A Duel at Oswego.
When and how the fashion arose, whether or no instituted as an appeal of the weak from the insults of the strong, whether as a tribunal of rights, its decrees have not punished the innocent as often as the guilty, whether not often used to wreak the hate of a murderer under cover of a custom, whether it is a test of courage, or if indeed many a coward has not stood up to fight a duel, whose cheek was blanched with fear of cold lead, but who yet had a greater terror of public opinion, a term often signifying the caprice of one's fellows, not their judgment; these, it is not the purpose of this paper to discuss.
It will be sufficient here to say that dueling was, once considered an honorable way of settling differences, and that great and good men have so fought and fallen; even Washington himself on a particular occasion looked towards such a contingency, leaving the matter to the advice and direction of his friends.
There are some here, but probably not many, who remember witnessing at this place something more than thirty years ago an occurrence of the kind. The parties were Campbell* who was a sailor, a son of an official in Canada, and (Johnson?) a journeyman shoemaker. Johnson had been one of Forsyth's men in the late war with England, and he boasted largely of the skill that corps with the rifle, how they used to shoot off apples from each other's heads, &c. , and this led to the dispute and the quarrel.
A challenge was given and accepted, and seconds chosen but who declined officiating, and so they fought alone. the "Bladensburg" for the occasion was the East side of the river, and the ground selected was the high bank near the river, just about where the old bridge crosses, though there was no bridge at the time. They fought with rifles at ten rods distance, and were in plain view from the opposite side of the river, where they had gathered quite a crowd of people to see what they would do. But few supposed they would really fight, and still fewer disposed to prevent them if they wished to do so.
The arrangements for hostilities were as follows: the combatants standing back to back in the centre of the ground agreed on, each was to march in a line previously marked off and face to face about, and then if each were so faced, both were to fire. They accordingly fired, Campbell first but the other immediately succeeding, and poor Campbell fell bleeding to the ground. Now it may be reasonably supposed that the man was killed, and so thought his antagonist, for he hastily ran down the bank on to the ice as it was inter then and the river frozen, and after crossing half way over, he stopped and reloaded his rifle, to be in readiness to give another, though perhaps more informal shot, if necessary. But Campbell concluded that his own life might still be worth more than that of a score of dead men, so he got up presently, for though hit, it was only a flesh wound upon his leg, the ball "barking" off about its thickness or so. Dr. Coe extended his professional skill in aid of the wounded hero, so that he soon recovered sufficiently to enable him to visit anxious friends abroad; Johnson, too, left for foreign parts after hiding himself for a brief space. And here ends the story of the first and last duel, told of in either written or traditionary annals of Oswego.
Oswego, May 28, 1851. S.
[ * The Oswego Palladium of Feb. 24, 1876, states the duelers were Campbell and a man named McDonald, and that the duel took place where the Marine Elevator then stood. Recounting the same story, adds that Campbell received a flesh wound to the groin and after being treated, went to Canada. Also, William Squires said he loaned his rifle to one of the parties, and was invited to act as one of the seconds, and was present when Dr. Coe dressed Campbell's wound.
Another source states that this duel occurred in the winter of 1815-16, between a Captain Scott, owner of the schooner "British Queen," which sailed out of Oswego harbor prior to the War of 1812, and Duncan Campbell, a sailor and also a Scot, who later as captain, was lost when the schooner "Henry Clay" foundered at the mouth of the Niagara River in 1831. pp 190-191, "Oswego: Hamlet Days 1796 - 1828" by Anthony M. Slosek, Oswego, N. Y. , 1980, self-published. Dr. Coe was Dr. Benjamin Coe, who settled in Oswego in 1810 and was the third physician here. He died in 1826 at the age of 42 (p. 81 of the same book). ]