Did a Stocktonian hasten the Civil War?

Larry Valterza at the Haskell House.

On a visit to San Francisco, Larry Valterza came upon another site made historical by Stockton’s colorful antihero, David Terry (1823–1889): The Haskell House.

In a national scandal, Terry killed a U.S. Senator in duel. The Senator died in that house.

Born in Kentucky, Terry was a pro-slavery Southerner and Democratic politician who became Chief Justice of California’s Supreme Court. He was a hothead with a rigid code of honor, a tendency towards violence and a Bowie knife concealed in his vest.

Born in Washington, D.C., David Broderick (1820 – 1859) was one of California’s Democratic U.S. Senators and a staunch abolitionst. He was aslo friends with Haskell.

Broderick and Terry were friends, too, but they fell out over slavery. Their feud escalated until their duel, which took place near Lake Merced outside San Francisco on September 13, 1859.

Terry chose the weapons, Belgian pistols with hair triggers. He practiced with one. Broderick did not. When the duelists paced off, Broderick accidentally fired his only round into the ground. “Thus disarmed, he was forced to stand as Terry shot him in the right lung,” reports Wikipedia.

Dueling: utterly crazy.

Broderick was carried to the Haskell house and died.

Various histories give this duel surprising historical importance. It has been called “the last great duel.” Many historians believe the duel tilted California, until then closely split between pro- and anti-slavery factions, to abolitionism.

The National Park Service web page says, “The San Francisco duel drew national attention. Senator Broderick’s death turned him into a martyr for the anti-slavery movement. Terry and his southern sympathizers were accused of assassination. The Broderick-Terry duel reflected the nation’s larger and more violent divisions and many feel that this tragedy pushed the country further towards a civil war (italics mine).

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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