Walking "The Dueling Path"
This weekend the family and I went on a wonderful nature walk at Alum Spring Park. For most folks this 34-acre property tucked back behind the Greenbrier apartment complex is merely a recreational site featuring picnic tables, playgrounds, hibachi grills, and hiking trails. For those who have more of a historical interest, it is also the site of both natural and colonial-era landmarks.
This includes a geological sandstone formation estimated to be 100 million years old, the locations of an old gristmill and icehouse from the 1800’s, remnants of a 30ft. dam and rail bed for the old Virginia Central Railroad, property that once housed Hessian POWs, and a postcard-pretty stop along the waterline known as “Fat Annie’s Swimming Hole.” (George Washington had surveyed the property for his brother-in-law, Fielding Lewis, who operated a mill there.)
Alum Springs also features a unique site of deadly confrontations. Christened “The Dueling Path,” this narrow cliff-side alleyway between the Alum Spring rock and the mill pond, bore witness to two tragic encounters. According to Robert A. Hodge’s book titled “Alum Spring Park: A History”:
In or about March of 1790 the members of the Masonic Lodge No. 4 of Fredericksburg gave a large and brilliant ball. Among those in attendance were members William Glassell and Robert Ritchie. William Glassell, a native of Scotland, was a successful merchant and respected citizen who had married a sister of Anthony Buck, the latter a highly esteemed auctioneer of the town. Glassell had escorted to the ball a young, attractive and respected orphan girl who was living in his home.
Mr. Ritchie was originally from Essex County down the river from Fredericksburg, but doing business in the town. He was not married. During the course of the evening at the Masonic Ball, and somewhat under the influence of wine, Ritchie offered a distinct insult to Glassell’s young guest, then refused to make a suitable apology when called upon to do so. Glassell sent a formal challenge which Ritchie accepted, choosing pistols as the weapons and Alum Spring as the place. Ritchie, knowing Glassell was an excellent marksman, was concerned enough over the event to make his will which was dated 27 March 1790 and if probated left all his legacy to his sister, Elenora.
Glassell had second thoughts and, through friends, attempted to get Ritchie to reconsider. Ritchie refused and the duel took place on the pathway along the Alum Spring Rock in front of the clear mill pond. At first shot, Ritchie fell to the ground, mortally wounded. Glassell hurried to his side and asked forgiveness, which was refused. After Ritchie’s death, a murder warrant was issued. Glassell was taken before a magistrate, but was acquitted.
This was also the site of a tragic family dispute that ended in bloodshed:
Cousins William Thornton and Francis Fitzhugh Conway were each attracted to a young niece of James Madison. Miss Nellie Madison was a Christmas guest at Chatham in this year of 1803. William and Francis arrived at the Chatham festivities on horseback and their horses were stabled. Francis had adorned his horse with a brand new handsome bridle and during the evening made veiled references to Miss Nellie as to the “surprise” he would reveal later that evening.
Unfortunately, when departure time came and Francis was primed to “show off”, the groom had switched bridles on the horses and it was William’s horse which made the greater impression on Miss Nellie. Angrily, Francis accused William of having bribed the groom. The denial simply aggravated the argument and the end result was a challenge to a pistol duel to take place at the Alum Spring site.
They met on the narrow pathway between the Alum Spring rock and the mill pond. At the word “fire” both shots sounded almost simultaneously and each bullet passed through the region of the bladder in each combatant. Thornton was able to ride back to Fredericksburg where his stepfather, Dr. Robert Wellford, apprehended that the wound would be fatal and William’s death occurred the same hour that Francis died.
The Virginia Herald of February 17, 1804, carried a notice that a brace of brass-barreled pistols was found near the Alum Spring and could be claimed from William or John Rutter.
John Hennessy has posted some interesting tidbits on Alum Springs, over on the Remembering: Musings on Fredericksburg and Manassas.
Down on the farm
I just spent an extraordinary afternoon down at the Slaughter Pen Farm battlefield, doing an interview and photo shoot for The Free Lance-Star, plotting markers, and field testing our new equipment. Thanks to Clint Schemmer and Mark and Christine Jones for a great day! To book your all-access tour, visit AABT’s website. (Article, tour photos, and my impressions as a guide to come.)
Jefferson's sex life...why does it matter?
This political cartoon depicts Thomas Jefferson "courting" Sally Hemings.
Jefferson's political opponents used it to discredit Jefferson during the 1804 election.
A new book has been released challenging the notion that Thomas Jefferson fathered Sally Hemings’ children. It is the latest contribution to a historical debate that has been going on for centuries. One side of the argument believes that Jefferson was involved in an adult-relationship with Sally Hemings which resulted in the birth of six children. Naysayers claim that it was his brother Randolph who is the rightful father.
DNA testing conducted in 1998 concluded that Thomas Jefferson was most likely the father of Elston Hemings and possibly five other slave siblings. In 2000, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation conducted its own investigation that drew the same conclusion. The Heritage Society disagreed with these findings and established their own committee to look into the affair. In 2001, they released a report disputing both of their counterpart’s conclusions. This 400-page book, titled Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission, is the commissions’ final product from this investigation.
I certainly intend to buy this book as I consider myself to be very well read on Mr. Jefferson. In fact, with the exception of “Stonewall” Jackson, I don’t believe I have studied more material on any other person. I have casually posted about this subject from time to time and tend to line up with the Foundation’s findings. I often wonder what really drives this debate. Why do some people feel the need to defend Thomas Jefferson while others chastise him? I have personally witnessed scholars, historians and regular everyday people becoming emotional over this subject. (“Pissed-off” is more of an accurate description.) So, what exactly is the big deal? Is this really a search for truth, or do folks take issue with this accusation on a personal level?
There are many complex facets to this story… You have the master and slave relationship, the older man and younger woman, the interracial aspect, and the illegitimate children? Back then it would have been (and almost was) a HUGE scandal, but other than the human-bondage aspect, this kind of relationship is fairly common in today’s world. Yes, the idea that a Founding Father was involved in a sexual relationship with a young slave girl and possibly sired multiple children is a bit controversial. That said…
Assuming that it is true and Thomas Jefferson was involved in a consenting physical relationship with a Sally Hemings, so what? Can anyone blame him? His wife had passed away before he turned 40 and he never remarried. He was a widower, with needs. If he had sex with a young, attractive woman is that really for us to judge? By all accounts that we have, the relationship between the two was not one of forced physicality. Yes Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves over the course of his life, but he was not known to have sexually abused them. Sally was not raped as far as we know. There appears to have been a mutual like between them. So whatever the nature of their experiences together it does not appear to have been cruel.
One could argue the morality of this situation, but I don’t think that applies to how we should view Jefferson’s overall contributions to society. He had his share of faults for sure, first and foremost being a slave-owner. The fact that he owned Sally does add an element of disappointment to the mix. However, it doesn't diminish the fact that from what we know, the nature of their affection appears to be sincere.
So although we will never know for sure whether it was Thomas or Randolph Jefferson who fathered Sally Hemings’ children, people need to accept the reality that he was, beyond everything else, a man. What he did in the privacy of his own bedroom should have no bearing on how we regard his accomplishments today. Personally, I don't care who he slept with. It should only matter to the descendants of the Jeffersons and the Hemings. The rest of us are either meddlers or prudes.
JJ. Bell over at Boston 1775 has posted a couple excellent pieces relating to the "Join, or Die." flag: The “Join, or Die” Rattlesnake - The Rattlesnake Reforms. This is the banner that I fly at my home and is the namesake behind this blog’s title. Enjoy.
Posted by ny5/pinstripepress
at 9:59 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2011 11:24 AM EDT
Share This Post
Spread the word...
Today it gives me great pleasure to announce that All-Access Battlefield Tours (LLC) is officially open for business!
AABT is a new private tour service designed especially for wheelchair travelers who wish to fully explore and experience the hallowed grounds of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, VA. AABT’s all‐accessible individual or group tours take visitors, their families and friends directly to historical hotspots while moving at their own pace. In order to provide a safe and comfortable expedition, visitors have the option of being transferred to customized travel wheelchairs that feature special wheels and canopies. These rugged outdoor chairs, combined with portable ramps, enable visitors to traverse fields, trails and roads that are otherwise inaccessible. Each experience includes complete accessibility assistance and the highest quality tours, featuring a unique staff of experts made up of local historians, authors and preservationists.
We are scheduling tours to begin on the first weekend of October. To view our press release, brochure, blog and contact information, visit our website at www.pinstripepress.net/AABT.html. Each wheelchair traveler will receive a special package containing battlefield maps, information on NPS tour site accessibility, travel wheelchair literature, discounts on our guide’s books, DVDs and more.
I am very thankful for all of the media coverage that AABT has already received. Tomorrow I am doing an interview with Clint Schemmer at The Free Lance-Star. On Saturday I will be shooting some video on the battlefield at the Slaughter Pen Farm to promote our service online. Both items will be posted here upon completion. Until then, here are links to some of the other promotions that AABT has received in recent weeks. Thanks to all of these folks for helping to make my dream a reality.
Civil War Trust
Civil War Traveler
Civil War News
Civil War Courier
Fredericksburg Tourism Bureau
Rollins Rains Report
Little Touch of History
Confederate Book Review
Also look for us in upcoming issues of Special Living and Palaestra Magazine.