett and Gen. lachlan McIntosh, Georgians prominent in the Revolution. From Savannah: A History of Her People by Preston Russell and Barbara Hines.

The Old South

Amazon. Dueling in the Old South: Vignettes of Social History by Jack K. Williams

"Dueling in the Republic of Texas" by Thomas W. Cutrer, from the Handbook of Texas Online. I must say, these Texans are terribly crude about it. Riffles indeed!

"Duels", Chapter 14 of History of Western North Carolina John Preston Arthur (1914). HTML encoding by Jeffrey C. Weaver. Short, anecdotal account, with accounts of the Jackson-Avery duel and others less well-known.

Amazon. Duels and the Roots of Violence in Missouri by Dick Steward. No reviews at Amazon.

University of Missouri Press blurb.

Summary review in the Journal of American History (pay for whole article)

American Historical Review (also pay)

Abstract: "Dueling with the Code of Honor" by Francis W. Dawson, from the "Symposium on the 19th Century Press, the Civil War, and Free Expression", hosted by the U. Tennessee, Chattanooga.

Kentucky "Battles, Duels, Panics and Skirmishes" by Sandra K Gorin, including brief summaries of the Jackson-Dickenson and Desha-Kimbrough duels.

Discussion thread on "Dueling in Early Virginia" (down the page somewhat) from VA-HIST, a Virginia history listserv.

Web Archive: Death at Twelve Paces. Details on a duelling talk by Frank Wheeler at a the Augusta Genealogical Society.

Amazon. Savannah Duels and duellists, 1733-1877by Thomas Gamble (1923 reprint 1997).

A History of Tavern on the Park, a restaurant near the Dueling Oaks.


Amazon. Murder Among Gentlemen : A History of Duelling in Canada by Hugh A. Halliday. Reviews the duel from 1646 to the latter half of the 19th century. Paperback published in June.

Publishers blurb (Robin Brass Studio).

Primary sources

Code of Honor, by John Lyde Wilson, Governor of South Carolina (1838), the definitive Antebellum Southern guide to dueling. Printed as an appendix to George W. Hooper's Down the river; or, Practical lessons under the code duello (1874), a humorous novel.

A directory of 19th c. articles about American dueling, from the American Heritage Fighting Arts Association. Not all of them have been picked up here (yet).

The Life and Adventures of Zamba, an African Negro King; and His Experience of Slavery in South Carolina. Written by Himself. Corrected and Arranged by Peter Neilson Published in London in 1847. Zamba describes a duel (search for "duel"):

To show the systematic way in which duels are sometimes conducted in Carolina, I may mention that poor Winton's second stooped down, and examining the wound, remarked, as calmly as if he had been looking at a scratched finger, "A d--d good shot, by G--!"

Down the river; or, Practical lessons under the code duello by George W. Hooper (1874). An amusing novel, lampooning the code duello and the people who lived by it; it rises to the level of Twain, but is not consistent. This Making of America edition can be viewed in (somewhat inaccurate) text or as images. The image version contains a number of funny drawings, such as the scene of one man horsewhipping another man while another examines the code duello (which approves of horsewhipping social inferiors, although the situation in the novel is somewhat different). The caption reads "It was the most beautiful Ceremony I ever witnessed." As an appendix the author includes the full texts of Gov. Wilson's Code of Honor, the definitive Antebellum Southern guide, the French code ("copied from Millingen's History of Dueling") and the 1777 (misprinted 1877) Irish code, available in better versions elsewhere on the web.

Account of Twain's abortive duel with a newspaper editor, based not on Twain but on his second. Courtesy

"The Revival of Dueling" by Alexander Young for Appleton's Journal (1873).

We suppose that Spain is the only country that calls itself civilized when the duello is still the recognized mode of settling disputes among gentlemen, and this continued subservience to the point of honor is justly regarded by the author of "Castilian Days" as a fact which shows more clearly than any other the lack of modern civilization in its people.
From The Making of America.

"Chapters from My Autobiography" by Mark Twain, North American Review 183 (Dec. 21, 1906).

Mark Twain, "A Duel Prevented" from the Territorial Enterprise (1863). Humorous dispatch.

"Duelling" by for the Southern Literary Messenger, 1861. Thirteen-page, closely-reasoned anti-duelling polemic, liberally sprinkled with Colleridge and DeQuincy. From the Making of America, a collection of primary sources.

"Notes on Duels and Dueling" from Putnam's Monthly, v.5, Issue 27, March 1855. From Cornell University's Making of America archive.

"A Pistol Shot at the Duelists" from Harper's, v. 12, Issue 70 1856. Has some very entertaining stories revolving around the challenged's right to choose weapons.

Irish "Code Duello" (1777), a model for future British and American rules. Courtesy the Ring of Steel. Also available at PBS: The Duel .

"The Yankee and the Duellist" by "Anagram Ferrun" (Henry Ruffner) for the Southern Literary Messenger 1840. The Making of America.

"The Comedy of the Duel" (anonymous author) from Appletons' Journal 1881. For The Making of America.

Recollections Of A Southern Matron First-person fiction by Caroline Howard Gilman (1838). Search for "duel." The dueling scene is quite affecting, and the debate rings true:

Papa, on the contrary, advocated it as a check on the violence of human passion, as well as on the meanness of dishonour, and a salutary substitute for imperfect laws, particularly in a thinly-populated country, where arbitration is difficult, and the laws slow in their operation.

"Duelling--Code of Honour" (anonymous author) from the Princeton Review, 1848. From the Making of America, a collection of primary sources.

"The Duellist" (Southern Literary Messenger, 1840). Anonymous triffle. From The Making of America, a collection of primary sources.

EText: "The Duelist's Grave" , a one column article by "H" for The Ladies' repository: a monthly periodical, devoted to literature, arts, and religion 1843. Author describes passing by the grave of a rash young duellist who went mad after killing a friend. Courtesy the Making of America, a collection of primary sources.


"To Duel or Not to Duel." Selections from the letters between Decatur and Barron, from Teaching with Historic Places, Decatur House: A Home of the Rich and Powerful.

Haunted Maryland: The Bladensburg Dueling Grounds by Troy Taylor. On the field in Bladensburg, MD popular with duellists, especially after the Congress outlawed the practice within the District of Columbia. Stephen Decatur was among those who fell there.


The Terry-Broderick duel, from "An Estimate of the Life oand Character of David S. Terry" , from Overland monthly and Out West magazine (anonymous author), 1889. Courtesy the Making of America.

Tribute to Broderick from the California Police Gazette September 17, 1859. From the Museum of the City of San Francisco. Introduction by Gladys Hansen.

Web Archive: September 16, 1859: Senator Killed in Duel from the United States Senate. Also has a brief biography of Broderick.

California Duels , especially the Terry-Broderick duel, from The California Reader Eyewitnesses to History.

"Judge Shoots Senator, But Who Sold the Real Guns?" by Robert Kyle.

The Murder and Afterlife of Senator David Broderick: A Skeptical Appreciation of a Haunting by Joel GAzis-SAx. A three-part essay from Tales from Colma.

Other noted duels and duelists

A dueling loophole: Harpoons at 20 paces by Buddy Stall. Challenged Yankee whaler takes advantage of the challenged's right to pick weapons.

Old ("fanciful") print of the Button Gwinnett-Lachlan McIntosh duel (Savannah, 1777).

Web Archive: Information on Alexander Keith McClung, distant relative of Thomas Jefferson and despicable duellist.

"The Legend of Simp McGhee" by Tom Carney. Riverboat captain was challenged to a mid-river duel to rather amusing result. (It's down a bit on the page)

"The Stuart-Bennett Duel. the first duel fought in Illinois" 1819 duel, described by James Affleck in 1901. Full acount includes excerpts from court documents. [ mirror ]

Web Archive: Samuel Jarvis Fights a Duel. About the 1828 Jarvis-Ridout duel.

Information on the first duel in Iowa. The duel was between Indians in 1837 and is told with jocularity. As told by Franc Wilkie in Davenport, Past and Present (1858). From The Making of America.

Oakland: The Last Duel in Pennsylvania. The Bates-Stewart duel of 1806.

Web Archive: The Read-Alston Duel (1840) by Elizabeth D. Short blurb on the Florida duel from Unlocking the Mysteries of Bradfordville, a kindergarden project.

LibraryThing: Catalog your books online.

If you enjoy this site you may also like these other sites by me:

Andrew Jackson on the Web. Everything about "Old Hickory," President Andrew Jackon. Includes pictures of Jackson and a gallery of political cartoons. new

Alexander Hamilton on the Web. A comprehensive guide and web directory to Alexander Hamilton, killed in a duel with Aaron Burr.

Sir Richard F. Burton on the Web. Comprehensive guide to Sir Richard Francis Burton, explorer, translator of the Arabian Nights and Kama Sutra and author of The Book of the Sword.