Item #010081 1878 – Letter from a governor’s son to his mother reporting a belligerent professor at the University of North Carolina who brawled with one associate and challenged another to a duel. R. D. Reid, Reuben.

1878 – Letter from a governor’s son to his mother reporting a belligerent professor at the University of North Carolina who brawled with one associate and challenged another to a duel

Chapel Hill, North Carolina: 1878. Unbound.

This letter from R. (Reuben) D. Reid, son of Governor David S. Reed, to his mother who was managing the family hotel in Reidsville is datelined “Chapel Hill N.C. / Sept 25th 1878”. No envelope. In nice shape.

In his letter Ruben reports:

“It seems that our Baptist brother, Prof. Redd is getting to be quite a fighting character. He had a fight with Prof Graves about an air pump and Prof Winston made some remark about Redd whereupon he challenged Winston for a duel, he did not accept, consequently I anticipate no further difficulty. . ..”

Rueben also notes in his letter that

“My room mate . . . left last week, he was a good boy and I was sorry to see him leave. I am rooming by myself now and find that I am forced to study to keep from getting homesick. . .. I was glad to hear from Father’s last letter that Mr. Patterson was going to take charge of the hotel. I imagine it will be good company for you. . .. Thanks to you for the manner in which you mended my clothes, packed my trunk and did various other kindness while at home.”

. Item #010081

Three recently discovered items (an alumni speech by Francis D. Winston printed in a 1904 issue of the Daily Tar Heel, and two student cartoons) shed more light on the incident.

When the university reopened following the Civil War, the few renaming pieces of scientific equipment were coveted by both the Physics and Chemistry departments. One item, a dilapidated 1850s air pump, was the flashpoint for Redd’s behavior. An unnamed Physics professor laid first claim to the pump and took it to his office. While away, Chemistry Professor Alexander Fletcher Redd found the pump and directed the school’s “servant” (Wilson Caldwell, formerly an enslaved worker owned by the university president) to take it to his office. Caldwell was intercepted by Physics Professor Ralph Henry Graves who seized the pump and, in turn, was violently challenged by Reed, the pair becoming “’mighty near fighting’ with chemistry worsted” according to the alumni account or, more likely, blows as described in this letter and depicted in one of the cartoons, in which Redd shouts, "I'll be damned if you shall!"

Interestingly, the alumni speechifier apparently did not mention Professor George Tayloe Winston’s refusal to accept Redd’s dueling challenge; perhaps because he was Winston’s younger brother. The time-honored Southern tradition of responding to an insult with a gentlemanly challenge of a duel was made illegal in North Carolina in 1802. However, dueling continued unabated for years. Although the last recorded fatal duel in the state occurred in 1856, challenges—most of which were ignored or rejected – continued to be issued until as late as 1885.

(For more information, see “Dueling” at the North Carolina History Project website, “Wilson Caldwell (1841-1898)” at The Carolina Story website, “The Scientific Revolution as Cock Fight” and “A Cartoon Mystery Solved” both at the UNC Archives “For the Record” blogsite, Register of the Officers and Faculty of the University of North Carolina 1795-1945 Electronic Edition, and online genealogical records.)

Unique. Nothing similar is for sale in the trade or has ever appeared at auction per the Rare Book Hub, and other than the article and cartoons, nothing related is held by an institution.


Price: $350.00

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