‘The cause of the duel was a pretty Jewess’

‘The cause of the duel was a pretty Jewess’

The front page of the August 28, 1867, Edgefield (South Caroline) Advertiser was crowded, the way 19th century newspapers tended to be.

Shimon Steinmentz, whose hobby is rummaging through the virtual attic of Jewish history available online to anyone with patience and the right search terms, found this gem of local Jewish history almost at the bottom of the page’s eighth column.

If a duel over a pretty Jewess made a South Carolina paper, even though no one died, how would a local Jewish paper cover it? We can only imagine, since this took place a good 64 years before our paper began.

Fort Lee as a dueling ground fades in popular memory, playing a distant second to Weehawken, where Aaron Burr infamously shot Alexander Hamilton in 1804.

But for cognoscenti of Revolutionary War generals, the very name Fort Lee is redolent of dueling. The fort, and later the town, was named for General Charles Lee, who served in the British and Polish armies before joining the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, where he was a rival to George Washington for the commission of commander in chief. In Poland, he killed a man in a duel. That cost him two fingers. In 1778, he faced a court-martial after retreating during the Battle of Monmouth. This spurred his conflict with Washington, and led to his being challenged to a duel by one of Washington’s aides in 1780. That time, Lee was wounded in his side.

But we know far less about the fate of the two dry goods clerks and the pretty Jewess for whose affections they vied. What were their names? What was her name? Did she respect them for their will to fight? Was she repulsed by their violence? Did the three of them somehow live happily ever after? And what did the people of South Carolina make of this story of Northern violence?

As always, history raises more questions than answers.

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