Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Duel near Campbellton in 1829

Dueling seems such a long ago custom today that it is difficult to imagine that the Campbellton area of Jackson County was once the "go to" place for these affairs of honor.

The nearby state line, then the line dividing the State of Alabama from the Territory of Florida, offered a bit of protection for those who participated in duels. If authorities from Florida tried to arrest one participant, he could simply step across the line into Alabama. If authorities from Alabama tried to arrest the other participant, he could similarly escape into Florida.

The practice of dueling has been reduced to something of a caricature today and is perhaps best remembered for the affair that cost the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton. He was killed by former Vice President Aaron Burr in a duel.

As the death of Hamilton demonstrates, dueling was a serious business. Honor was held in extremely high esteem during the first half of the 19th century. An insulted party, having failed at all other means to obtain justice, could demand that his enemy meet him on the field of honor. The challenged party then had no choice but to apologize and admit his fault, flee and lose all honor, or face the aggrieved party with pistol or blade.

Original 1829 account of the duel
near Campbellton, Florida.
Unless the parties fired into the air after having taken to the field, thus ending the duel with honor, the carefully orchestrated fights would continue until one party or the other was either disabled or dead. This meant that in a fight with dueling pistols, for example, the two antagonists would fire and reload as many times as necessary until or the other could no longer continue.

One such duel took place on the Alabama line north of Campbellton in 1829. Dr. H.B. Crews of Webbville, Jackson County's original but now vanished county seat, took the field of honor against Mr. J.O. Sewall of Alabama. The nature of the dispute that led to the duel is not known, but the outcome was reported by newspapers of the time:

...The parties exchanged three shots; Dr. Crews was wounded on the first and third fires. Mr. Sewall was not injured. Dr. Crews being wounded on the third fire in the muscles of the right shoulder, could not continue the fight. - Florida newspaper reprinted in the Rhode Island American, August 25, 1829.

Fortunately for Dr. Crews, his wounds did not prove fatal. He continued to live in Webbville for years to come, serving as both a town doctor and partner in a pharmacy there.

J.O. Sewall also took up residence in Jackson County after the affair, settling in Marianna. It was an appropriate choice since the towns themselves were bitter rivals.

Of the duel between Sewall and Crews, witnesses felt that honor had been served. "It is perhaps proper to say," noted the newspaper account, "that the conduct of both gentleman was highly appropriate on the occasion."

Dale Cox
January 26, 2017

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