Henry William Herbert and the Brawl of 1836

by Ann Neilson

I am ecstatic to place this on my blog, as I have been searching for this article for a long while now. Just yesterday, I had the privilege of finding this through one of the Internet’s many incredible databases, and I knew I had to “store” it in a safe place—why not this blog?

Henry William Herbert, whose life I need to finish documenting, found himself in a bit of a rough place when he involved himself, and his pride, in a duel. The duel did not go well (I will mention this when I return to the biography series) and resulted in this very public scandal, in which Herbert “famously” shot two bullets into the wall of the Washington Hotel in New York City. This created quite the buzz, and lead editor James Gordon Bennett Sr., of the New York Herald, on a tirade, in which he publicly mocked Herbert in the Herald, referring to him as a “Plantagenet” and discussing the entire humiliating incident for several months after the fact. This affected Herbert so severely, he became entirely reclusive for a number of months.

There are a few or so followup articles, as mentioned, which I will place in other posts. I did not want to place them all here at once for fear of making this overwhelmingly long. If there is no interest in Herbert, please take this as an exciting example of a scandal of the early-to-mid 1800s, and how one pitiable brawl can lead to public consequence. I will note that I highly appreciate the statement made towards the end of this article, being that status should not cover up one’s severe mistakes—we are all accountable for our mistakes, regardless of where we come from. -Ann

May 4, 1836, New York Commercial Advertiser

DISGRACEFUL AFFAIR,—A prominent subject of conversation yesterday was a “row” of a disgraceful character, which took place on Monday evening at the Washington Hotel, and which might well become the depraved and hardened denizens of the Five points, although the parties engaged in it are gentlemen by profession, and move in the best circles of society. We had various accounts of the matter yesterday, but none so well authenticated as as [sic] to satisfy us of its accuracy, and therefore we made no publication of either. The Times of this morning, however, puts forth a statement which it declares and we believe, to be perfectly correct, and we therefore copy it without alteration.*

For reasons sufficiently obvious, the narration can include no events previous to those of Saturday last. The parties had been in controversy some time, and on that day, Mr. T. accompanied by Mr. S. called to demand of Mr. M. if he were responsible for a certain circular just put forth. Mr. M. declined to answer: Mr. T. said that he should then hold him to be the person, and therefore pronounced him a scoundrel. Mr. M. refused to notice any insult from Mr. T., alleging that Mr. T. was a disgraced man. During the afternoon, he informed Mr. S. that he would notice anything from him, if he (Mr. S.) chose to take Mr. T.’s place. Mr. S. replied that after the occurrences of that morning, he could hold no communication with Mr. M., and so ended the campaign of the day.
On Sunday evening, Mr. H., a friend of Mr. M., referring to this reply, pronounced, in the public room of the Washington Hotel, Mr. S. to be a coward, and requested that Mr. T. might be told that he had done so.
On Monday evening Mr. S., accompanied by Mr. T., and both unarmed, except that Mr. S. carried his usual walking stick which had a light sword within in it, went to the Washington Hotel. Mr. H. coming in soon after, Mr. S., demanded whether it was true that he had pronounced him a coward. Mr. H. replied that he had; whereupon Mr. S. waved his glove across the face of Mr. H. and declared him a liar.
Mr. H. drew out a pistol, but before he could fire at, his hand was arrested by Mr. T. who remonstrated against using such a weapon, and assured him he should have satisfaction. Mr. H. shook him off and retreated, presenting the pistol, and T. following to master it. They moved from the centre of the barroom, across the hall into the reading room, H. threatening to shoot T. if he advanced, and T. defying him, and declaring he dare not fire. T. then dashed the pistol aside and struck H. when both were seized—T. by capt. B and H.by some young gentleman. H. was directly released, however, and while T. was struggling with capt. B. who held combatants, both barrels of the pistol were fired, the balls lodging in the door, above T. and the captain[.]
The parties were separated, and for a few minutes the affray seemed to have ended. Mr. M. then ascended a chair in the front room, and proclaimed that Mr. S. and Mr. T. were cowards and scoundrels; Mr. T. rushed upon him, and beat him severely before the by-standers could interpose. Those who seized Mr. T. forced him back across the room, he struggling to get free, when Mr. M. followed, and struck him in the side with a dirk or knife.—Upon that, Mr. S. drew the sword from his cane and stabbed Mr. H. The effective hostilities were here arrested by the exertions of the gentlemen present—a second pistol being taken from Mr. H.—and the parties soon separated, and retired for surgical aid.
Neither of the wounds is understood to be serious, or at all dangerous, and the parties have withdrawn from town.

We know of no good reason why the press should be tender or scrupulous in publishing the names of parties who can so far forget their obligations to society, as to engage in a brawl like this, because they are well educated and well dressed, and are accounted gentlemen. If they were boot-blacks or streets weepers their names would be exposed; and we cannot understand why a different course should be pursued toward them by some of our contemporaries being what they are. Others, however, have published the names, and as there is consequently no farther use to any body in concealment, we repeat them. Mr. H. is Mr. H. W. Herbert; Mr. M., is Mr. McLeod; Mr. T. is Mr. Minthorne Tompkins; and Mr. S., as, we are informed, is Mr. Staples—all of this city.