People, Politics, and Pastimes of the Day

Cover--The Crockett Almanac 1841
I’m not sure why I left this post in draft form for nearly a year now. But, my posting of the following article as sourced by Claudia Swain, one of the authors of WETA’s local history blog; “Boundary Stones,” struck a chord with me regarding this presidential election’s “anything goes” characterizations, attitudes and posturing.
On Election Day 1800; Federalist John Adams vs. Republican Thomas Jefferson were in the race for President; tensions were very high; “bad-whiskey” was readily available; and apparently, “anything goes when it comes to politics,” was even 216 years ago the sentiment of the day! Now–sound familiar? Well–recklessness never comes without consequences–just say’n!  I hope you enjoy the read.
Ms. Swain based her story which follows on The 1841 Crockett Almanac:  containing Adventures, Exploits, Sprees and Scrapes in the West; & Life and Manners in the Backwoods, by Davy Crockett  (August 17, 1786-March 6, 1836), (frontiersman, congressman, and defender of the Alamo), falls on the 230th anniversary of his birth in Limestone, TN.

Some Further Background:

For those of you who may be unaware, Crockett was killed at the Alamo, a fortified mission on the outskirts of San Antonio de Bexar (now San Antonio) on March 6, 1836, along with the rest of a small garrison that had been besieged for 13 days by an overwhelming force personally led by the autocratic ruler of Mexico, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Although it’s been 180 years since Crockett’s death, the precise nature of  it remains a hauntingly open question; i.e., did he die in the fury of combat, iconically swinging his empty rifle in a hopeless last stand? Or, was he one of a group of men captured at the end of the battle and then quickly and coldly executed?
The Crockett Almanac, named after this Tennessee backwoodsman, made famous by his self-serving tall tales, portrayed a rough rural “sport.” The inexpensive comic almanacs combined illustrated jokes on topical subjects with astrological and weather predictions. While presented here as a rollicking free-for-all, frontier violence, emanating from a male culture based on honor and reputation, this “sport” was often characterized by sudden attacks and maiming (such as eye gouging). The rough-and-tumble frontier Crockett came to represent was formed as white Southerners poured across the Appalachian Mountains in the decades following the Revolution, settling first in Tennessee and Kentucky, and later in Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, and eventually Texas. The Louisiana Purchase, the introduction of steamboats, and an expanded network of roads made this migration possible.


Rough and Tumble in Georgetown

10/2/2015 in DC by Claudia Swain

“A Regular Row in the Backwoods.”1800s Election - Rough and Tumble in Georgetown

Source: Crockett Almanac (1841)—Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

You’ve heard of DUELING, now get ready for ROUGH-AND-TUMBLE. In the 1800s, more than a few disputes of personal honor were solved by shooting each other to death. But that’s what the gentry of the area did, so what did the common people do? Plain old hand-to-hand fighting and eye-gouging.“Rough-and-tumble” was the name given to the fights between lower class men to settle disputes of honor and status. The style was unique in its brutality, with an “emphasis on maximum disfigurement or severing body parts.”[1] Essentially the rules were that there were no rules, and the fight was over when somebody lost an eye. That’s not an exaggeration; pulling out the eye of an opponent meant you won, and you even got to keep the eye as a trophy.How does this apply to D.C.? As you’ve probably already guessed, the District took place in the rough-and-tumble too. Most memorable, however, was one fight that took place on election day, 1800. Tensions were very high; John Adams and the Federalists were in fierce competition with Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans. In Georgetown, votes were cast at Suter’s tavern (located near what is today K and 31st St NW). A large crowd was gathered to vote and talk but as the day wore on, and “bad whiskey” began to make its way through the men, folk became more and more unruly.It was not long before a man named Shipely called a challenge to anyone from the opposite party who dared challenge him; a Lieutenant Peter answered his call, but sent one of his enlisted soldiers to fight for him, a man named Lovejoy. Christian Hines describes the scene:

[Lovejoy] was a very large man, well proportioned, and stood about six feet high. Shipely was nearly the same height, and very bony and muscular, but not so stout as Lovejoy. The Crowd having formed a ring, the combatants went into the fight with a will, those in the crowd occasionally cheering and otherwise encouraging their choice of the men. [2]

They clawed at each other’s eyes, grappling on the wet ground outside the tavern. Shipely proved victorious, by smearing Lovejoy’s eyes generously with mud. Bystanders picked Lovejoy up and washed his face, although he’d managed to keep his eyes in his head–the man was blinded for life. He spent the rest of his days being led around the streets of Georgetown by a hired boy. Although it’s unclear who Shipely won for, it was Jefferson who ultimately carried the election that day.And what became of rough-and-tumble? It fell out of fashion in the 1840s when deadlier weapons were invented that made the sport too lethal for most people’s blood. A good thing, too, or the Twitter feuds of today would result in a lot less click-bait and a lot more blindness; #RoughAndTumblr.

Footnotes^ Gorn, Elliot J. “Goughe and Bite, Pull Hair and Scratch: The Social Significance of Fighting in the Southern Backcountry.American Historical Review, Vol. 90,1985.^ Hines, Christian. Early Recollections of Washington City. 1866.

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