Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Last Notable Duel in America

Two twin granite shafts stand at the southern tip of Lake Merced in the southwestern part of San Francisco.

One of these stones bears the name Terry in bronze letters, its twin bears the name Broderick again in bronze letters.

A duel that occurred between these two men resulted in a haunting.

Justice Terry
SF Public Library
 and History Center.
U.S. Senator David C. Broderick was fatally wounded on this spot when California’s ex- Supreme Court Chief Justice David S. Terry challenged him to a duel, in the mid-1850s.

This duel was the result of a bitter struggle that was occurring within the state’s Democratic Party—over the hotly debated issue of slavery.

Justice Terry was the privileged son of a Kentucky family who made their fortune and prospered because of slave labor.

He wore fine clothes and was an educated gentleman, and was pro-slavery.

Senator Broderick
SF Public Library
and History Center

In contrast, Senator Broderick was the son of a stonemason. He did not wear fine clothes or have fancy manners. He had been baptized into politics via New York City’s rough Tammany Hall.

He was a friend of the civil rights activist leader, Frederick Douglass. He was firmly against slavery.

Broderick and Terry were originally good friends and allies in the Democratic Party, but when the issue of slavery became a hot topic, their relationship changed.

When Terry was not re-elected he publically blamed Broderick. This resulted in a bitter, accusatory battle between the two.

Justice Terry attacked Broderick for socializing with African-Americans, and for his advocating for freeing the slaves.

Senator Broderick hit back defending his beliefs and then questioned Terry’s judgment, ethics, and ancestry.

Terry then challenged Broderick to a duel. Broderick accepted, knowing he would be marked a coward if he didn’t.

At dawn, on September 13, 1859, the two men stood 10 yards apart near Lake Merced.

Belgium .58 caliber pistols were used. Both men were excellent marksmen, but Terry had practiced with one gun the day before—Broderick hadn’t.

Both pistols had hair-triggers but Broderick’s gun was more delicate and his seconds, inexperienced, did not grasp the significance of this difference.

Broderick fired first—but the gun fired as he raised his arm, and his bullet hit the ground near Terry.

Terry then shot Broderick, and he fell to the ground, wounded. He died three days later. He stated on his deathbed, “They have killed me because I oppose slavery . . .”

After his death, 30,000 people crowded into Portsmouth Square to listen to Broderick’s funeral oration.

Several witnesses to this duel were outraged and accused Terry of tampering with the pistols. He was arrested and put on trial, but the case was dismissed.

After Broderick’s death, a public and legislative outcry resulted in duels being outlawed. This is why this case is known as “The Last Notable American Duel.”

Eighteen months after this duel, American’s were fighting the Civil War to decide the issue of slavery.

Broderick’s ghost has been seen in various places.

One story states Broderick is still standing up for racial equality. His ghost has been seen joining civil rights demonstrations and marching.

His ghost is also seen on foggy fall mornings, near the spot where he lost his life. He is seen shooting into the ground and then clutching his chest in agony.  Finally, he is seen collapsing to the ground.

Most who have seen his ghost near the lake were not aware of this history.

The two granite obelisks mark where each man stood.
Photo: The BrokenlnaGlory
The site where Broderick was wounded, is a registered California Historical Landmark.

The pistols that were used in this duel were auctioned off in San Francisco in 1998 for $34,000.
SF Public Library
and History Center

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