You’ve heard of DUELING, now get ready for ROUGH-AND-TUMBLE. In the 1800s, more than a few disputes of personal honor were solved by shooting each other to death. But that’s what the gentry of the area did, so what did the common people do? Plain old hand-to-hand fighting and eye-gouging.
A complicated sense of honor can get you killed. That’s why people like John Randolph of Roanoke update their wills before engaging in potentially suicidal duels, like the one Randolph had with Henry Clay in 1826. And, boy was Randolph’s idea of honor super complicated.
In the early 19th century, taking a life was as easy as taking offense. Just ask Commodore Stephen Decatur. On March 22, 1820, he was killed in a duel leaving (as some claim) his spirit to wander and perhaps seek retribution from the parties that coldly arranged his death.
Decatur was born in 1779 and had a mostly praise-worthy navy career, earning “the heart of a nation” and the malice of a few whose careers he stepped over to achieve his own greatness. One of these was Commodore James Barron.
Things got ugly between the two men with the help of two others who apparently wanted a piece of Decatur, too.