Find your ancestors in Challenges and Duels

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This searchable index has been created from the 1855 text, Notes on duels and duelling [sic] : alphabetically arranged, with a preliminary historical essay, written by Lorenzo Sabine. Mr. Sabine was a US Representative from Massachusetts, but he is more well remembered for his work on the Loyalists of the American Revolution; those who remained loyal to the King and England during that intense conflict. The author himself opens the Preface with the admission that this work is not complete and closes it with acknowledging that he has himself questioned sources and reports of events to the extent where he has had to “select the account which appeared the most probable.” Careful researchers will understand the premise around which this information was originally gathered and combine this source with others to confirm – or not – the information therein.

The entries in this text range significantly in detail, from the simplest entry including only a name, a place and a general date, to an incredibly comprehensive account of events leading up to the death of American Revolutionary Alexander Hamilton at the hand of then Vice-President Aaron Burr. You will find events from throughout England, Ireland and the United States, predominantly, but you will see entries for other locations including Scotland and France.

A history of challenges and duels

Challenges and duels have a long and notorious history, in Western society originating from the medieval judicial duel and the pre-Christian practices, such as the Viking age holmgang. During the 17th and 18th centuries, they were largely single combats fought with swords but eventually transitioned to pistols. Duels were based on a code of honor and they were fought not as much to kill your opponent, but to gain ‘satisfaction’ for a perceived wrong. While traditionally a male activity, there have been instances of duels fought between women. Legislation against dueling starts as early as 1215 with the Fourth Council of the Lateran and various locations enacted their own in the centuries since. Duels generally fell out of practice due to public opinion in England by the mid-19th Century and in the United States around the time of the Civil War in the 1860s. The last known fatal duel in England occurred in 1845 when James Alexander Seton faced off with Henry Hawkey over the “affections of his wife,” the duel taking place near Gosport. Hawkey won the day but was ultimately tried for murder, though he was acquitted.

Perhaps the most notorious duel is the fatal wound incurred by former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and sitting Vice President Aaron Burr in July, 1804. The two had a long and complicated relationship which ultimately resulted in Hamilton’s death.