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Thread: 1780 duel in Canada - sword?

  1. #1
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    1780 duel in Canada - sword type?

    One of my ancestors fought a duel in Canada in 1780. Our family has the letter to challenge The Duel but not the sword. Assuming pistols weren't used. But the letter did mention to bring both pistol and sword.

    My ancestor would have been 26 years old and his opponent a "military man" and the letter referred to them as gentlemen. The american war for independence was three years from ending in 1783.

    I'm trying to figure out what kind of sword may have been brought to the duel. It was the time of small swords for duels but considering there was also a war going on could it have instead been a sabre? Which is more likely?
    Last edited by EricRS; 02-05-2019 at 07:45 PM.

  2. #2
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    Gentlemen of the era facing a duel would most likely be facing each other with smallswords. Swords as second weapons if the pistol shots don't do it. True also regarding gentlemen in the military. The trends for officers would be smallswords or spadroons.

    With the very little background information about the men, there is little more than the hypothetical. Build or share more information on your ancestor's biography, and more specifically his opponent's military service.

    Cheers
    GC

  3. #3
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    The family may have had some status or wealth but I don't know anything about the military service .

    Before moving to Canada he left a family group that held over the past three generations about 300 acres of what is now Flushing Queens New York and members of the family had held prominent positions in the city.

    I'm mainly trying to establish if small swords were widely used by most people in the military at that time or if sabres were just as popular. And if the answer would change a lot if either these men were officers or nco's.

    The actual words used to refer to the opponent were.
    "I now call upon you as a gentleman and soldier with your pistol and sword to wipe of any odium I might have received by your ungentleman like treatment."

    Sorry not much. I thought it would be nice to match a. Sword with the duel letter but I'm not sure if a smallsword would be the right choice
    Last edited by EricRS; 02-06-2019 at 12:17 AM.

  4. #4
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    Sabres very unlikely as they are generally held to be cavalry weapons and even cavalry officers often wore a different dress sword when on foot, usually a spadroon. Two officers or an officer and a gentleman would be very unlikely to lower themselves to hacking at each other with sabres, notwithstanding the 1977 film "The Duellists" which featured a long-running feud between two French cavalrymen. German dualling sabres or Schlager were a more specialised form of dualling sword and very unlikely in this case.
    The journey not the destination

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    Quote Originally Posted by EricRS View Post

    The actual words used to refer to the opponent were.
    "I now call upon you as a gentleman and soldier with your pistol and sword to wipe of any odium I might have received by your ungentleman like treatment."
    Wow. What a piece of living history. From time to time we need to read something like this, just to keep our swords alive... since they are not mere pieces of old metal. Of course they are not.
    SI, SI
    NO, NON

  6. #6
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    The pattern 1796 spadroon hadnt been made yet so would we be saying that in 1780 Canada most soldiers would have a dueling sword? And did they use spadroons much prior to 1796 or were small swords common.

  7. #7
    Hi Eric

    Amazing story, but it's like a play with the last act missing.
    What happened?

  8. #8
    So general questions.

    Hollywood aside, what were the real protocols?

    Would the person being challenged get to choose weapons?
    Would choosing pistols be seen as less honourable?

  9. #9
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    All I know is he survived the duel. Lucky for me. He got married 3 years after the duel and 2 years later my grt grt grt grandfather was born. Whose sword I have on my wall. A 1796 pattern spadroon. May have been used in war of 1812.
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    Last edited by EricRS; 02-09-2019 at 10:00 PM.

  10. #10
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    Not too sure about protocalls. I think the person being challenged would choose weapons.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Glen C. View Post
    Gentlemen of the era facing a duel would most likely be facing each other with smallswords. Swords as second weapons if the pistol shots don't do it. True also regarding gentlemen in the military. The trends for officers would be smallswords or spadroons.

    With the very little background information about the men, there is little more than the hypothetical. Build or share more information on your ancestor's biography, and more specifically his opponent's military service.

    Cheers
    GC
    Hi Glen

    If pistols were the primary weapon and both missed, would honour be satisfied?
    Under what circumstances woulld they switch to swords?

    Absolutely, if information within Eric's family's past is scant, perhaps researching the other gentleman might be worthwhile.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gene Wilkinson View Post
    Hi Glen

    If pistols were the primary weapon and both missed, would honour be satisfied?
    Under what circumstances woulld they switch to swords?

    Absolutely, if information within Eric's family's past is scant, perhaps researching the other gentleman might be worthwhile.
    Hi Gene,

    I'm am not sure why my post seems unclear but you seem to have basically only repeated what I had posted. Aside from posting the hypothetical as a question, I can only read your reply as wanting to discuss the topic at length. I'm afraid my reply you re-posted was about all I have to offer.

    Without more information, it truly does become speculation and I have seen some books of accounts while browsing listings without really pursuing the topic. I believe one such title is "Gentlemen's Swords". Another I am not quickly remembering has a red jacket with gold text on the cover. Both slim and inexpensive titles.

    Cheers
    GC

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Glen C. View Post
    Hi Gene,

    I'm am not sure why my post seems unclear but you seem to have basically only repeated what I had posted. Aside from posting the hypothetical as a question, I can only read your reply as wanting to discuss the topic at length. I'm afraid my reply you re-posted was about all I have to offer.

    Without more information, it truly does become speculation and I have seen some books of accounts while browsing listings without really pursuing the topic. I believe one such title is "Gentlemen's Swords". Another I am not quickly remembering has a red jacket with gold text on the cover. Both slim and inexpensive titles.

    Cheers
    GC
    Hi Glen

    I thought I was being clear, but I'm happy to elaoborate.
    As you allude, I was indeed asking you to clarify your statements, if you don't have any more information, that's fine.

    The OP's theme was in part trying to ascertain what weapon was used when both were requested.

    I'd asked in my previous post if anyone knows what the protocols were.
    You suggested pistols then swords?
    So as I said: Under what circumstances would they switch to swords (having started with Pistols)?
    What did you mean by "if the pistol shots don't do it"? Two military men in 1780, it seems likely that they'd 'try' to satisfy honour without killing each other and all the associated consequences of that.
    You say that the 'trend' for officers would be smallswords or spadroons. Do you mean trend in type or preference over pistols?
    I'd have thought that the preference in the military would be swords over pistols?

    As for the last part of my post, rather than 'basically just repeating' your words, I am agreeing with you. Which is why I start it with the affirmation to you: 'Absolutely'

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gene Wilkinson View Post
    Hi Glen
    I'd asked in my previous post if anyone knows what the protocols were.
    You suggested pistols then swords?
    I think that likely yes. If pistol shots do not finish the matter, then swords as a second.

    So as I said: Under what circumstances would they switch to swords (having started with Pistols)?
    What did you mean by "if the pistol shots don't do it"?
    See above. I don't think we are expecting reloading if swords are also being requested to be present. It might have been a choice of weapons but the note requests both be present. A logical progression (if not a choice) would be swords if shots fired don't end the duel.

    Two military men in 1780, it seems likely that they'd 'try' to satisfy honour without killing each other and all the associated consequences of that.
    To consider less than lethal force and requesting firearms to be present seems to me to intend death as an outcome.

    You say that the 'trend' for officers would be smallswords or spadroons. Do you mean trend in type or preference over pistols?
    The original question was what swords would the gentleman ancestor and military man might have used in dueling.

    I'd have thought that the preference in the military would be swords over pistols?
    Again, you are not following what I replied to Eric and simply looking for some sort of debate of what I wrote, and that you agreed with. We can parse this all down to exact wording or simply move on.

    As for the last part of my post, rather than 'basically just repeating' your words, I am agreeing with you. Which is why I start it with the affirmation to you: 'Absolutely'
    In other words, more likely only looking for further discussion.

    Gotcha

    I'll leave you to have the last word then.

    Cheers
    GC
    Last edited by Glen C.; 02-10-2019 at 10:41 AM.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by EricRS View Post
    All I know is he survived the duel. Lucky for me. He got married 3 years after the duel and 2 years later my grt grt grt grandfather was born. Whose sword I have on my wall. A 1796 pattern spadroon. May have been used in war of 1812.
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    Hi Eric,

    lol, definately lucky that he survivied!

    You are also very lucky to have such important family items from so far back.

    It seems that the laws against duels were in the spotlight in Canada in 2017 with somewhat exaggerated headlines that Duelling was being made legal again! (yay Bing!)
    Although I can't see when the original anti-duelling legistlation was first introduced, I did find this:

    The Criminal Code of Canada states that it is illegal for a person to:

    Challenge or attempt by any means to provoke another person to fight a duel;
    Attempt to provoke a person to challenge another person to fight a duel; or
    Accept a challenge to fight a duel.


    Now by 1780 duels had been illegal in Britain and France for a long time with potentially very harsh penalties.
    The quote above came with the penalty of a potential of two years imprisonment for someone challenging another to a duel.

    I assume much worse if the event took place and someone was killed.

    It does however seem that your countrymen's generally sensible outlook on killing one another has always been in full effect, as shown in this quote from another online article on the subject:

    While they were issued infrequently during Canada’s early settlement years, duel challenges did happen. Historical records indicate the last duel where someone died was on June 13, 1833, in Perth, Ontario. However, the total number of duelling incidents in what eventually became Canada only numbered around 300 between the mid 1600’s and 1948.

    This number seems incredibly low.
    Look at this from Wiki (I know not the most reliable source) and compare with England/Ireland:
    By the 1780s, the values of the duel had spread into the broader and emerging society of gentlemen. Research shows that much the largest group of later duellists were military officers, followed by the young sons of the metropolitan elite (see Banks, A Polite Exchange of Bullets). Dueling was also popular for a time among doctors and, in particular, in the legal professions. Quantifying the number of duels in Britain is difficult, but there are about 1,000 attested between 1785 and 1845 with fatality rates at least 15% and probably somewhat higher. The last duel in England was fought in 1852 between two French political exiles.

    If duels really were that uncommon in Canada, then your letter might not only be of huge historical interest to your family.
    Have you thought of (or already tried) aproaching museums to help in this research?
    Last edited by Gene Wilkinson; 02-10-2019 at 12:13 PM.

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    Hadn't considered a museum being interested. Interesting idea....
    Still trying to figure out what swords were most commonly in use in 1780 and if class/wealth was a determining factor.

    I think the choice is between a small sword and a spadroon like maybe a 5 ball spadroon. Still wondering which of the two sword types was more common and if class/wealth/military rank would determine which one someone might own. Or maybe there were no society rules for use? I have seen reports of many officers using small swords and they can be quite ornate. But would a 26 yr old soldier own one if he wasnt an officer or an educated professional? Would a regular soldier be more likely to carry a spadroon?

  17. #17
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    If a party to a duel did not own the required weapon I think it likely he could borrow said weapon from a friend or acquaintance. I think this especially likely in the case of a soldier borrowing a weapon from a fellow soldier. As to the type of sword that was probably used in this particular duel, I have no idea.

    It does sound like in this duel that death or at least blood being shed was the intent. In some duels an exchange of shots was enough to satisfy honor (proving neither is a coward) even if both missed. I believe it was de Tocqueville in his book about his travels in the early United States who recorded that in duels in the South death was more likely to result when swords were used since with pistols both sometimes missed, but honor was satisfied. Of course, not always. In Andrew Jackson's duel (with Dr. Dickinson?) his opponent wounded him and then Jackson shot him dead.
    "Courage is fear holding on a minute longer."--Gen. George S. Patton

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by EricRS View Post
    Hadn't considered a museum being interested. Interesting idea....
    Still trying to figure out what swords were most commonly in use in 1780 and if class/wealth was a determining factor.

    I think the choice is between a small sword and a spadroon like maybe a 5 ball spadroon. Still wondering which of the two sword types was more common and if class/wealth/military rank would determine which one someone might own. Or maybe there were no society rules for use? I have seen reports of many officers using small swords and they can be quite ornate. But would a 26 yr old soldier own one if he wasnt an officer or an educated professional? Would a regular soldier be more likely to carry a spadroon?
    Hi Eric

    If there really were only 300 recorded duels in the lengthy timeframe in that quote, then I have to wonder how many formal written challenges still exist?
    Even assuming that the number 300 is wildly wrong, your letter is rare.
    Especially when you factor into the equasion that the activity is illegal!
    The closer the actual number is to that quote, well!

    Can you tell us a little more about the letter?
    Is it relatively intact?
    Are their details of the challenger etc?
    Has the letter been 'officially' researched before?
    Has it been published?

    What about contacting your ancestors regiment if it still exists?
    Or the Canadian War Museum?

    As for the type of sword? I would guess that two young military men would be more disposed to use their issued swords than smallswords?
    Last edited by Gene Wilkinson; 02-11-2019 at 11:23 AM.

  19. #19
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    I'll wade into these murky waters and suggest that in a duel in Canada you used the sword you had since there was no readily available sword supply. As far as not being many duels, Canadians were too busy with the natives and just keeping warm to have time to insult others enticing them into a duel. It was very much a pioneering era in Canada and cities and civilization was few and far between. Possibly many disputes were unrecorded as an opponent would be ambushed in the wilderness.
    What are the other two swords partially pictured on the wall?

  20. #20
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    I have no idea what position my ancestor held in the military. I doubt there would be military records going back that far?
    The letter is intact with some damage at the top. I know first and last names of the two dueling and the last name of a third party. But nothing came up on geni.com for the opponent.
    It would be very helpfull to know what swords were issued to soldiers at that time. This was before the 1786 pattern was established.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Brock H View Post
    If a party to a duel did not own the required weapon I think it likely he could borrow said weapon from a friend or acquaintance. I think this especially likely in the case of a soldier borrowing a weapon from a fellow soldier. As to the type of sword that was probably used in this particular duel, I have no idea.

    It does sound like in this duel that death or at least blood being shed was the intent. In some duels an exchange of shots was enough to satisfy honor (proving neither is a coward) even if both missed. I believe it was de Tocqueville in his book about his travels in the early United States who recorded that in duels in the South death was more likely to result when swords were used since with pistols both sometimes missed, but honor was satisfied. Of course, not always. In Andrew Jackson's duel (with Dr. Dickinson?) his opponent wounded him and then Jackson shot him dead.
    Great info!

    Just googled the Jackson Dickinson duel!
    Dickinson did call him an 'equivocator' and point out that his wife was a bigamist!

    Seriously though, you have to feel sorry for Dickinson. Apparently his shot hit Jackson square in the chest and Jackson's first attempt to return fire failed to ignite. So (while trying to staunch the flow of blood from his chest) he re-cocked and had a second go!

  22. #22
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    Swords predating regulation patterns varied greatly and from regiment to regiment depending on how much their CO was willing to spend on what appealed to him.
    Officers private purchase swords were whatever they wanted to wear pending the CO's approval.
    Swords of the era are as individual as are the people who used them.
    Officers of means would have also owned small swords for social functions and while out of uniform. I would think any duel would be done out of uniform and a small sword the most likely weapon. There are thousands of small swords of varying design and in 1780 Canada only the swords one brought with them from the old world would be found.
    There is no possible way to pin point the actual sword used.

  23. #23
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    There is a very dated but concise study on dueling in Canada (in French only) right here: http://collections.banq.qc.ca/bitstr...1/1/411439.pdf

    This is where the number 300 comes from. Basically, we can count about one duel a year during the French Regime, and a total switch from swords to pistols during the English regime. Now you letter changes that fact by introducing the possibility of a sword.

    One important thing to keep in mind about the number of duels is that it was in fact probably much higher. Starting with Louis XIII, France had extremely harsh penalties for fighting in a duel. You would be sentenced to death, and all you family belongings confiscated. We then see the number of "reported" duels plummet, but the law was really not well designed as it failed to take into account the probelsm that such an attitude would create. Families apparently worked together to hide the duel and sometimes mascarade their own son's death as something else. The law effectively removed any temptation to report such an act, unless you felt incredibly vengeful. When you look at unnoficial accounts, and more so morgue reports, you really see an upsurge in duels.

    As for the rules, I would look at the Irish code Duello, which was published in 1777 and widely popular in the Anglo-Saxon world. https://www.geriwalton.com/irish-due...h-code-duello/

    there is no guarantee that these rules were followed, as dueling was not an international sport and everyone was free to agree to different rules if they wished to.

    As I am writing a book on the subject of martial arts in Canada, I (and I guess many others) would be very interested in seeing the letter if you would agree to digitize it.

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    Thanks for all the feedback everyone. It sounds like I wont be able to determine what the most common soldiers sword was at that time. But I have more information now more to think about. Thanks!

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by EricRS View Post
    Thanks for all the feedback everyone. It sounds like I wont be able to determine what the most common soldiers sword was at that time. But I have more information now more to think about. Thanks!
    You're welcome, Eric. This entire thread you started has been very interesting.
    "Courage is fear holding on a minute longer."--Gen. George S. Patton

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