Jacksonian Miscellanies, #38

November 18, 1997

Topic: A Kentucky Duel, 1819

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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At last some good old-fashioned history! (about "dead white males" killing each other).

The following is from Famous Kentucky Tragedies and Trials (pp27-33) by "L.F. Johnson of the Frankfort, KY Bar, Author of' 'A History of Franklin County, KY'" (The Baldwin Law Book Company, Louisville KY, 1916).

The book was dedicated "To Judge Patrick U. Major, ... my preceptor and law partner, who was born in 1822 and died 1903".

Francis P. Blair, and Hezakiah Niles make cameo appearances; Blair as a Circuit Court Clerk, and Niles telling us that

The jury refused to convict for a killing in a duel, as usual.

The first third is a sort of history of dueling - take it with a grain of salt.

I would have thought the wording of the indictment against the surviving duelist and his second:

more typical of colonial New England than of 1819 Kentucky, but there it is, proving my preconception wrong.

Next Week: "The Assasination of Francis Baker by Isaac B. Desha, in 1824"

The Holman­Waring Duel.


THE past century has brought many changes in the ideals of men. For four hundred years prior to the year 1800, dueling was not only considered honorable, but the man who refused to accept a challenge was regarded as a coward who did not deserve to live.

The Anglo­Saxons "allowed an appeal to the judgment of God" by single combat.

After the Norman conquest this became a regular part of the jurisprudence of the country, and it was regulated by fixed and solemn forms. In civil cases, personal combat was the usual and common way of settling disputes. A party to a law suit who was dissatisfied with the judgment, might throw down his glove and challenge the judge to defend himself. But dueling is of much greater antiquity than the Norman conquest. The duel between David, the Hebrew, and Goliath, the Philistine, and in which the Philistine was slain, is familiar to every Bible student. The Greeks and Romans recognized it as a proper way to settle disputes. The combat between the three Horatii brothers and the three Curatii brothers is familiar to every school child.

For hundreds of years, and especially under the feudal system of Great Britain, the chief education of a man was to teach him how to overthrow his opponent in personal combat; with such training, with such ideals, and with such ancestry it is not strange that the people of the United States were ready to follow the example of their fathers.

During the colonial period and the early history of the United States, many great men of this country were engaged in dueling, not a few of whom became victims of the cruel, inhuman and to the present generation, inexcusible custom. General Alexander Hamilton who fell by the hand of Col. Aaron Burr in 1804, and Commodore Stephen Decatur who was slain by the hand of Capt. James Barron in 1820, were among the greatest of the nation.

Kentucky, perhaps, furnished more duelists than any other State. The ideal Kentuckian, General John C. Breckenridge, had a personal difficulty with Hon. Francis Cutting in 1854 which resulted in a challenge, but the intervention of friends prevented the fight.

In 1858 the Hon. William J. Graves, a Congressman from Kentucky, killed Hon. Jonathan Cilley, a Congressman from Maine. The Hon. John J. Crittenden and Richard H. Menifee were present to witness the duel.

Hon. Henry Clay fought two duels and he was the challenger in both of them. The first was in 1808 with Humphry Marshall, a fellow member of the Kentucky Legslature; they met and exchanged two shots each and retired from the field, each of them slightly wounded. The second was in 1826, with Senator John Randolph, on the banks of the Potomac near Washington, D.C. Mr. Clay was, at that time, Secretary of State in the National Cabinet and Mr. Randolph was a Senator in Congress from Virginia. Mr. Clay fired without effect; Mr. Randolph disharged his pistol in the air, as he had previously stated to his second that he would. Mr. Clay immediately dropped is pistol and approached Mr. Randolph and said with emotion, "I trust God, my dear sir, you are untouched; after what has occurred I would not have harmed you for a thousand worlds."

In 1830 Gen. Conway and Hon. Robert Crittenden met on the field of honor in Arkansas. Ben Desha, son of Governor Joseph Desha, was Mr. Crittenden's second. Mr. .Crittenden was slightly wounded and General Conway was shot through the heart.

The duel between Francis G. Waring and Jacob Harrod Holman was fought in Franklin county, about three miles from Frankfort, in the early morning of July 16, 1819. Francis G. Waring was a wealthy young Virginian who had recently come to Kentucky. He was a practiced duelist who had been engaged in several affairs of honor in the old dominion.

On the 4th of July, Waring attended a muster of the county militia which was drilled on the Peak's mill road about four miles from Frankfort. Jacob H. Holman was an officer of the company and during the maneuvers a dog which belonged to Waring was killed by a thrust from Holman's saber. This killing brought on a fist fight between the two men, but they were separated before any material damage was done to either of them and it was thought by those present that the incident was closed. The following day Waring sought his friend, Doctor Joe Roberts and after talking the matter over between them, Doctor Roberts became the bearer of a challenge.

Mr. Holman selected Wilson P. Greenup, son of ex­Governor Christopher Greenup, as his second in the coming affair of honor. Mr. Greenup and Doctor Roberts met the following day and agreed that since Holman had received the challenge he had the right to name the weapons to be used and Waring was given the right to select the ground, and the day fixed was the 16th of July, at the trout of six o'clock in the morning. Holman named the dueling pistols as the weapons to be used and Waring selected the beautiful woodland on the Rev. Silas M. Noel's farm as the place of meeting. This farm afterwards became famous for being the home of Theodore O'Hara, the author of "The Bivouc of the Dead." It was further agreed that the principals were to stand ten steps apart and at the words, one, two three, Fire! they were to fire simultaneously. If either party fired before the command, "Fire" was given, the seconds agreed to shoot down the one so offending. If either party failed to fire at the command, his opponents second was to count, one, two, three, and if he failed to fire on the call of the last number he was to lose his shot.

The party met promptly at the time arranged and at the place named; all of the arrangements previously made were carried out. The principals took the places assigned them. the question was asked, "Are you ready," both of them answered in the affirmative. Doctor Roberts then counted, one ! two! three ! and each of them raised and presented his pistol, taking deliberate aim at his opponent, when he gave he command "Fire!" both shots were so nearly simultaneous, that only one report was heard. Holman's bullet took effect in Waring's right breast, ranging to the left and passed through his heart causing his death instantly. Waring's bullet took effect in Holman's right hip causing him to fall, he was carried from the battle field to his home where he lingered for many months. He finally recovered so that he could walk but he remained a cripple for life.

Niles' Register for August 1819, said:

The Franklin county grand jury indicted Holman and Greenup for the murder of Waring, and Doctor Roberts as also indicted charged with aiding, abetting, etc., the felonious shooting of Holman by Francis G. Waring.

The indictment against Holman and Greenup jointly charged that:

On Saturday, July 24, Wilson P. Greenup surrendered himself into the custody of the court and bail was fixed at two thousand dollars. John J. Marshall (author of J. J. Marshall's Reports), and Thomas Loofborro went on his bond for his appearance at the October term of court. The method of selecting jurors differed from that of a hundred years later. The order to the sheriff was:

On October 19th, Jacob H. Holman and Wilson P. Greenup appeared in the court and being arraigned, plead "Not guilty," and for their trial put themselves upon their country and the attorney for the Commonwealth likewise, and the prisoners having consented to be tried by the same jury and at the same time, thereupon came a jury to­wit: George Baltzell and eleven others, who being elected, tried, sworn the truth of and upon the premises to speak, and there not being time to go through the trial this evening, by consent as well of the attorneys for the Commonwealth as the prisoners at the bar, the jury is adjourned until to­morrow morning at nine o'clock and the jurymen permitted to go to their respective places of abode to return at the time aforesaid.

October 20th: "Jacob E. Holman and Wilson P. Greenup, who stand indicted for murder, were again led to the bar in custody of the sheriff, and the jury empaneled and sworn for their trial also appeared and took their seats, and having heard the evidence upon their oaths do say the prisoners at the bar not guilty as charged in manner and form as in the indictment against them alleged, and proclamation being made as the manner is, and nothing further appearing or being alleged against the said Jacob H. Holman and Wilson P. Greenup; it is therefore considered by the court that they be acquitted and discharged from the charge aforesaid and go thereof hence without day."

The indictment against Joseph Roberts, physician, for aiding, etc., Francis G. Waring in shooting Jacob H. Holman in the lower part of the right hip, was on motion of the Commonwealth's Attorney, dismissed.

Jacob Harrod Holman was public printer of Kentucky for many years. At one time he was editor of the "Commmentator" and later was the editor of "The Spirit of 76" and "The Kentuckian," all of which were published in Frankfort. He was a man of good reputation and of fine ability.

Francis G. Waring was a brother of the notorious John U. Waring, who killed Samuel Q. Richardson in 1835, and brother­in­law of Rev. Silas M. Noel, of Frankfort, a noted Baptist preacher and associate Circuit Judge of pioneer days. Doctor Joseph Roberts practiced his profession at Frankfort for more than fifty years. He had charge of the federal hospital at Frankfort during the civil war. He died about the close of the war. His son John Roberts was in the Confederate army and Joe Roberts, Jr., another one of his sons was an officer in the Federal army.

Wilson P. Greenup was the son of Governor Christopher Greenup, who discharged the duties of Governor with honor and credit and who died in the year 1818. Inscribed on his monument, by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which was erected in the Frankfort cemetery, is the following:

"His capacity, fidelity and usefulness in civil service is amply proven by his repeated elevation to and long continuance in offices, executive, legislative and judicial of the highest grade. He served repeatedly in the State and federal legislatures, filled the office of judge in several courts, inferior and superior, and was elected Governor of the Commonwealth in August, 1804. Patriot, soldier and statesman, through a long life of public service he distinguished himself in war and peace and died in the full enjoyment of the confidence of his countrymen, in the sixty­ninth year of his age."

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