A Dawn Interview

The dew lay heavy on the grass, the lowering clouds a harbinger of afternoon thunderstorm.

As previously arranged, the boatmen and surgeon turned their backs to the principals, for these affairs were now a prosecutable offense.

Van Ness produced the walnut case, a fine set of Wogdon & Barton’s finest pistols.

Pendleton selected one and carried it over. “Alexander, I urge you to reconsider,” he whispered. “Burr is in earnest.”

“You know my convictions, Nathaniel. Murder is a mortal sin.”

Van Ness brought out the coins and Hamilton won the toss for first shot.

He fired his pistol into the sky.

 

Friday Fictioneers

 

On July 11, 1804,  the most famous duel in American history was fought between Vice President  Aaron Burr and former Secretary of the Treasury Alexender Hamilton. The meeting took place on a New Jersey cliff overlooking the Hudson River.

Eyewitness accounts vary. Pendleton, Hamilton’s second,  said his principal fired deliberately into a tree, but Burr’s second said it was merely a misfire. They both agree that Burr remained upright while Hamilton fell, clutching a .54-caliber wound to the abdomen that shattered his liver, diaphragm and spine. Thirty-six hours later he was dead.

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “A Dawn Interview

  1. Thanks for the history, I didn’t know about this, but looked it up after reading your story. Fascinating – they certainly settled arguments differently back then. Nowadays, we have Twitter.

    1. It’s an interesting story of public insult and defamation that resonates today. Hamilton’s son had been killed in a duel in the same place three years before. I chose this because the NY American Indian Museum is in the old Hamilton Customs House, where this picture was taken.

    1. Society at the time demanded that, once challenged, he either retract the slander against Burr or stand and fight. Anything less would cause him to lose his reputation because he would be publicly admitting cowardice. He was a father and husband as well as a highly moral man who believed killing was a sin. It was common practice at such a time for duelists to meet and discharge their weapons into the air or ground, proving their courage and settling the argument. Hamilton, firing first, is said to have done so. Burr, the issuer of the challenge, felt otherwise and shot to kill. It wrecked his reputation and condemned him to historical infamy. Thanks for reading.

  2. Aaron Burr won, but he lost. It is Hamilton’s name that is more recognized today than Burr’s. Politics will always descend and slander and men will always fight. History repeats itself. Only today, the principals fire words, not bullets. Most of the time.

  3. You really make that duel come alive. Thank you for the reply to Neil, which clarified what was going on. The customs and practices of 19th century duelling in the USA are something that I know nothing about.

  4. A well-told tale and your additional comments added to it. How wonderful to be so principled. Although a tragic outcome for Hamilton’s nearest and dearest, the wider world still holds respect for him while the murderous Burr paid a different penalty.

Don't just stand there.