A Taste for Bacon and the Code Duello

The August 12, 1788 letter Jackson sent to Avery challenging him to a duel. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.On August 12, 1788Andrew Jackson challenged Colonel Waightstill Avery to a duel. The challenge was issued while both lawyers were serving in court in Jonesborough, one of three seats of the Morgan District Superior Court in western North Carolina prior to the establishment of Tennessee.

According to Avery family lore, the formal, Princeton-educated Avery would often “refer to Bacon,” and procure from his saddle bag a copy of Matthew Bacon’s New Abridgement of the Law, a much consulted legal treatise of that time. The younger Jackson is said to have replaced Bacon’s work with an actual piece of bacon the same size as the book that had been wrapped as the volume was to avoid detection.

Andrew Jackson. Image from the U.S. Senate.

When Avery discovered the switch, he was greatly embarrassed and chided Jackson for his actions, which he declared unsuitable courtroom behavior. Jackson responded with the duel challenge.

After court that day, both men met in a ravine next to the Jonesborough Court House. Jackson fired first and missed. One version of the story says that Avery fired over the head of Jackson, and another version claims he did not shoot at all, but instead gave Jackson a paternal lecture, and the two left the field as friends.

The letter in which Jackson challenged to Avery to duel is now held by the N.C. Museum of History. You can view it online.

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