J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

An Appointment for Lee and Laurens

On Christmas Eve, 1778, Col. Alexander Hamilton was busy writing out this account of a potentially troublesome event that he had witnessed the day before, 237 years ago today.

Fans of the musical Hamilton will recognize this as an episode from that play. Or perhaps not, because Lin-Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of history has different people involved.

Here’s the real story from Hamilton’s own pen:
narrative of an affair of honor between general [Charles] lee and col [John] laurens [shown here]

General Lee attended by Major [Evan] Edwards and Col [John] Laurens attended by Col [Alexander] Hamilton met agreeable to appointment on Wednesday afternoon half past three in a wood situate near the four mile stone on the Point no point road.

Pistols having been the weapons previously fixed upon, and the combatants being provided with a brace each, it was asked in what manner they were to proceed. General Lee proposed, to advance upon one another and each fire at what time and distance he thought proper. Col Laurens expressed his preference of this mode, and agreed to the proposal accordingly.

They approached each other within about five or six paces and exchanged a shot almost at the same moment. As Col Laurens was preparing for a second discharge, General Lee declared himself wounded. Col Laurens, as if apprehending the wound to be more serious than it proved advanced towards the general to offer his support. The same was done by Col Hamilton and Major Edwards under a similar apprehension. General Lee then said the wound was inconsiderable, less than he had imagined at the first stroke of the Ball, and proposed to fire a second time.

This was warmly opposed both by Col Hamilton and Major Edwards, who declared it to be their opinion, that the affair should terminate as it then stood. But General Lee repeated his desire, that there should be a second discharge and Col Laurens agreed to the proposal.

Col Hamilton observed, that unless the General was influenced by motives of personal enmity, he did not think the affair ought to be persued any further; but as General Lee seemed to persist in desiring it, he was too tender of his friend’s honor to persist in opposing it.

The combat was then going to be renewed; but Major Edwards again declaring his opinion, that the affair ought to end where it was, General Lee then expressed his confidence in the honor of the Gentlemen concerned as seconds, and said he should be willing to comply with whatever they should cooly and deliberately determine. Col. Laurens consented to the same.
Would Hamilton and Edwards convince the duelists that honor had been satisfied?

TOMORROW: Throwing away their shot?

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