“Over the years it has been argued by historians…that South Carolinians—Charlestonians especially—participated in more duels than any other group of people in the nation, quite possibly the entire North American continent.” It’s with this dramatic statement that local J. Grahame Long begins Dueling in Charleston: Violence Refined in the Holy City (The History Press, November 2012).
Could those historians be correct? And if so, why? Long, curator of history at The Charleston Museum, spends the next 123 pages exploring the brutal tradition that plagued the Holy City for two centuries. Conversationally and wittily, he delves into some of the psychological factors that may have lead to the violence—studies have shown that heat makes folks irascible, for example—as well as the culture of early Charlestonians, who were dogmatic and proud, valuing their honor even more than their lives. Readers also learn about the etiquette behind the combat and some of the popular dueling grounds, such as Castle Pinckney and the Washington Race Course (present-day Hampton Park).
Along the way, Long throws in tales aplenty of famous challenges such as the 1778 standoff from which both Christopher Gadsden (creator of the famed “Don’t Tread On Me” flag) and Robert Howe, a major general in the Continental Army, walked away unharmed.
You can pick up a copy of this fascinating journey into our city’s tempestuous past at The Preservation Society, The Shops of Historic Charleston Foundation, and The Charleston Museum, among other locations.