Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 30, 2012

Illustration of the duel

May 30, 1806: Charles Dickinson dies. Dickinson was born in Caroline County, Maryland in 1780. He came from a prominent family and studied law under US Chief Justice John Marshall. He moved to Tennessee where he practiced law, bred horses, and fought duels. The Tennessee plantation owner married the beautiful daughter of Captain Joseph Erwin. He also became known as an expert marksman and killed 26 men in duels. His luck came to an end when he met up against a Major General from the Revolutionary War.

Andrew Jackson met his future wife when he was a boarder at the home of Rachel Stockley Donelson, the widow of John Donelson, one of the founding fathers of Nashville, Tennessee. Jackson fell in love with their already married daughter. She was separated from Captain Lewis Robards, a mean and disreputable man. Also named Rachel, she and her husband were supposedly divorced, but Captain Robards did not file the final papers. Rachel and Andrew married only to find out later about the problem. Finally legally divorced from her first husband, the couple were married again. Jackson was always sensitive to this issue.

Jackson also was a horse breeder. His horse, Truxton, was set to race again Ploughboy, owned by Joseph Erwin – Dickinson’s father-in-law. Ploughboy went lame and there was some confrontation about forfeit to be paid. Eventually the horses raced with Truxton winning. Dickinson had been drinking and was irate over the loss. The two men had already been quarreling about Dickinson’s slandering Mrs. Jackson, calling her a bigamist. He again brought up the questionable morals of Jackson’s wife along with the dissatisfaction of the race. Jackson challenged Dickinson to a duel.

The two men had to cross over to Kentucky since dueling was illegal in Tennessee. They met at Harrison’s Mill on Red River in Logan County, Kentucky. Dickinson was the better shot, but Jackson was better prepared. He wore loose fitting clothing, hiding his slight frame. He also stood sideways. The two men bowed to each other and as the command to fire was given, Dickinson immediately fired his gun. Jackson held his fire, took careful aim, and shot only to find his pistol locked at half cock. Given permission to  fix his weapon, he again took aim, fired, and struck his target, causing a fatal wound. Only later did his second notice the blood pooling in Jackson’s shoe. He has been hit, but his ribs deflected the bullet, a souvenir he carried until his death in 1845. He went on to become the seventh President of the US.

Why, gentlemen, General Jackson has done a most daring exploit. He has captured another man’s wife. – Charles Dickinson

Great God! Have I missed him? – Charles Dickinson

I should have hit him if he had shot me through the brain. – Andrew Jackson, commenting on his wound

I think the verdict of history is that Mr. Dickinson was a young man of promising abilities, but in keeping with the life of the day was high strung, impetuous, and probably imprudent. – Secretary of the Tennessee Historical Society

Also on this day:

Start Your Engines – In 1911 the first Indianapolis 500 is held.
Chinese Democracy – In 1989, the Goddess of Democracy was unveiled
Fan Club – In 1933, Sally Rand danced in Chicago.

One Response

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  1. virginiaplantation said, on June 27, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    When I was research our duel story at Belle Grove, I came across this famous duel. It is such a sad tale of loss.

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