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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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Lee and Laurens Finish Their “Transaction”

As related yesterday, on 23 Dec 1778 Col. John Laurens and Gen. Charles Lee (shown here) met for a duel on the aptly named Point No Point Road, leading to what’s now Bridesburg, Pennsylvania.

Laurens’s second was his friend and fellow aide de camp to Gen. George Washington, Col. Alexander Hamilton. Lee’s second was one of his aides, Maj. Evan Edwards. Lee had been in a duel to the death before. (Obviously, it hadn’t been fatal for him.)

When we left the fun, Laurens’s pistol shot had hit Lee, from a distance of “five or six paces.” But the general, declaring that it was just a flesh wound, wanted to proceed with a second exchange of fire.

Edwards and Hamilton protested that one shot was enough to satisfy the officers’ honor. Edwards was a little more persistent about that. Finally the duelists allowed their seconds to negotiate, though those two men were already in agreement—the sticking-point was getting the parties themselves to settle down.

Here’s the rest of the account, from Hamilton’s pen:
Col Hamilton and Major Edwards withdrew and conversing awhile on the subject, still concurred fully in opinion that for the most cogent reasons, the affair should terminate as it was then circumstanced. This decision was communicated to the parties and agreed to by them, upon which they immediately returned to Town; General Lee slightly wounded in the right side.

During the interview a conversation to the following purport past between General Lee and Col Laurens—On Col Hamilton’s intimating the idea of personal enmity, as beforementioned, General Lee declared he had none, and had only met Col. Laurens to defend his own honor—that Mr. Laurens best knew whether there was any on his part.

Col Laurens replied, that General Lee was acquainted with the motives, that had brought him there, which were that he had been informed from what he thought good authority, that General Lee had spoken of General Washington in the grossest and most opprobrious terms of personal abuse, which He Col Laurens thought himself bound to resent, as well on account of the relation he bore to General Washington as from motives of personal friendship, and respect for his character.

General Lee acknowleged that he had given his opinion against General Washingtons military character to his particular friends and might perhaps do it again. He said every man had a right to give his sentiments freely of military characters, and that he did not think himself personally accountable to Col Laurens for what he had done in that respect. But said he never had spoken of General Washington in the terms mentioned, which he could not have done; as well because he had always esteemed General Washington as a man, as because such abuse would be incompatible with the character, he would ever wish to sustain as a Gentleman.
Lee’s remarks about Washington as a general went back to their dispute at the Battle of Monmouth. About which Lee had had a lot to say, though not necessarily what Laurens had heard.

But that conversation was apparently enough to make Laurens and Lee agree with the advice their seconds came back with. Everybody headed home.

Hamilton wrote out this account of the duel, and he and Edwards both signed it on 24 Dec 1778. They concluded: “Upon the whole we think it a piece of justice to the two Gentlemen to declare, that after they met their conduct was strongly marked with all the politeness generosity coolness and firmness, that ought to characterise a transaction of this nature.”

Lee never attained another command after Monmouth and his subsequent court-martial (which he had requested); he died of a fever in 1782. Laurens had died a couple of months earlier from battle wounds. Edwards died in 1798. Hamilton lived until 1804 and then…you know.

1 comment:

RBK said...

What a great couple of posts about Lee and Laurens. This is a day late, but Merry Christmas!