Duels – 1750s

December 27th, 1750 on the island of Jamaica an exceptionally violent duel occurred. It was between one Dr. John Williams and one Dr. Parker Bennet and both died as the result of a duel. What follows is a story of what happened, while exciting, it is not all together accurate.

“They had appointed Time and Place for a Duel, when one of them appeared, but after waiting a considerable while, finding his Antagonist did not meet him as was appointed, he went to his lodgings, and enquired for him, and on his appearing, he immediately discharged a Ball at him from a Pistol, and wounded him on the Head; upon which the other drew his Sword, and thrust it into his Body with such Violence, that the Blade broke in two, and he fell down dead immediately; and he that received the Wound to his Head, died about an Hour and a Half afterwards.”1

In a letter dated January 2nd, 1751 sent from Kingston to Philadelphia more accurately describes not only the encounter but the reason for the duel in the first place. I will not quote the entire letter here as it is quite long but I will relate the important details.

It seems Dr. John Williams had published a pamphlet entitled “An Essay on the Bilious Fever on this Island”. Dr. Parker Bennet, who had been on the island only three months wrote a reply to the pamphlet entitled “An Enquiry into the Essay, An Essay on the Bilious Fever on this Island” which was full of ridicule and seemingly not founded on any experience. There was then a back and forth of barbs between the two published in the local paper as open letters of which the final one was an open letter from Williams directly to Bennet. Upon reading this in the paper Bennet went looking for Williams and found him at a store, called him aside and attempted to throw a box of snuff in his eyes. A scuffle ensued in which Williams took the advantage and they were broken up by the local magistrate. Williams then declared that he would not accept a challenge of a duel if Bennet were to offer one. Later that day, in the evening, there were sent to Williams two or three unnamed challenges which he ignored. The next morning, about four or five in the morning, Bennet and a couple friends went around to Williams’ house and knocked on the door. Williams called out several times inquiring who it was but was given no answer. At this he went to the door, taking his pistols, which were loaded with birdshot, with him. Opening the door he saw three people and he then discharged both his pistols but did not appear to hit anyone. Bennet then moved to the side street and Williams followed and both drew their swords. After several passes Williams finally ran Bennet through in the abdomen from left to right where upon Bennet fell and struck back at Williams who was run through from the upper left breast and out at the right shoulder blade. He died instantly. Bennet died about two hours later. The author then goes on to say that there was no pistol wound on Bennet’s body as had been related in the earlier descriptions of the event.2


Sources

  1. The Pennsylvania Gazette [Philadelphia, PA], numb. 1162, 19 March 1751, p. 1
  2. The Pennsylvania Gazette [Philadelphia, PA], numb. 1163, 28 March 1751, p. 2