May 22, 2011

Ellen Peniston's deadly duelist's of 1820

Ellen Stimpson Peniston
March 4, 1802 - October 23, 1860
(Click image to enlarge)

The last time I posted about the duel fought over Ellen Stimpson Peniston, Soapy Smith's grandmother was in 2007 on a different site and before my book was published. There is no new information on it but a family member recently learned that her great-great-great grandmother had a duel fought "in her honor" so I thought I would talk about it.

The year was 1820 and 16 year-old Ellen Stimpson Peniston (Soapy’s grandmother) must have been giddy that two young men were fighting for her attention. The happiness soon turned to horror as the fighting took a deadly turn, one in which both gentlemen were killed. They agreed to fight a duel in a secluded church lot. Both being apparent good pistoliers, shot and killed one another. It has been said that Ellen never completely got over the fact that she had been partly responsible for the deaths. The attending physician at the fight was Ira Ellis Smith who within seventeen months would take Ellen as his bride.

The following is post from my book, Alias Soapy Smith, minus footnotes.
Ira Ellis Smith’s wife Ellen, in a letter from her sister to a niece, is described as the “Belle of Virginia” and “the Flower of Georgia.” Another family letter in 1932 boldly states that she was the most educated lady in Georgia. Another letter by Ellen’s brother John Gilbert Peniston tells of a duel fought in September 1820 over the sixteen-year-old Ellen. It took place in St. Petersburg, Virginia, between R. C. Adams and James B. Boisseau. She was “Educated in Baltimore,” and

her accomplishments equalled her personal charm, so it was no wonder that she should have many lovers. Admiring friends gave her a party in her honor. During the evening one man showed her such marked attention that her escort became jealous and challenged his rival to fight a duel. The next day the word came to Ellen that both men had been killed. A sad shock to her, though she loved neither of them. … In old Blandford churchyard both men, Adams and Boisseau, were buried.

As the account goes, Adams offered Ellen a cold drink, thus offending Boisseau, who then challenged Adams to the pistol duel. Their combat took place in a secluded yard behind the Old Blandford church and cemetery. Both men were apparently adequate shots as each was killed by the other. Some blamed Ellen for the deaths, causing her great distress, and she never escaped feeling responsible. It is said that Dr. Ira Smith was the physician present when the duel took place. On December 6 (or 26), 1821, approximately a year after the duel, Ira married Ellen.

Adams and Boisseau were from prominent families. The church, cemetery, and one of the dueling pistols used in the duel may be seen at the Old Blandford Church museum on US routes 301-460 Crater Road, St. Petersburg, VA. Unfortunately, the museum will not allow anyone to post the pistol online so I cannot show  it here.

April 16, 2010

Ellen Stimpson Peniston: page 19-21.
The duel: 20-21

Jeff Smith


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