Duelinggrounds

The Bladensburg Dueling Grounds

Written by and excerpted from the Magazine of American History, A.S. Barnes, 1891. 

Some five miles from the great dome of the Capitol, in a northeasterly direction, just where the old Washington and Baltimore turnpike crosses the eastern branch of the Potomac, sometimes called the Anacostia River, is a village which without any particular fault of its inhabitants will doubtless through all our future history bear an unenviable fame.

This undesirable notoriety attaching to the little hamlet of Bladensburg is properly due to two causes : on the 24th of August, 1814, was here fought that ill-starred battle, prior to the capture of Washington and the burning of its public buildings; and near here, and within a stone's throw of the identical spot where the heroic Barney came so near redeeming that unfortunate day - in a little ravine lying just below the turnpike - is the celebrated "field of honor," where has been settled more "affairs" than any other one locality in our country, or perhaps in the world - The Bladensburg Dueling Ground.

It is difficult to explain just why this particular spot should have been selected and have become of such universal resort in the custom which has given to it an unenviable fame. The most plausible theory is, that if men must  fight, this place combined the advantages of being easily accessible from the capital and yet out of the jurisdiction of the district; the near-by village provided rest and refreshment before and sometimes after the combat; and above all, the seclusion to be found within the ravine, screening the duelists from passing people and the meddling of the law.

A small stream wanders along the bottom of the ravine, crossing the road beneath a rude culvert and falling into the river a mile below. It is a desolate-looking place, characterized by a thick growth of small trees, shrubs, aquatic weeds, and grasses. In an open space along the west margin of the brook and only a few yards from the road, more than twenty duels have taken place, besides others that have occurred in different localities in the immediate neighborhood, and it is estimated that the whole number of hostile meetings upon this field would be fifty or more. Among the first, so far as the records show, was that of Edward Hopkins of Maryland, with an adversary whose name has not been preserved. It took place in the year 1814 and resulted in the death of Hopkins. It is not known whether this meeting was before or after the battle in August of that year.

The historic " field of honor " continued into the 1850s, though happily it was never again the scene of such shocking combats. 

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