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December 09 , 2008

Dueling in Charleston

Violence Refined in the Holy City


Though no landmarks or memorials formally recognize dueling in Charleston, it remains a quintessential element of the Holy City’s legacy. Most upstanding locals nourished the duelist’s tradition, many going so far as to make it an integral part of their social lives. For a time, even the most casual character insults or slurs toward one’s moral fiber or family lineage invited a challenge, and almost always, the offended party was expected to retaliate. Thus, finding full expression in frequency and public acceptance throughout the Lowcountry, a gentleman’s duel was a crucial—albeit deadly—matter of taste and caste. For two centuries, Charlestonians dueled habitually, settling personal grievances with malice instead of mediation. Charleston historian J. Grahame Long presents a charming portrait of this dreadfully civilized custom.

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