ROOTS-L Archives

Archiver > ROOTS > 2003-10 > 1065765205

From: "Virginia Durao" <>
Subject: [ROOTS-L] An Old Duel, Biddle-Pettis
Date: Thu, 9 Oct 2003 22:53:25 -0700

Sedalia Democrat, Sedalia, Missouri, March 4, 1877.
Fatal Meeting Between Major Biddle and Spencer Pettish.

The Following details of an old duel which occurred nearly half a century
ago, is now going the rounds of the press. This county was named in honor of
Hon. Spencer Pettis, who fell at this fatal meeting: Major Thomas Biddle
and Hon. Spencer Pettis. This doubly tragic event occurred on Friday,
August 27, 1831. Mr. Pettis was a Representative in Congress and candidate
for re-election. At that time President Jackson was waging his memorable war
against the United States Bank. Mr. Nicholas Biddle was at the head of that
institution, and in consequence figure in politics that day. Mr. Pettis was
a supporter of the administration. In canvass of the district(which embraced
the whole State of Missouri), he was very severe in his criticisms of Mr.
Biddle, frequently denouncing him in the strongest and bitterest terms. Some
of these utterances came to the hearing of Maj. Thomas Biddle, a brother of
Nicholas Biddle, and a paymaster in the United States Army, then stationed
at St. Louis, where he had recently married the daughter of a prominent and
wealthy citizen. He Answered Mr. Pettis in behalf of his brother in a
public journal. over his own signature, to which the latter rejoined in an
unusually and personal manner.
Maj. Biddle, who was generally esteemed for his urbanity. lost command of
himself and forgot the dignity of his station and profession. Without taking
the advice of any one, he formed the resolution to castigate Mr. Pettis with
Armed with this instrument he sought that gentleman in his lodgings in the
City Hotel of St. Louis. It was very early in the morning. He inquired of a
servant to be shown to Mr. Pettis apartments, which was done without any
suspicion as to his motive for calling at so unusual an hour.
He found Mr. Pettis lying on a mattress spread upon the plaza adjoining
his room, in his night clothes and asleep. Stripping him of his covering, he
proceeded to administer an unmerciful chastisement. The noise aroused a
number of guests, who interfered and put a stop to the violence. Maj. Biddle
retired without having uttered a word.
The occurrence produced extraordinary excitement. Great sympathy was felt
for Mr. Pettis, who was personally extremely popular---he was a very young
man, and was regarded as the rising politician of the state and besides was
at that time in feeble health, having recently a bilious attack in which his
life was despaired. He took no immediate steps toward readdressing the
outrage, preferring to wait the result of the pending election and his full
restoration to health. He was chosen by a triumphant majority, the assault
upon him being regarded as political rather than personal, and bearing no
disgrace with it, the most Christian of his supporters feeling satisfied
that Major Bible would be " called out" when the proper time came.
Unfortunately, however. for the memory of Mr. Pettis, immediately
preceding the election, feeling apprehensive that he might be attacked by
the Maj. upon the street, who was furious at the abuse he was constantly
receiving from a partisan press, and vexatiously disappointed at Mr. Pettis'
delay in making the usual demand upon him for the unparalled affront he had
given him, he went before the Magistrate and procured the arrest of the Maj.
upon a peace warrant.
Both were present in court when the warrant was returned. Mr. Pettis made
some demonstrations toward Maj. Biddle with a pistol as if to attack him,
but was restrained by his friends. There upon he too, was placed under the
bonds by the Magistrate. During the altercation Maj. Biddle remarked of such
seemly squabbles, if Mr. Pettis would send him a challenge he would promptly
accept it not with standing his bonds.
The following challenge was sent on the following day.
They met at Bloody Island at 5 o'clock on Friday afternoon, August 27. The
intelligence of the duel spread through the city, and an immense concourse
of people lined the river shore opposite the island to witness it.
The windows and tops of houses in the neighborhood were crowded with
spectators. Owing to the near-sightedness of Maj. Biddle, and he distance
was fixed at five feet! Both parties behaved coolly. When they presented
their pistols they over lapped! At the word Pettis suddenly stooped with the
evidently purpose of shooting in the abdomen of his adversary, and with the
hope, possibly, of saving his own life. In this he succeeded, but was
himself hit in the side the ball passing entirely through his body. Both
were mortally wounded. When assured of this fact by the surgeon, like Hamlet
and Lertes, they exchanged forgiveness, and were borne from the ground. Mr.
Pettis died the next afternoon. He was buried on Sunday the 29th, and the
old inhabitants yet speak of his funeral as the largest ever witnessed.
Maj. Biddle survived until the following Tuesday. He was buried with
honors of War at Jefferson Barracks. His widow died in 1851. She was
possessed of large wealth, from the period of her husbands death devoted
herself and her fortune to public and private Charities. in her will she
left provisions for a Widows and Infants asylum, a noble benefaction, which
stands at the corner of tenth and Biddle streets, in ST. Louis.
In the grounds of this institution the remains of herself and husband
reposed for many years, and until now their removal to the new Catholic
Cemetery in the vicinity of that city. On the old Monument, which I remember
to have visited in 1864, was this plain but touching inscription:
Maj. Biddle had served gallantly in the war of 1812,. The annexed tribute
to his memory is to be found in the old records of the Jefferson Barracks,
under date of Sept 4, 1831: "Where as a recent melancholy event deeply to be
regretted by the community and particularly by members of the army, both
taken from the army a gallant and distinguished officer, and from us an
esteemed and respected friend.
"Resolved, That this meeting deplores the loss of their estimable fellow
soldier, the late Maj. Thomas Biddle, an officer who distinguished himself
in the field against the enemies of his country; and whose untimely death
calls forth our profoundest regret and sympathy.
Brig. Gen. H. Atkinson, President, " H. Smith, Captain Sixth Infantry,
Secretary". Mr. George N. Lynch, the veteran undertaker of St. Louis, who
disinterred Maj. Biddles remains, told me that in removing the bones to
another coffin he found the bullet which had cost the unfortunate
gentleman's life. It was lying immediately in he rear of the right groin, He
presented it to Captain Hasting, a relative of Maj. Biddle, who still
preserves it as a souvenir.

This thread: