Bladensburg Dueling Grounds
When the hotheaded politicians of
DC wanted to fight each
other, they all knew that the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds,
Maryland line,was the best place to meet their adversary. On
day of a
duel, the men would set out in the wee hours of the early
to travel down a dirt road and over a small bridge to an area
from the town of Bladensburg. The bridge ran over a stream
Run. Narrow paths ran through waist high weeds. Dense willows
crowded out the sky. Many prominent men met their deaths
were mentally crippled for life.
Over fifty known duels were fought.
earliest seem to be the one
that occured in February of 1819 between former Virginia
T. Mason and his cousin Colonel John M. Mcarty. It is believed
challenged Mason either over a woman or over Mcarty's right to
Virginia election. Mcarty had all kinds of crazy challenges
wanted to fight with daggers or jump from a lighted keg of
finally settled on dueling with muskets.
The opposing factors met at
each bringing their own
supporters. Soon Mcarty and Mason were set up at twelve paces
the shots were fired, Mason was killed instantly. Mcarty was
hand, and in a bizarre twist of fate the bullet traveled up
arm and out
Mcarty lost the ability to use his
arm. He also lost his mind. He
never recovered from murdering his cousin. Mcarty stopped
his hair, and even bathing. After he died, people reported his
ghost wandering around the weed choked area where he killed
Stephen Decatur was a Naval hero who
distinguished himself in three
different wars, but he too was murdered on the fields of
1820 Decatur was living the quiet life. He settled on
Washington, DC with his wife. This was the worst time for
Barron to challenge him to a duel.
There had been bad blood between
and Barron for a long time.
Barron had been put on trial to be court-martialed after an
A British ship commander had insisted that Barron turn
that he believed were British deserters. Barron refused, and
ship fired on Barron's, killing three men and wounding eight.
then seized the suspected deserters. This led not only to
suspension for five years, but to the War of 1812.
When Barron applied for reinstatement
the Navy Decatur was
outspokenly opposed, and he had the power to keep Barron out.
corresponded for several years, with Barron growing
Finally, with Decatur in the same town as he, Barron
Decatur to a
duel at eight paces with pistols.
The night before the fight Decatur
himself in his bedroom and
spent hours at the window gazing at his property. When dawn
morning Decatur slipped out of the house with the black box
dueling pistols. It was March 18, 1820.
According to the rules, no man could
before the count of one, or
after the count of three. Two shots were fired at the count of
took a bullet in his hip. Decatur was struck in the right
supporters carried him back to his home on Lafayette Square,
Some believe that Decatur is one of
ghosts lurking around the old
dueling area, but he has been spotted more frequently at his
after he was killed he was seen gazing mournfully out of his
he did on the night before he died. His wife was so upset that
the window walled up, but he still appears.
Another spirit known to wander
the overgrown trees is Daniel
Key, one of the sons of Francis Scott Key. In June of 1836 Key
friend John Sherborne were returning home aboard a ship.
the way home
the two young men argued about the speed of two steam boats.
arrived in DC, they met at Bladensburg. Key was killed at age
During the period when Key was
the public began to get upset
over the bloodshed at Bladensburg. Unless they had a fight to
avoided the area. tales of ghostly moans and groans
apparitions wandering around. Dueling was outlawed in
but this did
not affect residents of DC. Washington lawmakers did not want
law because so many of them believed in the codes associated
Congress had no choice but to act
February 1838 when Maine
representative John Cilley was killed by Congressman William
was a stand in for James W. Webb, a New York newspaper editor.
offended by some of the remarks Cilley made in the House. He
duel to Graves, who was his friend as well as a noted
Cilley was a
hard working man who preferred to spend time with his family.
really know the men who were challenging him. Cilley quietly
business while Graves practiced his shooting.
At dawn on the appointed day Graves
up with a more powerful
rifle that Cilley, but he was allowed to use it. When ready,
No one was hit. They fired at each other a second time, but
no one was
hit. The seconds and spectators tried to end the confrontation
wouldn't consent. The third time Cilley was hit in the leg.
artery was severed he quickly bled to death in front of some
most prominent citizens and politicians. Cilley's confused
wanders around the area when he died.
Cilley's death finally led to the
of dueling in Washington,
DC. Men didn't heed the regulations and they still murdered
the fields after dark. Finally, the Civil War put an end to
area. Everyone had had enough of the bloodshed and violence.
People avoided the area because of
history and the ghosts. One day
a boy saw a figure among the trees. The spirit had his head
dressed in black. When the boy approached the figure, it
ghost could have been anyone of the hundreds of men whose
there. Not much of the old dueling fields are left now. There
trees, many weeds, and a lot of ghost stories.