In the antebellum South, gentlemen solved political disagreements and attacks of a personal nature through duels. It was a matter of honor, in their minds. Although the practice was outlawed in North Carolina after the John Stanly and Richard D. Spaight duel of 1802, Robert Vance and Samuel Carson entered a duel on November 5, 1827 in Henderson County near the South Carolina border.
Robert Vance, brother of Governor Zebulon Vance, was a Congressman and a doctor. Despite his passion for medicine, Vance switched careers because he suffered from a physical disability. Samuel Carson, a native of Marion, North Carolina, was a farmer who served in the North Carolina Senate from 1822 until 1824. In 1825, Vance and Carson competed for a seat in the 19th Congress.
Carson won the election of 1825 as Vance hoped one day to return to Congress. Two years later, Vance vied for the 20th Congress in 1827. Once again Carson and Vance fought one another for the congressional seat and the campaign proved harsh especially for Carson. Vance delivered several uncouth remarks regarding not only the Congressman but also Carson’s father. When he delivered a speech, for instance, in Marion, Carson’s hometown, Vance called Carson a coward.
Although dirtied from the mudslinging, Carson won reelection. He sought satisfaction for the verbal attacks Vance levied against him. So Carson challenged Vance to a duel. Vance accepted and then set about to compose a will.
Due to the fact North Carolina had outlawed dueling, Carson and Vance met near the North Carolina-South Carolina border in Henderson County. On November 5, 1827, Samuel Carson shot and fatally wounded Robert Vance. Vance died the following day and was later interred at the Riverside Cemetery in Buncombe County.
Although some were disgruntled that he had taken the life of a fellow North Carolinian, Samuel Carson still attended the 20th Congress. Later in his life Carson helped establish the Republic of Texas, and he became Texas’s Secretary of State. Carson passed away on November 2, 1838, in Arkansas.
On This Day in North Carolina. Lew Powell. (John F. Blair: Winston-Salem, NC 1996).
“Riverside Cemetery.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).
“Vance-Carson Duel.” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program. http://www.ncmarkers.com/Results.aspx?ct=ddl&k=Keywords&sv1=Keywords&sv2=Duels, (accessed July 9, 2012).
“The Vance-Carson Duel.” Western North Carolina: A History 1730 – 1913. John Preston Arthur. http://www.obcgs.com/duel.htm, (accessed July 9, 2012).