Feature Dueling

Learn more about the history of dueling.


More from Gwen about the history of dueling in America.

The practice of dueling started in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Ironically, duels were meant to reduce violence by circumventing killing passions of vengeance replacing them with what was called judicial combat.

The first American duel was fought in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. The men used swords.

When the United States became a nation, pistols developed as the weapon of choice. This new weaponry did not lead to fatalities, as often as one might think. The favored flute-like pistols were inaccurate and often misfired.

In keeping with ideals, Americans of all backgrounds fought duels. From servants to signatories of Declaration of Independence, American men defended their honor in this way. But George Washington vehemently opposed the practice. He didn't rate battles of honor which affected his troops when they should have been fighting real battles against the British.

By the middle of the 19th century, dueling was on its way out. It was not the ethics of the church, the opinions of the powerful or even the legislation ended the practice. It was public opinion.

After the horrors of the Civil War, most Americans regarded dueling as cold blooded murder. They reasoned that a civilized nation could not publicly sponsor bloodshed.

So a tradition dating back hundreds of years became a thing of the past.