Henry William Herbert and the Brawl of 1836, Continued

by Ann Neilson

I have been trying to dig up as much as I can about this affair, and thus present two more articles following up on the event in which Henry Herbert, our beloved Unruly Forester, found himself in a pickle, which resulted in not only stab wounds, but—egad, could it be!—public humiliation. You will, firstly, find a short snippet, which exemplifies the public interest in this fiasco; and secondly, you will find a much longer, in depth account, which also includes primary statements from those parties involved. I will do my best to find the original source rumored to be James Gordon Bennett’s article from the New York Herald. There is a particular statement I’m gathering this from, for, according to White’s Henry William Herbert & the American Publishing Scene, 1831-1858, “…James Gordon Bennett, who resented Herbert’s insolence and aristocratic airs, published a full account of the fight in the Herald and invited his readers to visit the Washington Hall bar and see the two bullet holes made ‘by the descendant of the royal Plantagenets — over the left.‘” I believe a tip was given to Bennett after the brawl, too. I will do my best and hope to return soon with more on this thrilling case. -Ann

May 05, 1836, Commercial Advertiser, New York

The WASHINGTON HOTEL AFFRAY.—The Courier & Enquirer of this morning publishes not only the particulars of the scene on Monday night, and the names of the parties, ut also a brief history of the intended duel between Messrs. Neale and Tompkins, out of which it grew, and the certificates furnished to Mr. Neale by his second on Montreal, Mr. Campbell Sweeny, and a British officer whose experience in the duello was invoked by the latter gentleman. The whole affair is silly, childish, and anything but creditable to all the parties engaged in it.
Apropos to this last remark, we hold it proper to state that the Mr. Staples who was concerned in the affair at the Washington Hotel is a merchant; partner in the firm of Staples & Clark, and in no way related to the family of Seth P. Staples, Esq., the eminent counsellor of this city.

May 06, 1836, Albany Evening Journal, Albany, New York

[From the Courier & Enquirer.]
DISGRACEFUL FRACAS AT WASHINGTON HOTEL.

The Police had under consideration on Tuesday, a disgraceful fracas which occurred at Washington Hotel on Monday evening, in which pistols and dirks were freely used, and in consequence of which Mr. TOMPKINS, one of the parties, is now confined to his bed from a severe though not dangerous wound inflicted with a Spanish knife or dirk.
The affray grew out of an affair which excited considerable interest in this city some weeks since, and as there are various rumors in circulation as to the mode in which that affair was settled, and its effects upon the reputations of of [sic] the parties concerned, it is but an act of justice to all parties, briefly to state the facts as they appear on the face of a publication made by the friends of SAMUEL NEAL. As the whole matter is before the police, and the names of the parties known to the public, it is idle to suppress them at this time.
It is said that an altercation took place early in March, between Mr. SAMUEL NEAL and Mr. MINTHORNE TOMPKINS, the son of the late Governor D. D. TOMPKINS, which resulted in Mr. T’s striking Mr. N. several severe blows. In consequence, (we now gather our facts from a statement made by MR. Neal’s friends,) Mr. N. gave notice to Mr. T. that he “should hear from him.” Accordingly on the 4th of March he addressed a letter requesting a meeting in Upper or Lower Canada. After some further correspondence, it was agreed that the parties should meet in Montreal, whither they repaired; and on the 29th march, Mr. Neal’s friend, a resident of Montreal, waited upon Mr. TOMPKINS at Mr. Good[?]’s Hotel at 1 o’clock P. M. and demanded the meeting “with the least possible delay.” Mr. Tompkins informed him that both the gentlemen upon whom he relied to go out with him, were absent, but to avoid delay, he was willing that Mr. Neal’s friend should act for both parties. This proposition was declined as altogether inadmissible, and Mr. Tompkins promised to use all proper diligence to procure a friend in the city. Mr. Neil’s friend thus continues his narrative:
“At half past 8 P. M. I was called out from the [?] [?] where I was dining, and met R. a merchant of the city, who stated to me that he had been called upon by Mr. Tompkins, and requested by him to act as is friend in this affair; but that he had declined to do so, as he had but a slight acquaintance with Mr. Tompkins and if anything serious occurred, it would be the [?] for him to leave town. That Mr. T. had come to Montreal without a friend, and relived upon meeting with some gentlemen who were absent, and, on behalf of Mr. T., wished me to suggest some means by which he, Mr. T. could be relieved from the difficulty in which he was [?], and also to extend to him some [?] taken by [the remainder of this paragraph and the next are miserably illegible]
With regard to Mr. Neal we have something to say. He was the injured part—he had been disgraced by a [?]—and he [not only?] had a right to demand satisfaction, but he also had a right to determine when his injured honor was satisfied. He had a right to withdraw his challenge before he left the city, or return from Montreal without seeking the meeting at all; and of course, when at the expiration of twenty three hours, Mr. Tompkins was not ready with his friend, he had an unquestionable right to consider his grievance addressed, and his honor satisfied, and forthwith return to his house. All this was matter for him to determine but we do protest against his friends assuming or charging, that Mr. Tompkins did any thing which justified the conduct on Mr. C. S. or the certificate of the Capt. of his Majesty’s 32d Regiment.
The same paper from which we have compiled the foregoing particulars, also contains the following statement made by Mr. G. a friend of Mr. Tompkins, the truth of which is admitted, and clearly demonstrates the earnest desire of Mr. T. to give Mr. Neal the meeting he had demanded, but which he deemed it no longer incumbent upon him to insist upon or accept; and surely, Mr. J. is not [?] for nay determination of Mr. Neal in relation to the necessity for a meeting of which Mr. N. was the sole judge.
“Mr. G. proceeding to join Mr. Tompkins met that gentleman returning, at about 80 miles from Montreal. Mr. G. being made acquainted with what had occurred, they returned immediately, and at St. John’s in Canada, twenty seven miles from Montreal, encountered Mr. Neal,  on the 23d of March. Mr. G. requested an interview with him, and stating that he was advised of what had been done, proposed to him to return to Montreal, pledging himself that Mr. Tompkins would then be provided with a second, and that Mr. Neal should have a meeting. This proposition was declined by Mr. Neal, who alleged as his reason therefor, that he had written such letters to his family, as made it indispensable for him to be at New York on the 25th[?] Mr. G. pointing out that it was already impossible to reach there by that time or even before the 27th, again urged him to return. Mr. Neal denied the impossibility, explaining that he should take the route by New Haven. Mr. G. showed that this would not accelerate his progress, but Mr. Neal persisted in his determination to go on, and took leave of Mr. G. when the passengers were summoned, went directly from the interview to the stage sleigh, and set off.”
We have deemed it our duty to condense these facts, in order that the merits of the controversy which led to the disgraceful fracaswhich took place at the Washington Hotel on Monday evening, may be properly understood, and because we think the reputation of a meritorious and honorable young man is at stake.
It appears that Mr. McLeod, as the friend of Mr. Neal, had publicly approved of his conduct, and that of his Canadian friends, and agreed in the censure cast upon Tompkins. This led to an interview between Mr. T. and Mr. McLeod, and the following Circular:
“As there is good reason to suppose that Wm. McLeod has, by various statements, not only among stranger, but latterly by a printed circular, attempted to injure my character; I in consequence waited on him this morning, at the City Hotel, and requested to know if he considered himself responsible for said circular, which he did not deny. I at once told him he was a scoundrel and no gentleman; Mr. McLeod declined taking any notice of these expressions, on the ground that I was already disgraced.
“Let the public judge as to our respective positions.
“MINTHORNE TOMPKINS.
“New-York, April 2[?]th, 1836.”
In this visit to Mr. McLeod Mr. T. was accompanied by Mr. Staples, who, it is said, Mr. McLeod offered to consider as a principal, and hold responsible for the language of Mr. Tompkins. Mr. S. declined being so considered, and thereupon, Mr. Henry Wm. Herbert, the friend of Mr. McLeod, publicly proclaimed at the Washington Hotel that Mr. Staples for accompanying a disgraced person on such an occasion, and not consenting to be a principal, was a “liar and an unprincipled scoundrel.” This was reported to Mr. S. who accompanied by Mr. T. repaired to the Washington Hotel on Monday evening, where they found Mr. Herbert and his friend. Mr. S. immediately enquired [sic] if his name was Herbert and whether he had used the expressions which had been reported to him. He admitted that he had; upon which Mr. S. struck him in the face with his glove and pronounced him “a liar and cowardly wretch.” A scuffle ensued, and Mr. Herbert drew from his pocket a doublebarrel pistol and discharged both barrels at Mr. Tompkins who was near Mr. Staples without effect. Subsequently Mr. H. drew another pistol, which was however taken from him before he succeeded in discharging it, when Mr. L. got up on a chair and proclaimed Mr. Tompkins, “a disgraced scoundrel.” Mr. T. made a rush at him, struck him several blows on the face and received a stab in the side from a dirk or Spanish knife, which would probably have terminated his life if it had not struck on the seventh rib and [glanced?] upwards.
These are the facts of the fracas as detailed to us by eye witnesses; and we cannot but regret that it should have become our duty to place them upon record as occurring in this city. In our frontier towns, where men are constantly living with arms in the hands, and where they are frequently compelled to prove that “might constitutes right,” scenes of this kind will occur; but here, in the heart of our city, where we boast of our civilization, such scenes are disgraceful to all concerned, and should be frowned down by the public as a stain upon the character of our citizens. We trust that we shall never again hear of a similar occurrence.