Historical Highlights

A Duel Involving Representative Sam Houston of Tennessee

September 22, 1826
A Duel Involving Representative Sam Houston of Tennessee Image courtesy of Library of Congress Sam Houston of Tennessee served two terms in the House before being elected Governor of Tennessee and Senator from Texas.
On this date, just after sunrise on the Linkumpinch dueling field near Franklin, Kentucky, Representative Sam Houston of Tennessee gravely wounded General William A. White, a veteran of the Battle of New Orleans, in a pistol duel. In a convoluted turn of events, White was the stand-in for Nashville Postmaster John P. Erwin. Patronage politics were at the root of this affair of honor. Andrew Jackson of Tennessee had promoted another candidate for Nashville postmaster against Erwin (the son-in-law of Jackson’s nemesis, Henry Clay of Kentucky). Jackson encouraged Houston to thwart Erwin’s appointment. Houston wrote to President John Quincy Adams, that Erwin “is not a man of fair and upright moral character.” He also attacked Erwin in a speech on the House Floor. When Houston returned to Tennessee after the 19th Congress (1825–1827), Erwin dispatched Colonel John Smith T., a professional duelist, to deliver a challenge to Houston for besmirching Erwin’s character. That challenge was rejected, but General White then proceeded to challenge Houston, who reluctantly accepted. Houston prepared by practicing his marksmanship at Jackson’s home, The Hermitage. Old Hickory even advised him to bite on a bullet while dueling: “It will make you aim better.” On the appointed morning, Houston and White squared off at 15 paces. Houston emerged unscathed. White, struck in the groin, called out to Houston, “you have killed me.” White survived, but in June 1827 a Kentucky grand jury delivered a felony indictment against Houston, who had left the House to campaign for governor of Tennessee. The state’s sitting governor, William Carroll (whom Houston succeeded that October), refused to arrest or extradite Houston arguing that he had acted in self defense.

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