THE STUART-BENNETT DUEL.
THE FIRST DUEL FOUGHT IN ILLINOIS, AT BELLEVILLE,
IN ST. CLAIR COUNTY, ON FEBRUARY 8, 1819.
By James Affleck, a citizen of Belleville at the time of its occurrence.
The origin of the quarrel between the two men was a very trivial matter, growing out of Bennett's horse trespassing on Stuart's cornfield. The horse was a "breachy" animal, and repeatedly broke into Stuart's cornfield, which greatly enraged the latter, and he told Bennett if he didn't keep his horse out of his field he would shoot the horse. This threat was disregarded by Bennett, and the horse continued to break into the field, until one day Stuart carried his threat into execution-that is, he induced his hired man to shoot the horse with a gun loaded with powder and coarse salt, which he did, and the animal ran home bleeding and smarting with pain. Bennett became greatly enraged over the shooting of his horse, though the wound was but slight, and when he learned that Stuart was responsible for the shooting he was disposed to seek revenge. The animal was a great favorite with Bennett and the more he thought of how it had been treated the more his anger grew. While in this frame of mind he met with Jacob Short and Nathaniel Fike, a pair of young Bacchanalians, who made their haunt, and hibernated, at Tannehill's tavern, which then occupied the southwest corner of the public square on Main street, the site of the present National Hotel.
Short and Fike, thinking to have some sport out of the affair, advised Bennett to seek satisfaction from Stuart by challenging him to mortal combat. They told him that Stuart had grieviously injured and insulted him, and that the only proper course for him to pursue was to challenge him to fight a duel. Bennett really assented to this, and the challenge was sent. In the meantime Short and Fike saw Stuart and told him of their plan to have some sport out of Bennett, and they at once arranged for a sham duel. Short and Fike, who were to act as seconds, promised Stuart that the guns should be loaded with powder only. Although Stuart understood that it was to be a sham duel, and was only intended to enliven the monotony of life in the then small village, Bennett did not so understand it, and with him it was to be no mockery, as the sequel proved.
The arrangements for the duel were made in the court house, where the parties all met. The court house was then located on the southwest corner of Main and Illinois streets, in front of James Tannehill's tavern, with whom the writer was then living and continued to live for eight or nine years thereafter. The young men of the town teased and plagued Bennett a good deal about the proposed duel by telling him that he would take the "Duck ague" and couldn't shoot with accuracy; and Bennett, to show them that he was a sure shot, loaded his rifle and shot the head off a chicken that was in the yard close by.
After the parties had made all arrangements for the duel, and were pretty full of Tannehill's whiskey, they repaired to the duelling ground, which was located about midway between Main street and the present mansion of the late Adam W. Snyder. The ground in that vicinity was all vacant then with only a few scattering trees. The principals were placed about twenty five steps apart, and just as the word "Fire," which was agreed on as the signal was uttered, Bennett fired and Stuart fell, face downward, to the ground shot in the region of the heart. He fell on his gun and immediately expired.
Fike, his second, went to him, and turning him over, took the rifle he had dropped and discharged it in the air, so that it was never known whether it contained a ball or not. There was a suspicion with many that the crack of the gun was that of one containing a ball. Bennett and both seconds were arrested immediately and committed to jail, the latter, however, soon being released on bail. The State had but lately (in 1818) been admitted into the Union, and, it appears from the records, that the State had neither law, nor officials, to try prisoners in St. Clair county. The Legislature being in session at the time, it proceeded at once to enact laws for the emergency, and to appoint officials. A special term of court was called, and a bill of indictment was returned against all three for murder. On the eve of the trial Bennett succeeded in escaping from the jail, a log structure, by boring a series of holes in one of the lop, which he forced from its place and thus made his way out. Such was the sheriff's report when directed to bring the prisoner into court. Bennett fled into the wilds of Arkansas Territory, and was not heard from by the authorities for two and a half years. At the end of that time it was learned that he had been in communication with his wife; that he was at St. Genevieve, Missouri, and that he had arranged for her to meet and join him there, having sent a team and wagon for her and the children. A reward was still standing for his apprehension at that time.
James Tannehill and others followed the team and family, and on arriving at the Mississippi river met Bennett, and arresting him brought him back to Belleville. He was again indicted, tried and convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging., The execution took place on September 3, 1821, in a vacant field on which a part of West Belleville is now located. The execution was public, and was witnessed by one of the largest assemblages ever brought together in this county.
Poor Bennett! He lost his life for the love he had for his family. He stated on the scaffold that he was willing to risk his life for the pleasure of once more greeting his wife and children. He also denied that he had put the bullet in the gun that killed Stuart.
Bennett owned a lot and log cabin on North Illinois Street (adjoining the present residence of Mr. Emil Feigenbutz) on the north, and was buried there. It was the current opinion on the street, however, that his body had been turned over to the doctors, and had been used to advance knowledge in medicine and surgery. Soon after Bennett's escape from the jail, the seconds had their trial, and were acquitted by the testimony of Rachael Tannehill, a girl of nine or ten years, who was looking out of an upper window in the Tannehill tavern at the time the party was starting for the duelling ground. She saw Bennett come around the court house, distant about seventy or eighty feet from her, and saw him put something into his gun which the jury construed to be a bullet. This testimony, together with their own, cleared the two seconds and went far to convict Bennett. Stuart and Bennett were both young men in the prime of life, each having a family. Alfonso C. Stuart was an educated man, from the state of New York, and a lawyer by profession, but unfortunately, his practice was more frequent at Tannehill's bar than that of Judge Reynolds. He was buried about a hundred yards from where he fell, northwest.
John Reynolds, then residing in Cahokia; the then metropolis of the west, was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State, and acting circuit judge; John Hay also of Cahokia, was circuit (as well as county) clerk, and William Anderson Baird, a bachelor farmer, was sheriff. Samuel D. Lockwood, attorney general, discharged the duties of prosecuting attorney, and Bennett was ably defended by Hon. Thomas H. Benton, of Missouri. All the officials in this case were specially appointed by the Legislature to try these prisoners. Lockwood, before entering upon the trial, took the following oath: "I do solemnly swear that I will, to the best of my judgment, execute the duties imposed upon me by the act for the suppression of dueling, so help me God."
Scipio Baird. a younger brother of Sheriff Baird, was deputy sheriff, and performed the duty of executing poor Bennett, of which I was an eye witness, and of which I never wish to see the like again.
Belleville, St. Clair County, Illinois, December 26, 1899.
COURT RECORDS OF THE CASE.
STATE OF ILLINOIS,
ST. CLAIR COUNTY. ss.
In pursuance of an act of the Legislature of the said State of Illinois, now in session, passed the 24 of February, 1819, entitled "An act authorizing a special term of the circuit in St. Clair county, for the trial of certain prisoners," be it remembered, that on Monday, the 8th day of March, being a day fixed upon by said statute of the said State, for holding a special circuit for the said county of St. Clair, John Reynolds, one of the Justices of the Supreme Court of the said State, by arrangement made to attend the said special circuit at the court house in the said county; and John Hay, by the said law, is authorized to act as clerk to the said court. And in pursuance of an act of the said Legislature passed the 2d of March, 1819, entitled "An act supplemental to an act entitled, 'An act authorizing a special term of the circuit court in St Clair county for the trial of certain prisoners,' 11 William Baird is authorized to act as sheriff for the said special court.
Monday, the 8th of March, 1819. Members present: the Honorable John Reynolds, Justice; John Hay, Clerk; Win. A. Beaird, Sheriff.
Names of the Grand Inquest: Benj. Watts, foreman; Solomon Teator, Robert Abernathy, James Marney, Francis Swares, Jacob Ogle, Jr., Win. Padfield, Robert Lemen, Henry Hutton, Joshua Oglesby, Marshal Duncan, Cintes Moore, George Pricket, Win. Bridges, Sam Everitt, Joseph Penn, John Leach, Theophelus M. Nicholas, James Walker, Odian Castleberry, William T. Kineade, Jeremiah Ham,-23,-who all appeared and received their charge and retired to consult of presentments. Persons sworn to go before the grand jury, to-wit: Reuben Anderson, James Parks, James Kincade, James Read, Andrew Million, Benj. Million, Peter Sprinkle and Rachel Tannehill. Nicholas Horner excused from serving on the traverse jury. The grand jury returned from their retirement and presented a bill of indictment against Timothy Bennett, Jacob Short and Nathan Fike, for murder.
The People &c.,
vs. } Murder.
Timothy Bennett, Jacob Short and Nathan Fike.
And thereupon by order of the court, the clerk issued his process, directed to the sheriff of this county, to bring forth the body of the said Timothy Bennett; and thereupon the sheriff returns the following, to-wit: "The within named Timothy Bennett, has made his escape by breaking the jail, of St. Clair county; therefore, I cannot bring his body in the court as I am commanded. I I
Wm. A. BEAIRD, Sheriff of St. Clair county.
Ordered that the court adjourn sine die.
(Signed.) JOHN REYNOLDS.
(The case was called again at the next term, Tuesday, June 15, 1819, and the recognizances of James and Rachael Tannehill, witnesses, taken in the sum of $100 each for their appearance on the following day to testify.) Wednesday, June 16th. The case against Jacob Short and Nathan Fike called. And thereupon comes as well the said defendants, to-wit: Jacob Short and Nathan Fike. As the Attorney General and the said defendants say, they are not guilty in the manner and form as in the indictment against them is alleged, and of this they put themselves upon the country, and the Attorney General doth the like. Therefore it is commanded that a jury of twelve good and lawful men who neither is, etc., because etc., and the jurors of the jury of which mention is within made, being called, to-wit: Isaac Clark, Eli Hart, Isaac Bairey, Daniel Phillips, Henry Stout, Patrick Johnson, David Coons, Andrew Maurer, Peter Hill, William. McNeal, Brice Virgin and John Cotton, who being duly elected, tried and swore the truth of and upon the premises to speak.
Ordered that the court adjourn to tomorrow morning, 8 o'clock, Thursday, June 17, 1819. Trial had and the following order entered up: Upon their oaths do say, that the said defendants are not guilty in manner and form as in the said indictment against them is alleged; therefore it is considered by the court that the said defendants be acquitted and discharged of the charge aforesaid, and go thereof without a day, etc.
STATE OF ILLINOIS,
St. Clair county. ss.
At a special circuit court called and held in the court house in Belleville, for and within the county of St. Clair, on Thursday, the twenty-sixth day of July, in the year of Our Lord, Eighteen Hundred and Twenty-One, were resent the Honorable John Reynolds. justice; Wm.. A. Beaird, esq., sheriff; John Hay, clerk. Names of grand inquest, William Glasgow, foreman, James Cohen, William L. Whiteside, Hosea Rigg, Riebard W. Chandler, John Thomas, Archibald Allen, Henry Stout, John Leach, Thomas Gillham, John Scott, John Redei, David Sparks, Daniel Burky, James Marney, Jacob Whiteside, Daniel Phillips, James Pulliam, Joseph Willbanks, Daniel Million, Tilghman West, George Harris, John Glass, who all appeared and were sworn. Thereupon the grand jury having received their charge from the bench, retired to consider of presentments. The grand jury returned from their retirement, and presented the following bill of indictment:
VS. } Indictment for Murder.
Thereupon it was ordered that process issue, to the Sheriff of St. Clair county commanding him that he have the body of Timothy Bennett a prisoner now in gaol of the county aforesaid, under safe and secure conduct, before the court here immediately, to answer an indictment against him for murder. The Sheriff of St. Clair county, agreeable to a process to him directed, commanding him to have the body of Timothy Bennett a prisoner, confined in the gaol of the county aforesaid, brings into court here the said Timothy Bennett accordingly; and being demanded of him, whether he is guilty of the felony aforesaid or not guilty: says he is not guilty; thereof, and for his trial puts himself, upon God and his country. And the Attorney General, in behalf of the People of the State of Illinois likewise. And thereupon it is ordered by the court, that a jury come instanter, who neither is &c as well as &c and the jurors of the jury of which mention is within made being called to-wit: Noah Mathany, John A. Mauzy, James Simmons, Bunill Hill, John Colton.
Ordered that the court adjourn to tomorrow 9 o'clock. John Reynolds.
Friday, the 27th July, 1821. Court opened according to adjournment. Present as before.
James C. Work, George W. Jack, James Wilson, Joel R. Small, Elijah Davis, James Fox, and Zachariah Stephenson who being duly elected, tried and sworn the truth to speak of and upon the premises and having heard the evidence.
Ordered that the court adjourn to tomorrow morning 7 o'clock. John Reynolds.
Saturday, the 28th July, 1821. Court opened according to adjournment. Present as before.
Upon their oath do say that Timothy Bennett, is guilty of the felony aforesaid, in manner and form as in the indictment against him is alleged; and it being demanded of him, if anything for himself lie had or knew to say why the court, here to judgment and execution against him, if and upon the premises should not proceed; he said he had nothing, but what he had before said: Therefore it is considered by the court, that he be hanged by the neck, until he be dead and that the Sheriff of this county, do cause execution of this judgment, to be done and performed on him the said Timothy Bennett on Monday, the third day of September, next, between the hours of ten in the forenoon and four in the afternoon, at or near the town of Belleville, &c.
Samuel D. Lockwood, came into court, and took the following oath: "I do solemnly swear, that I will to the best of my judgment, execute the duties imposed on me by the act for suppressing duelling, so help me God."
From Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society--1901