Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vance and Carson



Ilya Efimovich Efimovich Repin, Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky's duel

In John Preston Arthur’s splendid 1914 book, Western North Carolina: A History (1730-1913), he devotes an entire chapter to dueling:

THE LAW OF DUELING
THE JACKSON-AVERY DUEL
THE VANCE-CARSON DUEL
THE CLINGMAN-YANCEY DUEL
THE ERWIN-BAXTEE DUEL
THE HYMAN-HILLIARD DUEL
A ONE-SIDED DUEL ACROSS THE STATE LINE

It’s easy for me to choose one to share, since it was told by Silas McDowell and is probably the best-known duel in WNC history. According to this account, Davy Crockett was present for the showdown at Saluda Gap. How cool is that?


From Arthur:

THE VANCE-CARSON DUEL. To the late Silas McDowell of Macon county we are indebted for many facts concerning the duel between Dr. Robert Brank Vance of Buncombe and Hon. Samuel P. Carson of Burke. Mr. McDowell was the friend of both these gentlemen; and, although he waited forty-nine years after the duel had been fought, and himself was in his eighty-first year before committing his recollection of that lamentable event to paper, it must be accepted as the most authentic, because the only, account now available of that affair. Hon. A. C. Avery of Morganton, in an article published in the North Carohna Review (Raleigh) for March, 1913, has supplemented this statement with many important facts bearing on the principals and seconds concerned; and from these two statements the following facts have been carefully compiled:

SAMUEL P. CARSON. He was the son of Col. John Carson and of his wife, who, before her marriage to him, had been the widow of the late Gen. Joseph McDowell of Pleasant Gardens, N. C. He, like his father, was a Democrat, and was young, handsome, eloquent, magnetic, blessed with a charming voice, delighting in all the pleasures and Opportunities of a healthful, vigorous physique. He was educated at the "Old Field Schools" of the neighborhood till he reached his nineteenth year, when he was taken into the family of his half brother, Joseph M. Carson, where he was taught grammar and directed in a course of reading with an eye to political advancement; and before he was 22 years of age he represented the county of Burke in the legislature, defeating his kinsman James R. McDowell for that place. He was born about the year 1797, and was about four years younger than Dr. Vance. Even when a boy he was a great favorite not only with people of his own walk in life, but was worshipped by the negroes on his father's plantation. His mother was a Methodist and young Samuel was a great favorite at camp meetings where his deep-toned and harmonious voice led in their congregational singing. He was also popular with ladies.


Jean Leon Gerome, Duel after a Masked Ball, 1857

GEN. ALNEY BURGIN. He was Carson's second, and was a social and political leader of Burke county, having several times been elected to the legislature. He preserved the challenge which Mr. Carson sent by him to Dr. Vance. This challenge had been written by Carson at Pleasant Gardens and was dated September 12, 1827, taken to Jonesboro, Tenn., and sent from there in order to avoid a violation of the law of North Carolina regarding dueling; for he states in the challenge: "I will do no act in violation of the laws of my State; but as you have boasted that you had flung the gauntlet before me, which in point of fact is not true; for, in the language of chivalry, to fling the gauntlet is to challenge-to throw down the iron glove;.... but, if you are serious, make good your boast; throw the gauntlet upon neutral ground; then, if not accepted, boast your victory." He notified Dr. Vance that he would pass through Asheville to meet friends in East Tennessee, where he would spend a week at Jonesboro, and expected to receive an answer by way of Old Fort, near which place Gen. Burgin lived. His son, Joseph McD. Burgin, was the father of Mrs. Locke Craig, the wife of the present governor.

HON. WARREN DAVIS. This gentleman was a South Carolinian, a cousin of John C. Calhoun, a member of Congress, a man of decided ability, and "thoroughly conversant with the intricate rules of the Code Duello." He was called in by Mr. Carson as an additional second because Gen. Burgin was not well versed in the punctuho of the duello, and Davis "was expected in the arrangements for the encounter and any correspondence that might ensue, to protect Carson."

ROBERT BRANK VANCE. He was born in Burke county about 1793, and was the son of David Vance, who, after serving as an ensign under Washington, married the daughter of Peter Brank, who lived about a mile from Morganton, and fought as captain of a company in McDowell's regiment at Ramseur's Mill, Cowpens and Kings Mountain, while uncle, Robert Brank, for whom Dr. Vance was named, had the reputation of being one of the most daring soldiers in his company. Young Vance was a fine scholar as a school boy; but, owing to an affliction which had settled in his left leg that member had been shortened about six inches and retarded his physical development that when fully grown he was only five feet and five inches in height. His face, how ever, was handsome, and his "mind was of no common order." His family were Presbyterians and he attended the Newton academy near Asheville, afterwards graduating from an unnamed medical school and commencing the practice of medicine in Asheville in 1818. But, having drawn a five-thousand dollar prize in a lottery, and his father having willed him a large portion of his estate, Dr. Vance purchased a fine library and retired from practice three years after opening his office. He was encouraged by his friends, and especially by young Samuel P. Carson, then in the legislature from Burke, to oppose Felix Walker, whose popularity then "was in the descending node," for Congress, but declined to do so till 1823, when he ran for Congress and was elected by a majority of one vote. It was said that when he appeared in Congress John Randolph of Roanoke, struck by his diminutive size and physical deformity, remarked, "Surely that little man has come to apply for a pension." But Vance soon convinced the strong men of the house "that Aesop's mind could be hid but not long, under an Aesop's form, and at the close of the term he had the respect of every distinguished man in the house." The most important measure before the session was an appropriation of $250,000--" and many townships of land" for Gen. Lafayette; and for this measure Vance voted.

FRIENDS BECOME POLITICAL RIVALS. In 1825 Samuel P. Carson and Dr. Vance were opposing candidates for Congress, and Carson was elected; but in 1827 Dr. Vance invited some of his friends to meet at Asheville, and announced that he would oppose Carson's re-election, and would insist on his defeat because he had voted for an appropriation of $25,000 to the citizens of Alexandria, Virginia, which had been recently destroyed by fire. To this meeting Silas McDowell was invited, but his opposition to Vance's idea that Carson could be defeated because of this vote displeased all of Vance's friends, but not Vance himself., Vance and Carson accordingly were opposing candidates in 1827, and at the first meeting at Asheville Carson spoke first; but, in reviewing his course in Congress, he omitted to refer to his vote for the appropriation for the citizens of Alexandria. When Dr. Vance spoke he called attention to the fact that Carson had not referred to that vote, whereupon Carson answered that the City had been destroyed by fire and its citizens left homeless and destitute; and that Vance himself, if he had been in Carson's place, would have voted likewise, because "I think he has a heart." Vance retorted that if those who had applauded Carson's statement "could admire, as some seem to do, the heart promptings that send a man's benevolent hand into some other man's pocket than his own, all I have to say about it is--I can't." Upon this Carson answered that "until Vance should withdraw the charge that he had put his hand into another's pocket to save his own," they could be friends no longer; and proceeded to charge Vance with inconsistency as he himself had voted when in congress for the larger donation to Lafayette. Thereupon Vance charged Carson with being a demagogue, and when Carson replied that but for~ Vance's diminutive size he would hold him to account for his "vile utterances," Vance retorted "You are a coward and fear to do it." This closed the debate.

THE CASUS BELLI. According to Mr. McDowell, Carson's failure to challenge Vance, after having been publicly called a coward, confirmed Vance in his belief that he would not fight; this idea of Carson's cowardice having been suggested in the first instance by Carson's refusal to accept a challenge from Hugh M. Stokes, a lawyer, and a son of Gen. Mumford Stokes of Wilkes, on the alleged ground that young Stokes had forfeited his right to recognition as a gentleman because of his intemperate indulgence in strong drink. A second meeting of Vance's friends was soon held at Asheville, but from it Silas McDowell was excluded. There it was determined that Vance should attack the character of Carson's father "on a floating tradition that, after the defeat of our army at Camden, Carson, with many other hitherto patriotic citizens of North Carolina, had applied to Cornwallis, while near Charlotte, to protect their property. The tradition went so far as to include many of the patriotic men of Mecklenburg county. Up to this day that tradition is an historic doubt." But Judge Avery points out that Col. John Carson had been elected by the people of Burke to attend the convention held at Fayetteville for the Constitution of 1787 of the United States, as a sufficient refutation of the charge as applied to him. But, at the next joint debate, which was at Morganton, Vance used these words: "The Bible tells us that 'because the fathers have eaten sour grapes, their sons' teeth have been set on edge."... My father never ate sour grapes and my competitor's father did. ...In the time of the Revolutionary War my father, Col. Vance, stood up to fight, while my competitor's father, Col. Carson, skulked, and took British protection."

THE INSULT IS RESENTED. All of Samuel P. Carson's brothers were present when this statement was made " and made a move as though they would attack Vance, when prominent citizens interfered and the excitement calmed down." The election resulted in Vance's defeat, three to one, Vance getting only 2,419 votes. Afterwards, "Col. Carson wrote Vance an ill-natured and abusive letter, to which Vance sent the brief reply. . . . 'I can have no altercation with a man of your age; and, if I have aggrieved you, you certainly have some of your chivalrous sons that will protect you from insult.' A few days thereafter Gen. Alney Burgin came to Asheville . . . to enquire which of Colonel Carson's sons Vance alluded to in his lines to his father," and Vance replied "Sam knows well enough I meant him." Then the challenge was delivered and accepted.

THE DUEL. It was agreed that three weeks should elapse before the duel, which was to be fought at Saluda Gap, on the line between North and South Carolina, on the Greenville turnpike. Gen. Franklin Patton was Vance's second and Dr. George Phillips his surgeon, while Dr. Shuflin was Carson's surgeon. "A few special friends attended as spectators, and, though invited by both gentlemen," Mr. McDowell did not go. Davy Crockett, who, according to Dr. Sondley, in "Asheville's Centenary," had married -a Miss Patton, of Swannanoa, is said to have been present as a friend of Carson's. The distance was ten paces and the firing was to be done between the words "Fire, One, Two, Three," with rising or falling pistols. Vance chose the rising and Carson the falling mode; and at the word "Fire," Carson sent a ball entirely through Vance's body, entering one and a half inches above the point of the hip and lodging in the skin on the opposite side. It does not appear that Vance fired at all. Vance died the next day, thirty-two hours after having received his wound, at a hotel on the road, probably Davis's.

CONTRITION. When he saw that Vance had been wounded Carson expressed a wish to speak to him, but was led away; and before his death Vance expressed regret that Carson had not been permitted to speak with him, and stated that he had "not the first unkind feeling for him." Vance also told Gen. Burgin that he had fallen where he had always wished to die" on the field of honor." He was buried at the family grave-yard on Reems creek.

CARSON'S SUBSEQUENT CAREER. Mr. Carson went on to Congress after the duel, was elected a delegate to the State convention of 1835, moved to Texas and became Secretary of State in David G. Burnett's cabinet, never returning to North Carolina. The result of this duel is said to have embittered his life. Mr. McDowell hints at an attachment for, Miss Donaldson, the pretty niece of Andrew Jackson; but Carson died unmarried.

PREMONITION. It is quite evident that Vance expected to be killed; for he made his will (dated November 3, 1827) in which he referred to the approaching duel, and after his death it was admitted to probate, though, when the court house was destroyed in the spring of 1865, the record book contaning it was destroyed. Fortunately, however, a certified copy had been obtained prior to the fire, which copy is still in existence.[2} Judge Avery also states that Dr. Vance stopped at his father's house on his way to the dueling ground "and though almost everyone knew what was about to occur, no allusion was made to it by the family in conversation with their gnest. The impression was made on some of the family that Vance seemed sad. Though recklessly fearless, it was natural that he should seem depressed in view of the prospect that he or Carson, or both, would probably be killed."

VANCE'S MOTIVE. Although Mr. McDowell had been "excluded" from the second conference between Vance and his friends at Asheville, he and Dr. Vance lodged at the same house at Morganton, and he said: "When Vance to our room . . . I remarked to him, 'Doctor, you have this day sounded the death knell over yours or Carson's grave perhaps both.' To this Vance answered: is no fight in Carson. I wish he would fight and kill me. Do you wish to know why? I will tell you: My life has no future prospect. All before me is deep, dark gloom, my way to Congress being closed forever, and to fall back upon my profession or former resources of enjoyment makes me shudder to think of. Understand me, McDowell, I have no wish to kill or injure Carson; but I do wish for him to kill me, as, perhaps, it would save me from self-slaughter."' Would such a statement have been made except to a trusted friend and under the sacred seal of friendship?

COL. JOHN CARSON 'S IMPLACABILITY. Judge Avery tells that, after the Morganton insult, Col. Carson forego his privilege of challenging Vance only upon the promise of his six sons that if "Samuel Carson should first challenge Vance, and, if he sho'uld fall, then the oldest son, Joseph McDowell Carson, should challenge him, and if every one of the six should fall in separate encounters with Vance the old Colonel should be at liberty to wipe, out the insult to the family by meeting Vance on the field of honor." He adds: "Vance was not only mistaken in expecting a back down, but in fact he was provoking a difficulty with six cool and courageous men, everyone of whom was a crack marksman." But that was not all. Judge Avery further states that Warren Davis, Carson's second, refused to "act as his second unless he would promise to do his best or use his utmost skill to hit Vance." Dr. Vance must have known who Davis was and why he had been brought from South Carolina, as well as of the marksmanship of the six Carsons; and that he had deliberately offered a deadly insult to the venerable head of an old and distinguished family because he believed that Samuel P. Carson would not fight is almost incredible. That Dr. Vance should wish to be killed by his boyhood's friend is even more unbelievable. But, whatever his motive, criticism of his conduct was silenced above his open grave; for he went to his death with a courage that was sublime; and for more than three quarters of a century censure has remained dumb, "with a finger on her lips and a meaning in her eyes."


Francisco de Goya, Duel with Cudgels, 1820-23

JUDGE AVERY'S ACCOUNT. In his "Historic Homes of North Carolina" (in the N. C. Booklet, Vol. IV, No.3) the late Hon. A. C. Avery recorded the fact that on the night after the debate between Vance and Carson at Morganton, Samuel P. Carson, his six brothers and his father agreed that if the father would not challenge Vance Samuel would do so, and if he fell each son in succession should challenge Vance till he should be killed. In the event that all the seven Carson sons should fall, then, Col. Carson, the father would send a challenge. It is also stated that Carson went to Tennessee to send the challenge in order not to violate the law of this state; and that David Crockett was one of Carson's friends at the duel. Just before taking his position on the field Carson told Warren Davis that he (Carson) could hit Vance where ever he chose, but preferred not to inflict a mortal wound. Thereupon, Davis said: "Vance will try to kill you, and if he receives only a flesh wound, he will demand another shot, which will mean another chance to kill you. I will not act for you unless you promise to do your best to kill him." Carson promised, and Vance fell mortally wounded, Carson lamenting that the demands of an imperious custom had forced him to wreck his own peace of mind in order to save the honor of his family. In 1835 Carson was elected to the Constitutional Convention of that year. He emigrated to Texas in 1836, was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1836 in that State, and Sam Houston made him secretary of State. Carson was active in securing the annexation of Texas. The Biographical Congressional Directory, 1911, says that Carson "after his retirement from Congress moved to Arkansas; died in Hot Springs, Ark., in November, 1840" (p.532). The same work (p.1076) says that Vance "moved to Nashville, Nash county, where he held several local positions." All of which is wrong. It does not give the date of his birth or of his death.
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