|Date(s):||September 26, 1850|
|Course:||“Rise And Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
When James E. Brown of Wytheville County wrote a letter to his daughter Jane, he discussed the latest duel as the topic of choice.< Writing from Cobbler's Spring, Virginia, he said that Mr. Hickman and Mr. Long had entered into a duel. Mr. Hickman was the principle fighter and Mr. Long was his second. Dueling with them was Mr. Naylor, the principle fighter, and Mr. Stephen Taylor, his second. Many townsfolk gathered to see the sight, including Brother G. Stuart and Mr. General Repeat. It seemed that Mr. Hickman shot early before the time that was agreed upon. Following the rule of seconds, which enabled a second to engage if his principle was fired upon unfairly, Mr. Taylor shot Mr. Hickman. In retaliation, Mr. Long, Hickman's second, shot and killed Mr. Taylor. After the duel, only two men walked away: Mr. Hickman and Mr. Long. Mr. Hickman was not much hurt from his gunshot wound, but both Mr. Naylor and Mr. Stephen Taylor were annihilated. Mr. Hickman and Mr. Long were victorious. While the cause of the duel was not known, being that it occurred in the South during the height of dueling, it was assumed to be a matter of honor.
It seemed likely that Mr. Naylor insulted Hickman or vice versa, and one challenged the other to a duel, as this was the way to settle the matter when insulted. When a man was challenged to a duel, he could not back down. He had to fight. Then the seconds, who in this case were Mr. Long and Mr. Taylor, would arrange the time, place, and conditions of the duel. If someone was challenged to a duel by sword, but lacked ability in that skill, it was the duty of the second to arrange an alternative. Seconds were hand selected by the principle fighters, and they were usually good friends. In all cases, the seconds were of the same stature in society as their principle. Once the seconds set the conditions, certain friends were invited to come and watch. Not all duels ended in deaths. Once one man had been injured, the duel ended, and they were supposed to shake hands and become friends, as delegated in many dueling guideline books of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, if anything unfair transpired over the course of a duel, it was the duty of the second to step in and preserve their principle's honor, as Taylor did when Hickman shot Naylor before it was time.
This duel between Hickman and Naylor in southwestern Virginia highlighted the importance of honor in southern society. By the nineteenth century, dueling had penetrated the essence of white southern society. The duel was not just a way to settle an argument. Dueling in the South meant a way to protect your honor. If someone tarnished your name, the only way to uphold a man's dignity was to challenge him to a duel. At the height of the dueling era, Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in 1804. As a consequence of Hamilton's death, the practice of duels dissipated in the North and became a sectional practice associated with the South. Dueling provided an atmosphere for southern men to protect that honor that they, as southerners, had. Dueling also provided a form of entertainment for the townspeople from the daily routine. Southerners would rather see their fellow man perish than turn his back on a duel. To not protect a man's honor carried the connotation of a degraded slave. By extension, if the southerner was unable to protect his liberty, including the southern lifestyle of slavery, then he could not prove himself as a man. A loss of control over slavery threatened not only his liberty but also his honor. The Civil War provided an opportunity for southerners to protect their honor regarding their lifestyle of slavery. So it seemed that dueling demonstrated the importance of honor to the southern man, a concept which sustained the South from the antebellum period to fighting to protect the institution of slavery during the Civil War.