Duel of 1838: A Maine History Lesson

By  | 

The nation's political climate may have moved on from when duels were popular, but the *last* one in Washington, involved another politician from Maine.

Congressman Jonathan Cilley was a former Speaker of the Maine House and even went to Bowdoin College with Nathanial Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

He had just begun his first term in the US House when he was killed in February 1838 by Congressman William Graves of Kentucky.

On the floor of the house, Cilley accused a newspaper editor of taking bribes. The editor convinced graves to challenge Cilley to a duel. The two dueled it out on the outskirts of the nation's capital, and after three rounds, Cilley was shot and killed.

Bowdoin College professor Patrick Rael said "There was obviously big consequence for Cilley who was lamented in in ballad and broadsides across New England and who's name was upheld for a long time as a martyr to northern decency against southern barbarism."

The duel lead congress to pass a law banning anyone from giving or accepting a duel within Washington DC.

Cilley is now buried in Thomaston.