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The Monstery-Senac Fencing Contest of 1876

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2015 at 3:27 pm
Above: Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.

Above: Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.

In April of 1876, New York City played host to one of the most public and controversial American fencing contests of the nineteenth century. The disagreements over judging decisions and methods of scoring were so great that “inflamed” arguments erupted between the referee and the combatants’ seconds. At times, angry audience members rushed the stage and had to be removed from the premises by police. Before the day was over, one of the combatants walked off the stage in the middle of the contest, and the entire event broke up in disorder. Eventually, the two contestants would come to personal blows. In the weeks following, conflicting accounts of the contest appeared in various New York City newspapers, and witnesses from the day published impassioned letters about what they saw, attempting to set the record straight.

Now, even more than 130 years later, it is not exactly clear what transpired at this event. The dispute over the contest, however, highlights issues that are relevant today—just as they were then—for practitioners of traditional, classical, and historical fencing, as well as other martial arts.

“CHALLENGE TO SWORDSMEN”

The event had arisen from a “Challenge to Swordsmen” issued one month prior by Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery, a veteran duelist and noted New York City fencing master. Writing in the New York Herald on March 7, 1876, Monstery proposed a “tournament at arms” for the championship of the United States and Spanish America, and a purse of $500 dollars, on the following conditions:

“That the money and title of championship belong to him who makes the first fifty-one points, with the weapons mentioned, the points to be distributed as follows: —

  • Foil ……………………………. 12 points
  • Sabre ………………………….. 9 points
  • Rapier (cut and thrust) …. 12 points
  • Bayonet (thrust) …………… 9 points
  • Knife (cut and thrust) ……. 9 points

Each principal to employ two seconds; the referee to be a mutual selection.”

If Monstery had intended for the contest to take on national (or international) proportions, he was at least partly successful. The challenge was picked up and reprinted in newspapers across the country, from New York to Chicago to Louisiana. The New Orleans Times, on March 13, announced:

1876-3-13-NewOrleansTimes

One week after Monstery’s initial announcement, on March 14, the challenge was accepted by Maitre d’Armes Regis Senac. A native of France, Senac had arrived in New York City in 1872, and had set up a fencing school on University Place in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. The Frenchman had reportedly fought three duels in France and had emerged victorious from all. Monstery, on the other hand, was a far more experienced duelist, having taken part in, according to various accounts, somewhere between fifty-two and sixty-one personal combats; he had also fought under twelve flags on three separate continents in numerous revolutions and battles. Both men were former soldiers who had been educated in the military academies of their respective countries—Senac at Joinville-le-Pont in France, Monstery at the Royal Military Institute of Copenhagen, Denmark.

The following rules are extracted from the “Articles of Agreement” entered into by Monstery and Senac, and published in the March 24th issue of Turf, Field, and Farm:

  1. The foil to be 34 inches long, have a flat blade and be unattached to the hand or wrist by cord or string to prevent being disarmed.
  2. A free thrust must be followed by a pause, if the thrust has been successful.
  3. No cuts from the sides or from above to count, nor those delivered on the neck, mask, arm, hip or leg.
  4. After each attack the fencer to return on guard, or give proper time for his opponent to return before he makes another thrust, therefore, reprisals or double thrusts are not allowed.
  5. Time or stopping thrusts delivered without the lunge, count only in favor of the giver if not hit himself; if both are hit, the count belongs to the party who lunges. If both are hit simultaneously while making the lunge, it is of no count.
  6. A disarm to count one point, but if the foil is lost while making the attack and hitting the opponent it counts one point.
  7. It is forbidden to parry with or take your opponent’s foil with the left hand.
  8. If one of the opponents retires before the end of a play, he loses this play.
  9. No cuirass allowed under the vest while fencing with the foils.

Regarding the other weapons, it was merely noted that with the sabre, “cuts with the edge of the blade upon any protected part of the body above the hips to count”; with the rapier, “all cuts and thrusts above the hip to count; no cuts with the flat of the blade allowed”; with the bayonet, “thrusts only count, and these when delivered straight on the cuirass protecting the trunk of the body”; and with the knife, “cuts and thrusts to count when delivered on the cuirass and right arm.”

The articles of agreement concluded with signatures from both combatants, as well as those of their seconds: for Monstery, Louis Friedrich of the New York Turnverein and Prof. William Miller of Australia; for Senac, A. Aubry and Danesi.

Notably, the articles contained no mention of a judge or referee having been selected, and it is not certain how–or at what point in time–John Mortimer Murphy, an Irishman, was chosen for the position. Murphy’s greatest accomplishments seem to have been his writings on “sporting matters” and Western fauna; there is, however, no evidence that he had any prior experience in fencing—either as judge or practitioner. It is safe to assume that both Senac and Monstery must have agreed on the choice of Murphy; as to why remains a mystery. In an interview given several years later, Monstery hinted that a desire for impartiality may have taken precedence over a need for competency:

“Where shall we get competent judges excepting among Frenchmen who are unbiased by acquaintance with either of us, and who would serve upon such an occasion? Seven out of eight men who understand fencing [in New York City] are Frenchmen, and with them it is an article of faith that nobody but a Frenchman can fence, just as Englishmen imagine that nobody but an Englishman can really box.” (New York Sun, Jan. 6, 1880)

Throughout his career, Monstery often espoused an anti-French sentiment, and in that light this comment may come as little surprise. Yet Monstery was correct in his assessment of the number of New York-based fencing experts; during the 1870s, the only notable masters that we have been able to find mention of in the local press, besides Senac and Monstery, were Jean De Turck, Captain Juillard of Woods’ Gymnasium, Hyppolite Nicolas, and Louis Friedrich of the New York Turnverein. All were French except for Friedrich, and the latter, who served as Monstery’s second in the Tammany contest, and had also held joint fencing events with the Colonel, was likely considered too biased to serve as a judge. Monstery was also correct in that nationalism was often a strong influence in fencing contests of the period, especially when they involved French or Italian contestants.

As April came around, the publicity and anticipation for the event continued to mount. The date of the event, it was announced, was to be April 10th, and the setting, Tammany Hall, as noted by the Herald:

1876-4-10-NYHerald

Above: The old Tammany Hall, on 14th Street. Source: Wikipedia

The old Tammany Hall, on 14th Street. Source: Wikipedia

Notice of the contest even made the French-language Courrier des Etats Unis, which announced on April 5th:

1876-4-5-CourrierdesEtats-Unis

 

THE TOURNAMENT – April 10th, 1876

Above: Maitre d'Armes Augustin Grisier

Maitre d’Armes Augustin Grisier

The day of the contest finally arrived. It was noted by one reporter that “both contestants were attired in fencing uniforms, and Senac wore the gold medal of Grisier’s Academy of Arms, in Paris.” Interestingly, a biography of Monstery published during the same period noted that during a visit to Paris in the 1840s, Monstery had beaten and twice disarmed the fencing master Augustin Grisier in a public assault; one wonders if this fact somehow contributed to an increased sense of rivalry between himself and Senac. As to the fencing contest itself, to relay a simple, straightforward account of the event would be impossible, as shall be seen.

The morning after the contest, on April 11th, the New York Herald published its own report:

“The contestants fenced with foils, sabre and rapier, and in the use of each weapon Senac manifestly excelled. The referee, John Mortimer Murphy, erred several times by awarding points to Monstery that belonged to Senac. In the rapier fencing when Senac had scored 6 points and Monstery 5, the latter retired from the stage, evidently having enough of it. The lights near the platform were then put out, and the crowd gathered around it and demanded the referee’s decision. It was a long time before he could be got to speak. He declared at last that, as the match was “play or pay,” and Monstery’s physicians had advised him not to renew the contest, Senac was the winner.”

In another brief account, published on the same day, the New York Times concurred that Senac was the superior fencer, that he “had the advantage over his antagonist both in agility and skill,” and that “his attack was quicker and better sustained.” The Times also agreed that the referee had been unfairly partial to Monstery—despite the fact that Monstery had been officially declared the loser in two out of the three bouts.

Capture-NYTimesHeadline

A few details in the Times’ account also pointed to the chaos and confusion of the day. The audience had proved an unruly one; according to the Times, “among the other incidents a young Frenchman…on behalf of Senac, protested against a decision of the referee, [and] was, at the request of that personage, removed from the stage by Capt. Garland, who with a strong force of Police was present.” The Times went on to note that during the rapier contest, “there was nothing but argument and quarreling between the seconds and the referee.” It also noted that the referee, John Mortimer Murphy, “proved wholly incompetent to perform the important duties allied to such a position.”

Both reports in the Herald and the Times paint a decidedly unflattering portrait of Monstery—one of a man who had been soundly and definitively defeated by a superior swordsman; one who, unable to accept the outcome, used the cover of sickness as an excuse to end an otherwise fairly conducted contest.

In the coming days, however, that version of events would be called into question by a number of other accounts published in the New York City press.

On April 14, the following article appeared in Turf, Field, and Farm:

Senac_IllustratedAmerican1890

Regis Senac in 1890

“The tournament of arms at Tammany Hall, on Monday night, which was to decide the sword championship of the United States and Spanish America, decided nothing. True, the money was awarded to Senac, but it was not proved to the satisfaction of all that the lithe and active Frenchman was the most scientific and expert in the use of weapons of steel…Instead of deciding disputed questions, [the referee] argued with the inflamed seconds and appealed to the audience. Senac never failed to claim a hit, and his seconds were ever prompt to support his claim. As the wing Frenchman was the favorite in betting circles, the shouts were loudest for him in the audience. The referee perspired, shrugged his shoulders, and looked the picture of irresolution…It was the opinion of keen-eyed judges in the audience who had no money on the match that Monstery did not receive credit for all the points he made…If another match is made between these two famous swordsmen, it is to be hoped that a referee will be selected who can tell what a palpable hit is when he sees it, who will listen to, but not argue with, the seconds, and who will have nerve enough not to be overawed by the partisan sentiment of the house.”

The author’s name did not accompany the article, although it is safe to assume that they were either a staff writer or contributor for Turf, Field, and Farm. In the end, it is difficult to know whether the writer was a friend or partisan of Monstery’s, or merely an impartial observer with a well-trained eye.

Colonel Monstery "In Extension"

Colonel Monstery “In Extension”

The next day, on April 15, a lengthy journalistic account of the contest was published in the United States Army and Navy Journal. This report proved to be the most detailed of any, and evinced the same sentiment as the account in Turf, Field, and Farm:

“At about half-past eight the two fencers made their appearance with their seconds and the referee. It was at once announced that the number of points were to be reduced to thirty-nine, in favor of Colonel Monstery, who had but just recovered from severe sickness. The appearance of the two champions was very different, and the disparity in age was, we are informed, nearly twenty years… Monstery is now a tall, gaunt, wiry man, with a manner of great dignity and repose, reminding one very strongly of the gallant old knight of La Mancha  in his personal apparance. Senac is shorter and stouter built, with a dark but handsome face, small hands and feet, and a peculiar catlike grace and activity that reminds the beholder of a tiger. The contrast could therefore hardly be greater than between the two. It was quickly evident in the foil contest that the elder man was past his prime, or else had not recovered from his sickness. It was also evident that as far as the science of defence went he was superior to the Frenchman, while the latter, from his youth, strength, and quickness had the advantage in the attack. Senac was at first too eager and rash. He made two fierce attacks, and was twice disarmed, the elder man keeping cool and forcing the sword out of his hand as he thrust in octave. It was very difficult at the beginning of the match to see what was going on, as the seconds of Senac would insist on getting in front and hiding their man. Monstery’s seconds were much better and cooler. One of them was the great Graeco-Roman wrestler [William] Miller, himself a fine fencer.

Above: Monstery's second, the Graeco Roman wrestling champion, Prof. William Miller of Australia

Monstery’s second, the Graeco Roman wrestling champion, Prof. William Miller of Australia

The referee turned out to be ludicrously incompetent for his position, as became visible when the contest waxed warm. After Monstery had gained four points, Senac suddenly changed his tactics, and this time completely puzzled his antagonist. He abandoned the defence entirely, did not attempt to parry a single thrust, but trusted entirely to what is known as the “coup d’arret” in French, “stop thrust” or “time thrust” in English…Of this thrust Senac is a master, and by its use he quickly counted nine points. Some of them were very fine ones, as when he actually bent his foil into a curve before an assault, so as to get in a point on Monstery‘s arm, which he could not have done with a straight foil. His last point was the perfection of the “stop thrust.” He sprung back to the end of the stage and crouched almost on one knee. Monstery rushed in; and like a flash the Frenchman was up, and the foil bent into a semicircle on his enemy‘s breast, while Monstery‘s point was past him. The score then stood: Senac, 9; Monstery, 4; and the champions rested for fifteen minutes.

The sabre followed. Here the tables were turned. The old champion looked to better advantage in his white armor suit, and proved the French professor’s master. In this play Senac tried the same tactics which had proved so successful with the foils, but with very different results. Cuts above the hips were only allowed to count, and of these he hardly got in a single one, while Monstery struck him fairly again and again. He then tried a very peculiar game. Thrusting (prohibited), he would pass Monstery’s body, receive a cut on the helmet, and laying his own edge on Monstery’s shoulder would claim it as “a cut.” It was here that the referee showed his incompetency. Not one of these was a fair cut, and during the whole bout Senac never parried once, but trusted that this sort of sawing motion would be called a cut. The referee allowed it on several occasions, till the score stood—Monstery, 6; Senac, 5, when it should have been, Monstery, 11; Senac, 1 (this was at the beginning, a fair cut). To make matters worse the referee actually appealed to the audience on disputed points, and every passage of arms was followed by a wrangle of all the seconds for several minutes. Finally Monstery was declared victor with the sabre, 6 to 5.

Above: The interior of Tammany Hall, decorated for the 1868 National Convention

The interior of Tammany Hall, decorated for the 1868 National Convention. Source: Wikipedia

At last came the rapier…Again Senac tried the same old tactics, but the straight sword and bent foil were different things. He received several severe cuts on the head and body and one on the arm, but each time cut or thrust back at the same moment, and always claimed the point. Also he began to cut savagely at Monstery’s leg, which was only lightly protected, regardless of the fact that under the rule the point did not count. The referee kept giving his decisions at  random, first to one and then the other, while the audience began to shout and roar at each new count, which seemed to be decided on the principle of chance. At last, when the count stood five to five, on the deciding bout, both claimed the count as usual. Monstery had given a fair cut in carte on the left shoulder of the other, and Senac claimed a similar one, which really fell below the belt or too late, it was impossible to tell which. Monstery then said that as the referee would not give him points he had earned, he would continue the contest no longer, and very unwisely retired from the stage, while the whole affair broke up in disorder. Senac was subsequently declared the victor.

Taken as a whole, we were much disappointed with the management of the affair. The feeling between the champions was evidently very intense, and Senac especially fought very wickedly. At the same time it is doubtful whether Monstery will ever again be a match for a young athlete like Senac. The chief lesson to be learned of the victor is that of the use of the “stop thrust” of which he is a master. In the sabre contest, he would have been ruled off the stage in England, Germany, or France over and over again, and with sharp swords Monstery would even now probably prove the best man.”

But that was not the end of it. Six days later, on April 21, a letter sympathetic to Monstery appeared in Turf, Field, and Farm. This time, the author (writing under the nom de guerre, “Swordsman”) criticized the fencing strategies and techniques used by Senac and the manner in which such techniques were scored:

“It may seem rather late in the day to say anything concerning the fencing match that came off on the 10th of this month, between Prof. Senac and Col. Monstery; but as a lover of fair play, I think that something ought to be said for the benefit of your readers who are not themselves swordsmen. I take the liberty of sending this to you, because your paper (with one exception) is the only one whose reporter seemed to know anything about the use of the sword.

In the foil assault, which came first, Monstery quickly got in the first two hits. In the third attack, he disarmed Senac (as he did twice subsequently) and soon got in another hit. After this fencing ceased. Senac–either because he could not, or for some other reason–never attempted to parry a thrust, but lunged when Monstery did, or made use of the “time thrust.”

Now, let me say a word about the “time thrust.” In the first place, one of the rules said: “The ‘time thrust’ shall count in favor of the giver only when not hit himself, and if both are hit, the count shall be given to the party who made the attack.”

Now, if this rule had been followed, Monstery would have soon run his score up to the required nine, because in only one or two of the “time thrusts” did Senac escape a hit. The design of rules in fencing is to make the assault as much like a mortal combat as possible, and only thus far of they of use. Now, who would think of making use of the “time thrust” in a duel? For he would be simply taking a thrust through his bowels for the sake of scratching his opponent’s shoulder, or at most wounding him in the neck. In a duel, when one makes an attack, the other will parry it if he can. In fact, when a person begins to make use of the “time thrust,” he virtually acknowledges that he is not able to parry; and in Europe, if a man persisted in using it, he would be hissed off the stage.

In the assault with the sabre, Senac scored the first point by a clever cut on his opponent’s head; and this was the only point in this assault that really belonged to him, for he then fell back on his old tactics of refusing to parry, and when Monstery would cut, Senac would thrust past him, and laying his sword upon Monstery’s shoulder would commence a sawing motion which he claimed as a cut. The rapier contest was but a repetition of that with the sabre. In the sabre contest, as a paper of this city has truly said, “Senac would be ruled off the stage in England, Germany or France over and over again.” We cannot understand how so noted a swordsman as Prof. Senac could consent himself to use such a means to win a match as he did in this.”

In scrutinizing some of the points made in this letter, it is immediately clear that it could not have been written by Monstery himself, nor by any of his serious disciples. Monstery was never averse to the use of the time-thrust—in actual duels, or in contests with blunt weapons. In an 1863 duel “a la morte”, Monstery had defeated an expert fencer named Victor La Lieux by using the time-thrust. In the rules for his contest with Senac, Monstery had made provisions for scoring proper time-thrusts. And in his own writings, Monstery praised the “legitimate” time-thrust and stop-thrust, which, he asserted “are marks of the highest skill in fencing if the giver not be hit while delivering them.”

So what phenomenon, exactly, was the author of the last letter attempting to describe?

Following is a description of the time-thrust from Fencing (1890) by Camille Prevost, Maitre d’Armes:

“The time-thrust is an attack made with opposition on a complicated attack, and intended to intercept the line where such an attack is meant to finish. The time-thrust is a thing of the most accurate judgment and readiness; you must, to execute it, gauge both the attack and the quickness of your adversary. Well done, it is one of the best things, ill done, one of the worst things, in the possibilities of fencing.”

During the nineteenth century, many fencing masters warned of the dangers resulting from improperly executed time-thrusts (i.e., incurring simultaneous hits). For instance, Joseph Roland, in 1809, stated,

“Observe, that no time thrust is good if you are hit at the same time, and to avoid which you should generally take the time when the adversary thrusts over the arm, observing to oppose your blade to that side an which he might have hit you with his thrust, and by this opposition his foil will necessarily pass by the side of your body.”

Or, as T. Griffiths stated in The Modern Fencer (1868),

“Never take the Time Thrust unless you are pretty certain that you will not get hit at the same time.”

The present question then remains: during the 1876 Tammany contest, was Senac utilizing the legitimate time-thrust, or was he merely attacking into Monstery’s attacks, and incurring double hits, which were then mostly scored in his favor? If he was attempting to utilize genuine stop-thrusts, was he failing to execute them properly (incurring double-hits), and then getting rewarded for them?

Above: Regis Senac in later years, from "The Art of Fencing," 1904.

Regis Senac in later years, from “The Art of Fencing,” 1904.

One might look to the fencers themselves for answers. Several years after the contest, in a letter to the New York Sun, Senac recounted:

“The match…was not satisfactorily ended owing to my adversary’s willful retreat. The referee decided that I was entitled to the title of champion of America and his decision was ratified, I am proud to say, by the unanimous applause of the public. That title has been honestly won and I can add, honorably borne by me ever since.” (New York Sun, Jan. 5, 1880)

In separate interviews given in the next day’s issue of the Sun, both men related their accounts and feelings about the day. Senac stated,

“There [in Tammany Hall], as the reports show, I defeated [Monstery] easily, and he became enraged and went away before the match was ended. Instead of saluting when I touched him, as he should have done, he contented himself with abusing me.”

Monstery was quoted in the same article as saying:

“I struck him five times out of six, and every time they marked a score to him. At last I lost my temper at such apparent cheating, threw down my weapon, and came away.”

Unfortunately, either Monstery neglected to elaborate on what such “cheating” consisted of—or the Sun neglected to print it. Such accounts by the men themselves shed little light on what actually occurred.

 

THE FIGHT AT SCHILLING’S SALOON

The bitterness between Monstery and Senac continued to endure. Their feud finally came to a head on New Year’s Eve, 1879, when Senac entered Schilling’s Saloon on Sixth Avenue, and encountered Monstery at the bar. Senac reportedly greeted Monstery in French, then followed it with an epithet, also in French. Rather than replying to Senac directly, Monstery turned to Schilling, and remarked, “What’s that he says?” Senac reportedly interpreted this as an insult, and a hostile back-and-forth between the two men ensued, involving, among several things, “charges of unfairness in exhibition matches”:

“At length Senac gave Monstery a push in the chest. A left-hander in the cheek from the latter bowled his adversary over. Senac hastily arose and clinched, and Monstery went over in his turn. On rising he got a rap on Senac’s chin, which sent him staggering. Then they wrestled. Both men were skilled and very powerful, but were illy matched in age. Monstery is a sturdy veteran of 59, though he looks younger, and Senac is under 40. Monstery seized him by the seat of the trousers and lifted him. Senac caught Monstery by a leg, sent him over, and rolled on him. Both regained their feet and took their coats off for a climactic set-to, when a policeman who had been called entered and spoiled the match.”

The two then went home, “only slightly damaged.” A few days later, on January 5, 1880, the account of their brawl appeared in the pages of the New York Sun, under the headline: “SWORDSMEN USING THEIR FISTS. Monstery and Senac, the Fencing Masters, have a Quarrel and a Fight.”

 

OTHER INCIDENTS, AND EVIDENCE

A final question remains, which may indeed give us some insight into what happened in Tammany Hall in April of 1876. Namely: are there any other precedents for similar incidents in Monstery’s or Senac’s careers?

In Monstery’s case, the answer is a resounding “no.”

Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, Monstery faced a variety of opponents in numerous public contests, and won virtually all of them. Two, however, he did lose—both during the twilight of his life. In November of 1893, Monstery faced Eugenio Pini, one of the greatest Italian fencers of his generation, in a public contest. Although Monstery lost to Pini this time (having defeated Pini once before), the Daily Inter Ocean of Nov. 11 noted,

“both men displayed the fact that courtesy is as much a part of fencing as the thrust and parry. The audience received the last bout with great enthusiasm, and called loudly for speeches, which, however, were not made.”

Above: Richard Malchien, 1896, in the Daily Inter Ocean

Richard Malchien, 1896, in the Daily Inter Ocean

The other contest that Monstery lost occurred in 1896, when he was 72 years of age; his opponent was a young prodigy named Richard Malchien. Before a large audience, Monstery conceded the match to Malchien after falling behind by a single point, with a final score of three to two. It was noted:

“Over a glass of wine half an hour later, the victor and vanquished having shaken hands, Alan H. Sanson, acting on the advice of his principal, called the match off and returned the Colonel’s stake money. The latter, loath to accept this as a gift, bought that much worth of wine, and all shook hands and parted the best of friends.”

These contests prove that, at the very least, Monstery was more than capable of losing gracefully in high-profile fencing tournaments.

In contrast to Monstery, Senac continued to attract controversy, as well as bitter feelings from his opponents, throughout his career.

The old New York Tunverein, on East Fourth Street. Source: http://www.maggieblanck.com/NewYork/Societies.html

The old New York Tunverein, on East Fourth Street. Source: http://www.maggieblanck.com/NewYork/Societies.html

In 1877, a  year and a half after the Tammany tournament, the Frenchman engaged in a public contest with Louis Friedrich of the New York Turnverein, at Turn Hall on East Fourth Street. A reporter who witnessed the event recounted:

“Senac is one of the most active, graceful, and catlike fencers we ever saw, but it seems to be constitutionally impossible for him to fence fairly…[Friedrich] made seven points to Senac’s six, and five of the Frenchman’s were made unfairly, by remaining extended after his lunge failed, and stabbing with shortened blade, unmindful of the adversary’s fair hit. If Senac would only drop this style of fencing, together with his monkey tricks, he might become a very popular fencer, for his agility and handsome face are very pleasing to an audience; but as it is, he is decidedly degenerating.” (New York Spirit of the Times, Nov. 3, 1877)

Nor was Monstery the last fencer to walk out in the middle of a contest with Senac.

Eugenio Pini

In 1894, when the Frenchman faced Eugenio Pini in a contest before the French Benevolent Society of New York City,

“Pini became angered…and finally drew off his mask, and, casting his foil on the stage, retired in a huff.” (Philadelphia Record, Jan. 4, 1894)

The incident escalated into a threatened duel, when Prof. Frank G. Scannapieco, a witness to the contest, sided with Senac, in an editorial printed in his Italian language journal Il Vesuvio. Pini replied through the columns of another Italian paper in New York, stating that “the editor of Il Vesuvio was a fool, and knew nothing about fencing.” When Scannapieco published another reply criticizing Pini’s fencing, the latter “forwarded a telegram from Havana, where he had gone in the meantime, calling Professor Scannapieco some vile epithets and demanding satisfaction at the point of the pistol.” Scannapieco entertained, but did not accept, Pini’s challenge.

PiniChallenge

PiniCartel

Cartel signed by Pini’s second, published in the Sunday Inter Ocean, January 14, 1894.

Although it is unclear if Senac was actually at fault in the incident with Pini, the fact stands that in two separate cases, fencers walked out in the middle of a public contest with Senac. Actually, a third such incident occurred in another Tammany contest with fencer Albert Vaughn, who walked off the stage after alleging that Senac “was not disposed to act in a fair and gentlemanly manner” (New York Clipper, April 12, 1884). However, in the last case, Senac had disabled Vaughn’s sword arm with a vicious cut, and it is unclear whether Vaughn took umbrage with that fact, or for other reasons. Whether the grievances of Senac’s opponents had any merit at all, or whether they were, instead, the ungracious complaints of men that could not bear defeat at the hands of a superior swordsman, is, of course, a matter of speculation.

 

CONCLUSION AND LEGACY

In the decades following the Monstery-Senac contest, Monstery increasingly spoke out against gamemanship in fencing, and wrote about maintaining the martial aspect of the art and science. Little more than a year before the contest, he had stated,

“An assault of arms should be conducted with the same precaution as if life itself was at stake.” (Turf, Field, and Farm, January 29, 1875)

His concern was also palpable in December of 1878, when the New York Athletic Club published its “Laws of Athletics,” which included the following provision for fencing with the foil:

“Time or stopping thrusts, delivered without the lunge, count only in favor of the giver if not hit himself; if both are hit simultaneously, the count belongs to the competitor who has hit his opponent in the higher part of the body; if hit in the same line, the point is of no count.”

Monstery published a lengthy critique of these laws in the New York Spirit of the Times, explaining,

“The rest of the rule, providing that the count in simultaneous thrusts should belong to the party striking the upper part of the body is not only unwise, but directly calculated to encourage and protect the meanest sort of trickery and cheating. It is true that, at present, our amateur fencers, as a rule, fence fairly; but if this rule be persisted in, it is only a matter of time for them to become proficient in this sort of cheating, and to ruin the art of fencing in the United States for ever. There is only one safe practice to follow in foil fencing. This is to imitate as closely as possible the contest with the naked point. No one but a maniac would take thrust for thrust from an adversary with sharp points, unless, indeed, he were a very inferior swordsman, who wished to take some sort of revenge by piercing his enemy’s shoulder, at the price of a mortal wound through his own lungs. By striking off this vicious provision, ample room will be left for the legitimate time-thrust and stopping-thrust, which are marks of the highest skill in fencing if the giver not be hit while delivering them.”

 

A proper time-thrust, or "coup de temps," with opposition in sixth, shown in Gomard's Théorie de L'Escrime, 1845.

A proper time-thrust, or “coup de temps,” with opposition in sixth, shown in Gomard’s Théorie de L’Escrime, 1845.

A double hit, illustrated in Baron de Bazancourt's Secrets of the Sword.

A double or simultaneous hit. In an actual combat with sharps, both fencers would be injured or possibly killed. From Baron de Bazancourt’s Secrets of the Sword, 1900.

Monstery criticized a similar rule for sabre put forth by the Club, explaining:

“The consequences of simultaneous blows with sabres cannot fail to be disastrous to both parties. In an actual sabre duel, their delivery would require two maniacs instead of one.”

In presiding over fencing contests as a judge, the available evidence suggests that Monstery was as good as his word, attempting to ensure that the sword was treated as a serious weapon. In an 1893 contest, it was noted that

“To an outsider it looked very much as if every time one man would hit the other, the struck one would cross-counter in a splendid style, returning the blow with interest. This, however, was decided by those who were up in the sport to be against the tenets of swordsmanship. ‘For,’ argued Colonel Monstery, ‘If the weapons were sharp the first blow struck would cut off the head of him who received it, and how could a man with his head cut off return a stroke?’” (Daily Inter Ocean, Nov. 3, 1893)

In his 1878 critique of the New York Athletic Club’s laws, Monstery emphasized the importance of distinguishing a “clean thrust” from a “glance,” and expressed dismay at the possibility of “a great deal of cheating” in fencing—cheating which, according to Monstery, was “sure to ensue if tournament-at-arms become popular in the United States.” He added:

“At present this cheating is confined to the lowest class of European professionals. Let us not, through ignorance, admit it into the society of American gentlemen amateurs.

Yours,

Thomas H. Monstery”

As for Senac, he was not quite done with Monstery. Although the Frenchman had been officially adjudged the winner in their 1876 contest, Senac himself seemed to acknowledge its inconclusiveness, when on January 5, 1880, in the New York Times, he challenged Monstery to yet again “fight a match with him…for the championship of America.”

This time, Monstery ignored the challenge.

 

Further Reading:

 

monsterybookcoverColonel Thomas H. Monstery‘s martial wisdom survives in his treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling, and Fencing with the Cane and Quarterstaff, which was recently published by North Atlantic Books in book form for the first time. This volume contains a new, detailed biography of Monstery, and includes additional writings by the Colonel.

More information about Monstery can also be gleaned from these articles:

A Grand Assault-of-Arms in Old New York, directed by Col. Monstery

Monstery and the Training of Jaguarina, America’s Champion Swordswoman

A Bare-Knuckle Fight at Colonel Monstery’s

Colonel Thomas H. Monstery and the Use of the Quarterstaff

As well as this article, written by Monstery’s great great granddaughter, Diane Hayes.

 

Text of this article © 2015 by Ben Miller.

A Bare-Knuckle Fight at Colonel Monstery’s

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2015 at 3:58 pm

In February of 1888, the following headline appeared in several newspapers throughout the Great Lakes region of America:

REPORTERS IN THE RING

Two Chicago Police Hustlers Settle Their Differences According to London Prize Rules.

The articles reported that two journalists, Louis M. Houseman of the Daily Inter Ocean, and Charles Alberts of the Chicago Times, had settled their dispute according to the “London Prize Ring” rules, with bare-knuckles, in a formal, secret boxing match at the school of the noted fencing master, duelist, and pugilist Col. Thomas H. Monstery.

The dispute, it was reported, had begun “over a game of sevenup in the Central station.”

Although the initial flurry of articles were sparse in their detail, seventeen years later, more intimate details of the story were related by Frederic Adams, a professor of aerostatics who had served as a second for Alberts in the fight, and whose reminiscences were published in the New York Sunday Telegraph. Adams recounted,

“These two were rivals in many things, professional and personal, but particularly in poker…One night the usual ‘scrap’ between Houseman and Albert happened about the usual time. One of them accused the other of cheating or miscalling a hand and reached over to seize his cards. Everybody’s checks were on the floor, and somehow Albert had managed to reach the side of Louis’s head. That settled it instantly. We fell upon them, tore them apart and insisted that, if they were going to fight, they should do it in a decent manner, at a proper time and place.”

At this point, Frank Hassler consented to act as second for Houseman, and Adams for Alberts. After first suggesting that the dispute be settled with sabres—a notion firmly rejected by the two principals—it was decided that bare-knuckle boxing would be the mode combat:

“We agreed to make it a bare knuckle fight to a finish—the last that had occurred in Chicago since the fire—and the details of time and place were left to Hassler and myself to arrange. The two principals departed to spread the dark secret of the forthcoming meeting among their friends, while Hassler and I sought out dear old Col. Monstery to secure his services as referee, and particularly the use of his fencing school and gymnasium as a battleground.”

Above: Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.

Above: Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.

Adams described Monstery thus:

“The Colonel, old soldier of fortune under many flags, incomparable fencer and mighty duellist in his day, was a man whose joy in life it was to promote any sort of fight under all the formal and ceremonious rules that he thought should hedge all pre-arranged encounters. He agreed to be ready for us at any hour, day or night, that we could produce our principals.”

A contemporary article further explained,

“A hundred reporters and others had got wind of the affair and one of the principals refusing to fight before a crowd, it was decided by the half dozen or so most intimately interested that it was best to disperse and meet at 6 a.m. at Colonel Monstery’s. Privately it was announced that the fight would occur at 2 o’clock this morning. The ruse was successful…”

After a full week passed, and the initial press frenzy had died down, Adams recounted,

“Four carriages took the crowd of us down to Monstery’s place, and as it was long after midnight—we had to wake the old chap out of bed. He didn’t mind a bit. He came out rubbing his hands and grinning, bowed low to both the principals, and said a few neat words about his great admiration for courage and the necessity of settling differences according to the code, and went in to light up [the premises].

Above: Image from Colonel Monstery's treatise on bare-knuckle boxing, Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies.

Above: Image from Colonel Monstery’s treatise on bare-knuckle boxing, Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies.

“Both the principals were in a blue funk when the Colonel made them strip to their undershirts and tied fencing belts around their waists…Houseman was very pale and demanded that Hassler search Albert for concealed weapons, whereupon Monstery remarked that he only permitted gentlemen to contest affairs of honor in his salle d’armes, and that if any such weapons were discovered he would consider himself bound to personally chastise their possessor.”

A contemporary article also noted, “The men…put on fencing shoes and went at it. Both went in for blood.”

Thus the fight began. The 1888 article continued,

“Six rounds were fought, and once for each round, Alberts went down. When he got up the sixth time he had two black eyes, a number of severe cuts about his face, and was willing to quit. Houseman dislocated his thumb, but was otherwise uninjured.”

BareKnuck2

Adams recalled,

“To Louis’ credit, be it said, that he made the first attack. He rushed across that fifteen foot space and swatted Albert fairly on top of the head, cutting a gash two inches long…Hassler and the Colonel fixed Albert’s wound with a bit of plaster and we sent ’em in again. They clinched this time and tried to bite. In the breakaway Albert struck Houseman low and kicked him as he went down…Albert had got a punch on his prodigious nose which drew the claret in abundance…”

At this point, Monstery rendered a decision, giving Houseman the fight on a foul. And so the combat came to an end.

According to a contemporary article, “The principals and witnesses [had] pledged themselves to secrecy, but tonight the matter leaked out, and caused a sensation in newspaper circles.”

On February 6th, the following editorial appeared in the New York Daily Graphic:

PUGILISM IS JOURNALISM.

Now let the nation roar, the eagle Scream and the Rocky Mountain bear lash his abbreviated tail in fine frenzy! The fistic fever has at last attacked the journalist. Notebook and pencil have been cast aside and the skin gloves have been donned. The reporter’s desk has been deserted and the ring has been entered. Disputes on paper have been given over to children and questions of circulation and veracity will hereafter be settled in a twentty-four foot ring according to tho rules laid down by the late Marquis of Queensbury.

Reporters Houseman and Alberts of Chicago, who have broken in on the traditions of the past and cast to the winds the pen and ink assaults of their forefathers and supervisors, have a fearful responsibility resting upon them. Already are the reporters of New York thumping sand-bags and wrestling with dumb-bells preparatory to the contests which must now inevitably ensue.

And where will this tend? Will it not enter the editorial sanctum? Will not disputes in the future be left to the arbitrament of the glove? That is the logical conclusion. That must be the ultimate result.

When this method of settlement becomes popular, we shall see that stanch and gallant Republican, Charles Emory Smith of Philadelphia, stripped to the buff and wearing protected tights and protected gloves, doing battle with the muscular editor of the New York Times. We shall behold a fight to a finish in a ten acre loft between those clever and entertaining gentlemen, Messrs. Dana and Pulitzer. The doughty Godkin will dispute the honors of the day with Cyrus Field and James Gordon Bennett, will try to cross buttock Whitelaw Reid…

Oh, but these will be glorious times when, in flesh-colored tights and heads well shaved, the great and mighty minds that direct the destinies of this glorious republic get together and scrap!

Then will the American eagle spread his wings flap his tail and soar off into the blue empyrean dome with a shriek that shall thunder and echo from Greenland’s icy mountains to India’s coral strands, and an admiring world will look on and give a double encore to every editorial thump.

BareKnuck1

Such sentiment, however, was not quite shared by Frederic Adams. Unimpressed by Houseman’s “win” on a technicality, he finished his reminiscences by noting,

“Albert finally left town as manager of a Midway couchee-couchee dancer, and Houseman grew up to be sporting editor of the Interocean and a notable authority on pugilism. But I’m afraid some of the followers of the game to whom he is high priest and prophet now would lose confidence in his judgment and infallibility if they could have witnessed his first initiation into the mysteries of the squared circle.”

Thus ended Adams’ account of “the last bare knuckle prize-fight contested under former auspices in the Windy City.”

© 2015 by Ben Miller.

 

Further Reading:

 

monsterybookcoverColonel Thomas H. Monstery‘s martial wisdom survives in his treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling, and Fencing with the Cane and Quarterstaff, which was recently published by North Atlantic Books in book form for the first time. This volume contains a new, detailed biography of Monstery, and includes additional writings by the Colonel.

A preview of the contents of this book can be seen in the following article about Victorian-era Self Defense.

Additional articles about Colonel Thomas H. Monstery:

A Grand Assault-of-Arms in Old New York, directed by Col. Thomas Monstery

Colonel Thomas H. Monstery and the Use of the Quarterstaff

Colonel Thomas Monstery, and the Training of Jaguarina, America’s Champion Swordswoman

 

Sources for this article:

Cleveland Leader, Feb. 3, 1888.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, Feb. 3, 1888.

Aberdeen Weekly News, Feb. 3, 1888.

St. Albans Daily Messenger, Feb. 3, 1888.

New York Daily Graphic, Feb. 6, 1888.

Daily Inter Ocean, Feb. 6, 1888.

Daily Inter Ocean, Feb. 11, 1888.

New York Sunday Telegraph, Aug. 26, 1900.

Colonel Thomas H. Monstery and the Use of the Quarterstaff

In Uncategorized on April 29, 2015 at 9:51 pm

Originally posted on Martial Arts New York:

“It has struck me that a few words on the use of this two-handed staff may not be uninteresting at the present day…”      –Thomas H. Monstery, 1878

Above: Colonel Thomas H. Monstery Above: Colonel Thomas H. Monstery

New York City is typically not the first place that comes to mind when one mentions the word “quarterstaff.” For the average individual, unfamiliar with the history of western martial arts, the term is far more likely to conjure up images from “Robin Hood,” or of the medieval European peasantry. Yet, during the late nineteenth century, it was a Manhattan-based fencing master, Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery, who produced one of the few treatises on self-defense technique with the quarterstaff—the first such treatise to be published during the nineteenth century, and the only one to be published in America prior to the twentieth century. (1)

Before proceeding to Monstery’s treatise, however, it is worth taking a short look…

View original 4,027 more words

A Grand Assault-of-Arms in Old New York, directed by Col. Thomas Monstery

In Martial Arts, Weapons and Armor on April 9, 2015 at 3:27 pm
Above: Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.

Above: Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.

“A Knightly Tournament”

 

In early March, 1876, a “Grand” tournament of arms was announced, to be held at the Lyceum Theater in New York City, that would involve “all kinds of weapons that are used in fencing.” The event was organized and directed by Colonel Thomas H. Monstery, a noted New York fencing master and teacher of pugilism, who had reportedly participated in more than fifty duels, and fought under twelve flags on three separate continents. By all accounts, this Assault-of-Arms would be the largest, the most interesting, and the most ethnically diverse ever held in the city. It was noted that the contestants would include Danes, Germans, Spaniards, Frenchmen, Englishmen, and Americans, and that the tournament would embrace the following weapons:

Foil
Saber
Broadsword
Small-sword
Rapier
“Bowie knife”
“Spanish knife”
Cane
Sword-cane
Lance
Bayonet
“English single stick”
“German schlager”
“Sabre against bayonet”
“Knife against sabre”
“French quarterstaff” or “Grand Bâton”
English quarterstaff
Savate, or Boxe Française
Sparring

Of these weapons, the New York Times noted that “with each the method of using it in actual combat will be shown.”

An Assault at Arms - Sword Versus Bayonet - from Harper's Weekly, 1874. Source: http://art.famsf.org/

An Assault at Arms – Sword Versus Bayonet – from Harper’s Weekly, 1874. Source: http://art.famsf.org/

An Assault-of-Arms, is, simply put, “an exhibition of fencing with various weapons.” During the nineteenth century, those particularly large or lavish assaults began to adopt the appellation “Grand”–as in the case of an 1857 New York City tournament, in which it was announced that “one man will defend himself against twelve assailants.” During the 1860s and 1870s, the Grand Assault continued to develop and grow in popularity, particularly in France, where such gala events were attended by hundreds, even thousands, of spectators, as well as high-level politicians, military men, artists, journalists, and members of the aristocracy.

Monstery’s event was not the first “Grand Assault-of-Arms” to be held in New York City; a Colonel De La Croix had directed one in Mahattan in 1811, and in 1857, two were held on Broadway, one under the auspices of an F. Lambert, the other by Henry Gebhard. The 1876 event directed by Monstery was, however, far more notable in both the diversity of its participants, in the variety of the weapons exhibited, and for its particular “American-ness”; no other Grand Assault-of-Arms (that this author is aware of), in either Europe or America, was known to have included the use of the Bowie-knife or the sword-cane.

French Language Announcement for Monstery's Grand Assault-of-Arms.

French Language Announcement for Monstery’s Grand Assault-of-Arms.

The announcement of this event caused considerable excitement in New York, and was widely reported in various local newspapers. Advertisements in French even appeared in the journal Courrier des Etats-Unis (see above). A column in Turf, Field, and Farm proclaimed:

A KNIGHTLY TOURNAMENT.–

How rapidly our people are becoming educated in all varieties of physical education may be gleaned from the announcement made in another column that all the celebrated swordsmen in the United States are to meet at the Lyceum Theatre, Thursday, March 9, to contend for supremacy, and to display the proficiency of the various schools of fencing now in vogue in Europe.

The weapons used on that occasion will include foil, broadsword, rapier, bayonet, lance and Bowie-knife, the English single stick and the double quarter staff, which was formerly the great weapon in use among the athletic peasants of the west of England.

The entertainment will be as complete in its range of nationalities represented as in the weapons used, as Spaniards, Italians, Frenchmen, Germans, Danes, Englishmen and Americans will try to win the laurels for both themselves and their country.

This affair is attracting much attention among our military men, as it will be the first of its class, on a large scale, ever given in this country, and it will therefore give them an opportunity of testing what extent the sword is useful as a weapon of warfare.

Col. Thomas H. Monstery, of the New York School of Arms, and the champion-at-arms of the United States and Spanish America, will superintend the tournament, and decide who are the best fencers.

As fencing is both a useful and graceful accomplishment, and one almost entirely unknown to the majority of our youths and military men, the theatre should be thronged with an enthusiastic audience. We heartily commend any exercise intended to develop the physical improvement of our people. We therefore wish that this novel enterprise may meet the success it so richly deserves.

The Courrier des Etats-Unis concurred:

Il y aura foule à cette soirée, a laquelle voudront assister tous ceux qui prennent intéret aux exercises qui mettent en jeu les facultés physiques de l’homme.

The New York Tribune added,

Athletic sports have lately been in bad repute in New York, but the exhibition of fencing by Col. Monstery and others tonight at the Lyceum Theater will be well worthy of seeing…The exhibition of skill in all degrees of swordsmanship promises to be very fine and entertaining.

Likewise, the New York Clipper noted,

Those who sigh for a “Passage-at-Arms” will take in Col. Monstery’s tournament at the Lyceum on Thursday, March 9.

For those who were interested in attending, the New York Sun provided the following information:

Tickets to be had, with programme, at Col. Monstery’s New York School of Arms: Boxing and Safety Shooting Gallery, 619 6th Ave.; or at theatre box office after 9 A.M. the day of the Tournament.

1874 advertisement for Col. Thomas Monstery's New York School of Arms.

1874 advertisement for Col. Thomas Monstery’s New York School of Arms.

 

The tournament was held in the vast and lavish Lyceum Theatre, located in Manhattan at 107 West Fourteenth Street. Originally built in 1866 as the Theatre Français, a home for French-language plays and comic operas, it had been renamed “The Lyceum” in 1871 after a change in management, and contained more than one thousand seats.

LyceumTheatre

The Lyceum Theatre on Fourteenth Street, in New York City, as it appeared during the nineteenth century. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Writer Tom Miller described the building thus:

Drawing on 18th Century English styles, [it was] an impressive stone building with a two-story portico and a classic, closed pediment ornamented with sculpture. Paired, fluted Corinthian columns supported the balcony, matched above by the single columns of the second story, narrower, portico. There were five entrance doors to the shallow lobby at street level. The building stretched through to 15th Street. Inside two tiers rose above the orchestra seats, supported by slender columns to lessen the obstructed views…There were four private boxes, two each at the orchestra and second level.

The Lyceum's interior, viewed from the stage in 1883. Source: Tom Miller's blog at http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2011/09/lost-1866-theatre-francais-107-west.html

The Lyceum’s interior, viewed from the stage in 1883. Source: Tom Miller’s blog at http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2011/09/lost-1866-theatre-francais-107-west.html

Based on references in numerous announcements and accounts of the tournament, the following individuals have been identified as the primary participants in Monstery’s Grand Assault-of-Arms:

  • Maitre d’Armes “Captain” Juillard, formerly of the Cavalry School of Saumur, France. Juillard was the fencing master at John Wood’s Gymnasium, on Twenty-Eighth Street near Fifth Avenue, and had contested there with Monstery two years prior: “Colonel Monstery…had seen enough of Captain Juillard to know that he had an expert and effective master before him…This assault created considerable enthusiasm, and the combatants retired amid ringing applause.”
  • Professor Léon Caton, also of the Cavalry School of Saumur, France. The Army and Navy Journal, in April of 1876, noted that “MM. Caton” was a “pupil and friend of M. Senac, the French Maitre d’Armes.”
  • Maitre d’Armes Jean De Turck. An article published two years prior in Turf Field and Farm noted that “Mons. Deturck was superintendent of the fencing school of a French regiment, with four professors under him…Monsieur Deturck exhibited the most modern Parisian school in perfection, the close work of the point as the taking of stitches with a knitting needle…” Various accounts published in the New York Herald show De Turck contesting with the foil, broadsword, singlestick, and bayonet.
  • Fechtmeister Louis Friedrich of the New York Turnverein. According to the journal Mind and Body, “Mr. Friedrich was for many years an authority on fencing in New York, and was very well known in fencing circles throughout the East and among the societies of the Turnerbund…” In 1877, after at an event at Turn Hall on West Fourth Street, the New York Spirit of the Times reported that Friedrich was “a first class fencer, firm and quick, with a very imposing attitude and style…Friedrich and Monstery, with the broadsword, were the best feature of the evening, for Friedrich is very fine with the cutting blade, and kept even with the Colonel nearly blow for blow, both parties saluting the hits like gentlemen swordsmen.” Regarding his use of the bayonet in bouts against Captain De Turck, it was noted that “When Friedrich does this, the sympathies of the audience are generally with De Turck, who gets most unmercifully thrashed, being wholly unequal to Friedrich…” In another contest between the two, this time with sabre versus bayonet, Friedrich still maintained the advantage, as reported the Army and Navy Journal: “M. De Turck made a good defence with the bayonet, but the great superiority of the sword was quickly apparent. The only way De Turck could get in on Friedrich was by attacking and keeping up the pointing vigorously. The moment he stood on the defensive, the swordsman could get within his guard and cut or stab at will.”
Photograph of the fencing section of the New York Turnverein. Taken during the era in which Louis Friedrich headed the fencing section, it probably includes him. Source: Zur Feier des Funfzigjährigen Jubilaums des New York Turn Vereins in der New York Turn-halle.

Above: A photograph of the “fechtsektion” of the New York Turnverein. Taken during the era in which Louis Friedrich headed the fencing section, it probably includes him. Source: Zur Feier des Funfzigjährigen Jubilaums des New York Turn Vereins in der New York Turn-halle.

  • Professor William Miller, the great Graeco-Roman wrestling champion. Born in England and raised in Australia, Miller instructed in San Francisco, New York, and Baltimore from 1874 onward, and in addition to wrestling, held championships in boxing, fencing (mostly with the foils and singlestick), weight lifting, and long distance walking. He also assisted Col. Monstery with many demonstrations and exhibitions of fencing and pugilism during the 1870s.

    Professor William Miller of Australia.

  • Captain James McGregor of London. The Army and Navy Journal, in its April 22, 1876 issue, described a bout of fencing between McGregor and William Miller: “In the single stick practice between Mr. McGregor (Colonel Monstery’s assistant we believe) and the beneficiary of the evening, there was pretty play. Mr. Miller has the advantage of a Herculean frame and great quickness, but McGregor was the best swordsman, and made a very handsome fight.” In 1884, McGregor would contend with thirty-six inch broadswords against the famed champion Duncan Ross, the two of them protected by “coats of mail.” Although McGregor lost to Ross by two points (16 to 18), he was ahead throughout most of the contest, due, according to the New York Sun, to “some scientific fencing.” Later, as reported by the Buffalo Courier, he would again challenge Ross to a contest of “mixed weapons,” including “the broadsword, mounted and on foot; with the foils, rapier, saber, infantry sword, bayonet against bayonet, bayonet against sword, single-sticks and quarterstaff.”
Above: Captain James McGregor in a broadsword contest with champion Duncan Ross in 1884.

Above: Captain James McGregor in a broadsword contest with champion Duncan Ross in 1884 at the Cleveland Academy of Music.

  • Señor Martinez
  • Emile Verbouiviens
  • Professor Lewis
1875 image of William Miller and Andre Christol, wrestling in New York City.

1875 image of Andre Christol and William Miller wrestling in New York City.

  • André Christol. Nicknamed “the tiger of the Pyrenees”, Christol was a noted French Græco-Roman wrestling champion and pugilist. In 1875, as reported in the Nov. 12 issue of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, William Miller, “the larger,” had wrestled against Christol, “the lither, but about equal in perfection of muscular development.” It was noted, “The two athletes went at each other with heads lowered, like wild beasts warily beginning an encounter, and grappled each other firmly around the shoulders…”

    French wrestler and pugilist André Christol. Photo taken in Union Square, New York City.

  • Colonel Thomas H. Monstery. Danish by birth, but a self-identified American by proclamation, Monstery was a graduate of the Royal Military Institute at Copenhagen, Denmark, and the Central Institute of Physical Culture at Stockholm, Sweden. He had learned to fence with a wide variety of weapons in Scandinavia, had learned knife fighting in Spain and Italy, and pugilism in Britain and Germany. He had traveled both the Wild West and “Spanish America,” taking part in countless contests, duels, and revolutions.
  • Monstery’s son, “Captain” Emilio Monstery. In his writings, Col. Monstery noted that he had personally trained Emilio, beginning at the age of twelve, in his own systems of fencing, boxing and swimming.
Although no visual record of the assault at the Lyceum exists, the above engraving, of an assault in Boston in 1859, published in Harper's Weekly, gives some idea of how such spectacles appeared.

Although no visual record of the Grand Assault at the Lyceum exists, the above engraving, depicting an assault held in Boston in 1859 and published in Harper’s Weekly, gives an idea of how such spectacles appeared.

Unfortunately, precious few accounts of the actual proceedings of Monstery’s Grand Assault-of-Arms appear to exist, and those that do provide few details. However, the extant evidence suggests that it did not disappoint. In its issue of March 17, Turf, Field, and Farm reported:

TOURNAMENT-AT-ARMS.– On the evening of the 9th instant a tournament-at-arms took place at the Lyceum Theatre, under the auspices of Col. T. H. Monstery. There was a large audience of ladies and gentlemen present, and the performances, which were highly creditable, were rewarded by frequent rounds of applause. The programme consisted of fencing with the foil, sabre, rapier, bayonet, sabre against bayonet, lance, knife-play, cane, quarterstaff, knife against sabre, and sparring. Many of the members of the New York School of Arms took part in the entertainment, and were assisted by Captain Juillard, Professors Friderich, Caton, Miller, McGregor, and Lewis, who, with Senor Martinez, M. Verbowwens, and Mr. Emilio Monstery, had several very spirited encounters, which received merited applause.

The New York Daily Graphic provided the following additional details:

The members of the School of Arms, of which Colonel T. H. Monstery is principal, were last night put upon their metal in a series of combats on the stage of the Lyceum Theatre, and in general acquitted themselves admirably…The principal features of the entertainment were a small sword assault between Colonel Monstery and Captain Juillard, in which the former was victorious; an assault with foils between Professor Caton and Captain [Emilio] Monstery; and a rapier combat between Colonel Monstery and Emile Verbouiviens. Dr. Allen varied the exercises by reading a paper on “Physical Culture,” and Mrs. [Carmen Xiques] Monstery performed very admirably on the piano.

The Graphic was also notably the only publication to specify that an encounter with “sword-canes” had taken place during the event.

After the tournament, many of the participants either disappeared from history, or went their separate ways. Colonel Monstery continued to teach in New York City, where, in 1878, he published his magnum opus on the science of self-defense, a treatise which included material on boxing, kicking, grappling, and fencing with the cane and quarterstaff. In 1883 he removed to Chicago, eventually passing away in 1901 after a lengthy and distinguished career as a swordsman. Louis Friedrich remained a mentor to German-American youth at the New York Turnverein until his passing in 1899. Captain James McGregor would go on to instruct at the Cleveland Athletic Club and the Saturn Club in Buffalo. He later settled in Toronto, where he was, according to the June 10, 1898 edition of the Buffalo Morning Express, “the reported Champion of Canada, the hero of 33 battles.” William Miller continued to achieve renown as a wrestler, pugilist, and weight-lifter throughout the 1870s, even defeating the famed Duncan Ross in a long distance walking race of over one hundred miles. Miller returned to Australia in 1883, where he founded gymnasiums in Sidney and Melbourne, and published his book Health, Exercise and Amusement (1895). In 1903, he returned to America once again, where he became Athletic instructor to the New York Police Department, and, lauded as “one of the greatest all-round athletes in the world,” remained in the U.S. until his death in 1939. He was likely the last surviving participant of Monstery’s Grand Assault of Arms.

Prof. William Miller, the last surviving participant of Monstery's Grand Assault, pictured in later years during his retirement in Baltimore.

Prof. William Miller, the last known surviving participant of Monstery’s Grand Assault, pictured in later years during his retirement in Baltimore.

Unfortunately, the site of the tournament, the glorious Lyceum Theatre, was not to last. During the last decades of the nineteenth century it fell on hard times, and finally closed in 1911, although it was occasionally reopened for use as a movie house. In 1939, the “venerable structure” was “smashed to the ground,” and with it, disappeared a little bit of New York’s martial history.

Further Reading:

 

monsterybookcover

Colonel Thomas H. Monstery‘s martial wisdom survives in his treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling, and Fencing with the Cane and Quarterstaff, which was recently published by North Atlantic Books in book form for the first time. This volume contains a new, detailed biography of Monstery, and includes additional writings by the Colonel.

A preview of the contents of this book can be seen in the following article about Victorian-era Self Defense.

More information about Monstery can also be gleaned from this article, written by Monstery’s great great granddaughter, Diane Hayes.

The Grand Assault of Arms was revived in 2002 by the Association of Historical Fencing, and continues to hold yearly contests of arms in New York City for classical fencers:
http://ahfi.org/events/grand-assault-of-arms/

More about the history of the Grand Assault of Arms can be gleaned via this article on the AHF website.

More about the old Lyceum Theatre can be learned from Tom Miller’s blog.

Sources:

 

New York Times, Mar. 2, 1876.
Turf, Field, and Farm, Mar. 3, 1876.
Courrier des Etats-Unis, Mar. 7, 1876.
Courrier des Etats-Unis, Mar. 8, 1876.
New York Tribune, Mar. 9, 1876.
New York Sun, Mar. 9, 1876.
New York Times, Mar. 10, 1876.
New York Daily Graphic, Mar. 10, 1876.
New York Herald, Feb. 23, 1877
New York Herald, Nov. 3, 1877.
Mind and Body, Jan. 1899, No. 59.

Text of this article © 2015 by Ben Miller.

Colonel Thomas Monstery, and the Training of Jaguarina, America’s Champion Swordswoman

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Originally posted on Martial Arts New York:

“In the encounter with Monstery, at the end of a four hours’ bout neither of the parties had gained a point, and the combat was declared a draw.”

During the late nineteenth century, the field of women’s self-defense would be greatly advanced by two very special individuals—a fencing master and duelist, Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery, and his precocious student, Ella Hattan (popularly known as “Jaguarina”), who would go on to become regarded by many as one of the greatest swordswomen of the nineteenth century, and possibly of all time.

Above: Colonel Thomas H. Monstery Above: Colonel Thomas H. Monstery. Image from the author’s collection.

COLONEL THOMAS MONSTERY

“It is a great mistake to suppose that women cannot learn fencing as quickly as men…”

In 1870, one of America’s most distinguished martial arts masters opened a “School of Arms” in New York City. He was a fencing master, boxer, marksman, sailor, adventurer, street fighter, soldier of…

View original 3,069 more words

The Victorian Gentleman’s Self-Defense Toolkit – Part II

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Pierre Vigny

Continued from PART I.

During the Victorian era, numerous males (and some females) went beyond their martial training by adopting the habit of carrying special, concealed weapons which ladies and gentlemen could display without attracting attention. The author Rowland George Allanson-Winn, 5th Baron of Headley, describes these weapons in detail in his martial arts treatise, Broadsword and Singlestick. While his book mostly treats of fencing with the broadsword, singlestick (this particular section being authored by C. Phillipps-Wolley), bayonet and quarterstaff, Allanson-Winn includes a special section in the back of the book covering Victorian “street weapons,” including the cudgel, shillelagh, walking stick, umbrella, sword-cane, umbrella-dagger, and others.

THE CUDGEL.

Allanson-Winn describes the cudgel as follows:

“Any thick stick under two feet long, such as a watchman’s staff or a policeman’s truncheon, may be fairly called a cudgel, and it is not so long ago that cudgel-play formed one of the chief attractions at country fairs in many parts of England… Considering the cudgel as a modern weapon, I am inclined to advocate its use for prodding an enemy in the pit of the stomach, for, with the extra eighteen inches or so of reach which your cudgel gives you, it is likely that you may get your thrust well home, at any rate before the opponent can hit you with his fist. Many of us know what a blow on the “mark” with the naked fist will do. Well, the area of the knuckles is very much greater than the area of the end of even a very stout stick, so that, if you can put anything like the same force into the thrust that you can into the blow, you will bring a smaller area to bear on a vital point, and consequently work on that point with greater effect.”

He proceeds to advocate a deadlier, modified version of the cudgel, for those nightmare-scenarios when a ruffian might steal into one’s house in the dead of night:

“A grievous crab-tree (or blackthorn) cudgel, with two or three ounces of lead let into one end, is a good thing to have under your pillow at night. Armed with this instrument, you can steal up behind your burglar whilst he is opening your wife’s jewel case or bagging your favourite gold snuff-box; but don’t get excited about it, and remember to hit his head rather on the sides than on the back or front.”

Very similar to this leaded cudgel is the so-called “life preserver”:

THE LIFE PRESERVER.

“The “life-preserver” consists of a stout piece of cane about a foot long, with a ball of five or six ounces of lead attached firmly to one end by catgut netting, whilst the other end is furnished with a strong leather or catgut loop to go round the wrist and prevent the weapon flying from or being snatched from the hand.

Of course this instrument may be very effective, very deadly, but what you have to consider is this: the serviceable portion is so small–no bigger than a hen’s egg–that unless you are almost an expert, or circumstances greatly favour you, there is more than a chance of altogether missing your mark. With the life-preserver you have, say, at most a couple of inches only of effective weapon to rely on, whereas with the cudgel at least a foot of hard and heavy wood may be depended upon for bowling over the adversary.”

Cane4

Professor Pierre Vigny recommended a similar weapon in 1903, which he described as, “a silver-mounted Malacca cane,” noting that “everyone uses one…Everyone knows that in choosing a Malacca, it will not only serve the purpose of something to carry in one’s hand, but that this beautiful cane, the most up-to-date of all sticks, can render great service as a means of self-defence, for it can become a formidable weapon in the hands of those who have learnt how to use it. ”

Allanson-Winn elucidates:

“A leaded rattan cane is a dangerous instrument in expert hands, but my objections to it are very similar to those advanced with regard to the shorter weapon. Leaded walking-sticks are not “handy,” for the presence of so much weight in the hitting portion makes them extremely bad for quick returns, recovery, and for guarding purposes.

To my mind the leaded rattan is to the well-chosen blackthorn what the life-preserver is to the cudgel–an inferior weapon.

One does not want to kill but to disable, even those who have taken the mean advantage of trying to catch one unprepared in the highways and byways. To take an ordinary common-sense view of the matter: it is surely better far to have a three to one chance in favour of disabling than an even chance of killing a fellow-creature? The disablement is all you want, and, having secured that, the best thing is to get out of the way as soon as possible, so as to avoid further complications.”

THE SHILLALAH [Shillelagh].

Shillelaghs

“The shillalah proper is about four feet long and is usually made of blackthorn, oak, ash, or hazel; and it is a great point to get it uniform in thickness and in weight throughout its entire length. It is held somewhere about eight inches or so from the centre, and my countrymen, who are always pretty active on their pins when fighting, use their left forearms to protect the left side of their heads.

The length of the shillalah gives it a great advantage over a shorter stick, for, when held about a third of its length from the end, the shorter portion serves to guard the right side of the head and the right forearm. Indeed, the definition of the quarter-staff, given at the commencement of Chapter II., seems to me to apply far better to the shillalah, which may in a sense be regarded as the link between the ordinary walking-stick and the mighty weapon which Robin Hood wielded so deftly in his combat with Little John.”

THE UMBRELLA.

Umbrella

“As a weapon of modern warfare this implement has not been given a fair place. It has, indeed, too often been spoken of with contempt and disdain, but there is no doubt that, even in the hands of a strong and angry old woman, a gamp of solid proportions may be the cause of much damage to an adversary…”

Here, the author offers a vivid anecdote which attests to the surprising deadly potential of the umbrella:

“It is, of course, an extremely risky operation prodding a fellow-creature in the eye with the point of an umbrella; and I once knew a man who, being attacked by many roughs, and in danger of losing his life through their brutality, in a despairing effort made a desperate thrust at the face of one of his assailants. The point entered the eye and the brain, and the man fell stone dead at his feet. I would therefore only advocate the thrusting when extreme danger threatens–as a dernier resort, in fact, and when it is a case of who shall be killed, you or your assailant.”

Allanson-Winn now proceeds to technique:

“There are two methods of using the umbrella, viz. holding it like a fencing foil–and for this reason umbrellas should always be chosen with strong straight handles–for long thrusts when at a distance, or grasping it firmly with both hands, as one grasps the military rifle when at bayonet-exercise. In the latter case one has a splendid weapon for use against several assailants at close quarters. Both the arms should be bent and held close to the body, which should be made to work freely from the hips, so as to put plenty of weight into the short sharp prods with which you can alternately visit your opponents’ faces and ribs. If you have the handle in your right hand, and the left hand grasps the silk (or alpaca), not more than a foot from the point, it will be found most effective to use the forward and upward strokes with the point for the faces, and the back-thrusts with the handle for the bodies. Whatever you do, let your strokes be made very quickly and forcibly, for when it comes to such close work as this your danger lies in being altogether overpowered, thrown down, and possibly kicked to death; and, as I have before hinted, when there is a choice of evils, choose the lesser, and don’t be the least squeamish about hurting those who will not hesitate to make a football of your devoted head should it unfortunately be laid low.

The author goes on to mention the following modified version, containing a concealed dagger:

“Sometimes umbrellas have been made even more effective weapons by what is called a spring dagger, which consists of a short, strong knife or dirk let into the handle, and is readily brought into play by a sudden jerk, or by touching a spring. This may be all very well for travellers in the out-of-the-way regions of Spain, Sicily, or Italy, but I don’t like these dangerous accessories for English use, as they may be unfortunately liable to abuse by excitable persons.”

I actually saw one of these up for auction on e-bay several years ago; alas, it sold for $110 dollars (out of my price range), and I haven’t seen one since.

THE SWORD CANE.

Sword canes

“The sword-stick is an instrument I thoroughly detest and abominate, and could not possibly advocate the use of in any circumstances whatever.

These wretched apologies for swords are to outward appearance ordinary straight canes–usually of Malacca cane. On pulling the handle of one of these weapons, however, a nasty piece of steel is revealed, and then you draw forth a blade something between a fencing-foil and a skewer.

They are poor things as regards length and strength, and “not in it” with a good solid stick. In the hands of a hasty, hot-tempered individual they may lead to the shedding of blood over some trivial, senseless squabble. The hollowing out of the cane, to make the scabbard, renders them almost useless for hitting purposes.

In the environs of our big cities there is always a chance of attack by some fellow who asks the time, wants a match to light his cigar, or asks the way to some place. When accosted never stop, never draw out watch or box of lights, and never know the way anywhere. Always make a good guess at the time, and swear you have no matches about you. It is wonderful to notice kind-hearted ladies stopping to give to stalwart beggars who are only waiting for an opportunity to snatch purses, and it would be interesting to know how many annually lose their purses and watches through this mistaken method of distributing largess.”

SwordCanesDuel

Several bloody affrays with sword-canes were fought in the late 1800s in both Europe and America. Typically these were not incidents wherein gentlemen defended themselves against ruffians, but rather, hot-headed brawls–perhaps attesting to Allanson-Winn’s reasons for loathing the weapon.

THE WALKING-STICK.

Cane5
Above: Image of fencing master Justin Bonnafous’s self-defense with the cane

This is the weapon which Allanson-Winn most heartily recommends for everyday self-defense purposes:

“The choice of this useful adjunct is by no means as easy as many people suppose, for it involves not only a knowledge of the prerequisities–in the matter of various kinds of woods, etc.–but also an acquaintance with the situations a man may find himself in, and the uses to which he may have to put his walking-stick.”

Here, Allanson-Winn goes on to discuss several types of inferior wood often used for walking sticks–oak (too stiff and apt to snap) hazel (too light), ash (too pliant), and rattan (too much bend to thrust with). He thus concludes:

“Where, then, shall we look for a stick which combines all the good qualities and is free from the drawbacks just enumerated? Without the slightest hesitation I refer you to the Irish blackthorn, which can be chosen of such convenient size and weight as not to be cumbersome, and which, if carefully selected, possesses all the strength of the oak, plus enormous toughness, and a pliability which makes it a truly charming weapon to work with.

It is a matter of some difficulty to obtain a real blackthorn in London or any big town. You go into a shop, and they show you a smart-looking stick which has been peeled and deprived of most of its knobs, dyed black, and varnished. That is not the genuine article, and, if you buy it, you will become the possessor of a stick as inferior to a blackthorn as a pewter skewer is inferior to a Damascus blade.

The best way is to send over to Kerry, Cork, or some other county in the Emerald Isle, and ask a friend to secure the proper thing as prepared by the inhabitants.

The sticks are cut out of the hedges at that time of year when the sap is not rising; they are then carefully prepared and dried in the peat smoke for some considerable time, the bark of course being left on and the knobs not cut off too close; and, when ready, they are hard, tough, and thoroughly reliable weapons.”

Here, it may be of interest to the modern enthusiast that the problem of obtaining true, reliably treated blackthorn is just as much a problem today as it was in the Victorian era (if not more so). Liam O Caidhla, one of the last traditional blackthorn stick-makers in Ireland, notes in the Sunday Mirror that “there are very few people making the authentic shillelagh these days – probably less than 30 people. Most of the shillelaghs sold in souvenir shops are made from hawthorn wood – not the traditional blackthorn wood. They are just made from roughly cut hawthorn and painted black.” Liam’s authentic blackthorns are available online here: http://misticshillelagh.tripod.com/id10.html

“The length of the blackthorn depends on the length of the man for whom it is intended, but always go in for a good long stick. Useful lengths range between 2 ft. 10 in. and 3 ft., and even 3 ft. 6 in. for a very tall man.

The blackthorn, being stiff and covered with sharp knots, is a first-rate weapon for defence at very close quarters. When, therefore, your efforts at distance-work have failed, and you begin to be “hemmed in,” seize the stick very firmly with both hands, and dash the point and hilt alternately into the faces and sides of your opponents.

Always have a good ferrule at the end of your stick. An inch and a half from an old gun barrel is the best; and do not fix it on by means of a rivet running through the stick. Let it be fixed in its place either by a deep dent in the side, or by cutting out two little notches and pressing the saw-like tooth into the wood. It is also a good plan to carry these saw-like teeth all round the ferrule and then press the points well into the wood; there is then no chance of the fastening-on causing a split or crack in the wood.”

Here Allanson-Winn recommends training in fencing as the best preparation for an armed encounter with the stick:

“I would always say, commence with the foils and work hard, under some good master, for a year or so without touching any other branch. Then go on to broad-sword, and keep to alternate days with foils. Later on take up the single-stick, and then go on to bayonet-exercise, quarter-staff, and anything else you please.

This extended range of work will give you a wonderful general capability for adapting yourself at a moment’s notice to any weapon chance may place in your hands: the leg of an old chair, the joint of a fishing rod, or the common or garden spade; any of these may be used with great effect by an accomplished all-round swordsman.”

Allanson-Winn now offers an anecdote which attests to the extreme effectiveness of the walking stick:

“It once fell to my lot to be set upon by a couple of very disagreeable roughs in Dublin, one of whom did manage to get the first blow, but it was “all round” and did not do much harm. Before he could deliver a second hit I managed to lay him out with a very severe cut from my blackthorn, which came in contact with his head just between the rim of his hat and the collar of his coat. Now, had my knowledge of stick-play been insufficient to enable me to accurately direct this cut (cut 5) to its destination, I might not now be scribbling these pages. As it turned out, this poor injured rough was placed hors de combat, and was afterwards conveyed to the hospital, and I only had to tackle his friend, a stubborn varlet, who, after knocking me about a good deal and also receiving some rough treatment at my hands, ran away. He was “wanted” by the police for some time, but was never caught.

This little episode is only given to show that the proper delivery of one blow or hit is often enough to turn the tables, and how advisable it is to practise often, so as to keep the eye and hand both steady and quick.”

WHY A MAN’S GOTTA DO WHAT A MAN’S GOTTA DO

In conclusion, Allanson-Winn offers one of the most thoughtful and profound statements on the importance of martial training ever set down in print:

“I can almost hear people say, ‘Oh, this is all rubbish; I’m not going to be attacked; life would not be worth living if one had to be always ‘on guard’ in this way.’ Well, considering that this world, from the time we are born to the time we die, is made up of uncertainties, and that we are never really secure from attack at any moment of our lives, it does seem worth while to devote a little attention to the pursuit of a science, which is not only healthful and most fascinating, but which may, in a second of time, enable you to turn a defeat into a victory, and save yourself from being mauled and possibly killed in a fight which was none of your own making. Added to all this, science gives a consciousness of power and ability to assist the weak and defenceless, which ought to be most welcome to the mind of any man. Though always anxious to avoid anything like ‘a row,’ there are times when it may be necessary to interfere for the sake of humanity, and how much more easy is it to make that interference dignified and effective if you take your stand with a certainty that you can, if pushed to extreme measures, make matters very warm indeed for the aggressor? The consciousness of power gives you your real authority, and with it you are far more likely to be calm and to gain your point than you would be without the knowledge. Backed up by science, you can both talk and act in a way which is likely to lead to a peaceful solution of a difficulty, whereas, if the science is absent, you dare not, from very uncertainty, use those very words which you know ought to be used on the occasion.”

WHERE TO LEARN TODAY?

While fencing schools of the Victorian era commonly offered instruction in weapons such as rapier, broadsword, dagger, cudgel, walking stick, cane, and staff, it is now extremely difficult to find masters authentically teaching these martial arts.

Maestro Ramon Martinez

Currently the best source for instruction is Maestro Ramón Martínez, who runs a traditional Academy of Arms in New York City. Unlike most modern instructors of historical fencing, who reconstruct their techniques from books, Maestro Martinez is the inheritor of a living tradition which can be traced back directly to the nineteenth century. He was trained and certified as a master by Frederick Rohdes, a German fencing master born in Western Prussia in 1897. Rohdes, who taught fencing in New York until his death in 1984, learned a variety of historical fencing systems from his own master, Marcel Cabijos. A Frenchman born in 1893, Cabijos attained great renown in his day by defeating the saber and épée champion of the United States (Leo Nunes) with only a twelve-inch dagger, in a well-publicized contest held in New York City in 1926.

Marcel Cabijos
Maître d’Armes Marcel Cabijos (1893-1964)

Thankfully, these techniques were passed down intact from master to student, and are still taught today at the Martinez Academy of Arms. Instruction is available in rapier, military saber, dueling sword, sword & dagger, single dagger, cane, staff, bayonet, and numerous other styles. Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martinez (Ramon Martinez’s wife, and a fencing master as well) also teaches her own style of stick fighting, based on French fencing theory. It is in this salle d’armes, one of the last places of its kind in the world, where through martial, physical and mental discipline, one can attain the noted characteristics of the thoroughbred gentleman or gentlewoman.

For those not living in New York City, there are three other schools in the United States which are run by instructors trained by the Martinezes: Salle de St. George, Palm Beach Classical Fencing, and the Destreza Pacifica School of Arms.

Rapier & Dagger fencing
Illustration of fencers with rapier, cloak and daggers. New York, 1891.

Sources and further reading:

Broad-Sword and Single-Stick With Chapters on Quarter-Staff, Bayonet, Cudgel, Shillalah, Walking-Stick, Umbrella and Other Weapons of Self-Defence, by R. G. Allanson-Winn C. and Phillipps-Wolley. Pub. 1890.

The Cane Self-Defense of Maitre d’Armes Justin Bonnafous

Cane Defense Against Stick-, Knife-, and Gun-Wielding Thugs in the New York Tribune, 1903

Stick Defense for Women in New York: The “Royal Cane” Fencing of Regis Senac, 1898

The Martinez Academy of Arms – Profile & Interview

 

 

Old Valentine’s Day Customs and Lost Romantic Rituals

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Ben Miller:

Some Valentine’s Day history…

Originally posted on Out of This Century:

Valentines- Punch

Although the roots of Valentine’s Day stretch back to A.D 496 (when it was established by Pope Gelasius I to commemorate the life of a Christian martyr), most scholars agree that the holiday did not become associated with any romantic notions until the late middle ages. By the early 18th century the custom of “drawing names” had become popular, as noted by Bourne, in his Antiquitates Vulgares (1725):

It is a ceremony, never omitted among the Vulgar, to draw Lots which they Term Valentines, on the Eve before Valentine-day. The names of a select number of one sex, are by an equal number of the other put into some vessel; and after that, every one draws a name, which…is called their Valentine, and is also looked upon as a good omen of their being man and wife afterwards.

These name-drawing rituals could become quite elaborate, to the point of resembling…

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Theodore Roosevelt trains in Catch and Cornish Wrestling as N.Y. Governor

In Edwardian Era, Martial Arts on October 15, 2014 at 2:26 pm

youngteddyroosevelt

President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt cross-trained in a variety of combative arts including western boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and fencing. The following article details his training in the styles of Catch-as-catch-can (or “Catch”) wrestling as well as Cornish wrestling while serving as Governor of New York state:

Theodore Roosevelt trains in Catch and Cornish Wrestling as N.Y. Governor.

The Greatest African American and Afro-American Martial Artists in History

In Bizarre and Unusual, Customs and Traditions, Edwardian Era, Middle Ages, Military, Renaissance on March 25, 2014 at 4:34 pm

By Ben Miller

When asked to recall a great martial artist of African descent born in the Americas, the average person is likely to mention a twentieth-century boxer such as Joe Louis, or a more recent exponent of the Asian martial arts, such as Jim Kelly. Or, those of the younger generation might name the modern mixed martial arts competitor Anderson Silva, regarded by some as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time.

What many do not know is that in centuries past, some of the greatest practitioners of European martial arts were of African descent.

Although Africans brought a number of their own indigenous techniques with them to Europe and the Americas (as can be read about here), they also sometimes trained in, adopted, and excelled at European swordsmanship—also known as classical and historical fencing.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, it was even possible (albeit difficult) for a person of African descent to achieve renown to such a point that they would be revered, and even sought for instruction, by whites—and the historical record shows that such was the case for multiple individuals.

An early instance of one such person can be found as early as 1733, when the following advertisement appeared in a southern Colonial newspaper, informing the public about a runaway slave or indentured servant:

“Run away, from Mr. Alex. Vanderdussen’s Plantation at Goose-Creek, a Negro Man named Thomas Butler, the famous Pushing and Dancing Master.” – South-Carolina Gazette (Whitmarsh), May 19 to May 26, 1733.

In eighteenth century terminology, to “Push” was to launch an attack with the smallsword, a fact which confirms that Thomas Butler was a fencing master—and one who had achieved some degree of fame, at least on a local scale. Butler was apparently so esteemed that in July of 1734, his former master was impelled to post the following additional notice:

“Whereas Thomas Butler, Fencing Master, has been runaway these two years since, and has been entertained by several gentlemen about Ferry who pretend not to know that he had a master, this is therefore desired that they would not do the like in the future…” – South-Carolina Gazette, July 20, 1734

These passages are all the more remarkable when one considers that they are the earliest known reference to a fencing master in the American South—the next being Edward Blackwell, who in 1734 posthumously published his treatise on the art of fencing. Although not much else is known about Thomas Butler, the above passages prove that as early as the 1730s, it was not impossible to achieve fame and esteem as a black martial artist (and instructor) in white society. This article will profile three of the greatest such individuals—the Chevalier Saint Georges, Jean Louis-Michel, and Basile Croquere.

 

Historical Background

 

As early as the late middle ages, people of African descent began appearing in European treatises on swordsmanship and the martial arts, such as the books of Hans Talhoffer (1467) and Paulus Hector Mair (1542).

Above: A sickle fencer, clearly of African descent, pictured in Paulus Hector Mair's De arte athletica, published in Augsburg, Germany, ca 1542. Source: http://infinitemachine.tumblr.com/post/80881463031/medievalpoc-paulus-hector-mair-arte-de

Above: A sickle fencer, clearly of African descent, pictured in Paulus Hector Mair’s De arte athletica, published in Augsburg, Germany, ca 1542. Source: http://infinitemachine.tumblr.com

Rapier

Above: A fencer of African descent, wielding an early rapier (or “sidesword”) pictured in Paulus Hector Mair’s De arte athletica, published in Augsburg, Germany, ca 1542. Source: http://www.hammaborg.de/de/transkriptionen/phm_dresden_2/05_rapier.php

Later, in 1657, a highly detailed account of Africans practicing European swordsmanship was sent down by Richard Ligon:

Some of [the African servants], who have been bred up amongst the Portugals, have some extraordinary qualities, which the others have not; as singing and fencing. I have seen some of these Portugal Negres, at Colonel James Draxes, play at Rapier and Dagger very skillfully, with their Stookados [Stoccatos], their Imbrocados, and their Passes: And at single Rapier too, after the manner of Charanza [Carranza], with such comeliness; as, if the skill had been wanting, the motions would have pleased you; but they were skilful too, which I perceived by their binding with their points, and nimble and subtle avoidings with their bodies, and the advantages the strongest man had in the close , which the other avoided by the nimbleness and skillfulness of his motion. For, in this Science, I had bin so well vers’d in my youth, as I was now able to be a competent Judge. Upon their first appearance upon the Stage, they march towards one another, with a slow majestick pace, and a bold commanding look, as if they meant both to conquer and coming neer together, they shake hands, and embrace one another, with a cheerful look. But their retreat is much quicker then their advance, and, being at first distance, change their countenance, and put themselves into their postures and so after a pass or two, retire, and then to’t again: And when they have done their play, they embrace, shake hands, and putting on their smoother countenances, give their respect to their Master, and so go off.

– Richard Ligon, A true & exact history of the island of Barbados, 1657.

Ligon’s account provides evidence that despite their low social status, people of African descent living in the American colonies were sometimes allowed—even encouraged—to train with various weapons, including the rapier and dagger, and became skilled at multiple styles—including Italian rapier fencing, as well as the profound system of Spanish swordsmanship (La Verdadera Destreza) founded by Jerónimo de Carranza.

Colonists of African descent also undoubtedly learned from less savory channels such as piracy; an estimated one-third of pirates during this period were black, and in such company, knowledge of swordsmanship was paramount. The following passage, culled from Captain Johnson’s General History of the Pirates (1728), gives rise to the possibility that black members had access to sword instruction:

“[Pirate Captain] Misson took upon him the Command of 100 Negroes, who were well disciplin’d, (for every Morning they had been used to perform their Exercise, which was taught them by a French Serjeant, one of their Company, who belong’d to the [ship] Victoire)…”

During the early 18th century, an English fencing treatise entitled “The Art of Defence,” printed and sold by one “John King”, was published containing several plates in which black fencers demonstrated various fencing techniques:

Above: Illustration of a black fencer making a “disarm in cart. Source:www.truefork.org”

Above: Illustration of a black fencer making a “disarm in cart.” Source:www.truefork.org

Above: Illustration of a black fencer making a “pass in tierce with the knuckles up,” while checking the adversary’s blade with his unarmed hand. Source:www.truefork.org

Above: Illustration of a black fencer making a “pass in tierce with the knuckles up,” while checking the adversary’s blade with his unarmed hand. Source:www.truefork.org.

Although such illustrations were the exception rather than the rule, they provide further evidence that blacks could be regarded as potentially serious fencers. In fact, one such fencer—Julius Soubise (1754-1798), a freed Afro-Caribbean slave, was hired to be the personal fencing instructor to Catherine Hyde, the Duchess of Queensbury, and was sent to train under Domenico Angelo, one the most renowned European fencing masters.

Also at this time emerged one of one the greatest fencers of all time, who just happened to be of African descent.

 

The Chevalier Saint-Georges

 

Portrait of Saint-Georges. Source: Wikipedia

Portrait of Saint-Georges. Source: Wikipedia

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745–1799) was born in Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean, the son of George Bologne de Saint-Georges, a wealthy planter, and an African slave named Nanon. Although his father also had many white children, he took a special liking to Joseph, and in 1753 took his son, age seven, to France, where he began his education in a variety of arts including fencing.

According to the son of the fencing master La Boëssière, “At 15 his [Saint-Georges’] progress was so rapid, that he was already beating the best swordsmen, and at 17 he developed the greatest speed imaginable.”

He was still a student when he publicly defeated Alexandre Picard, a renowned fencing-master in Rouen who had foolishly referred to Saint-Georges as “Boëssière’s mulatto.” Heny Angelo, son of the famous Domenico (and a highly reputed fencing master in his own right) often went to fence with Saint-Georges while in Paris, and wrote about him in his memoirs:

“No man ever united so much suppleness with so much strength. He excelled in all the bodily exercises in which he engaged…He was a skillful horseman and remarkable shot; he rarely missed his aim when his pistol was once before the mark…but the art in which he surpassed all his contemporaries and predecessors was fencing. No professor or amateur ever showed so much accuracy and quickness. His attacks were a perpetual series of hits; his [parry] was so close that it was in vain to attempt to touch him; in short, he was all nerve.”

Fencing Assault between Saint-Georges and D'Eon

Fencing Assault between Saint-Georges and D’Eon. Source: Wikipedia

Angelo also related some details about Saint-George in the following anecdote, regarding an episode wherein the two crossed blades:

“It may not be unworthy of remark that from his being much taller, and, consequently, possessing a greater length of lunge, I found that I could not depend upon my attacks unless I closed with him. The consequence was, upon my adopting that measure, the hit I gave him was so ‘palpable’ that it threw open his waistcoat, which so enraged him that, in his fury, I received a blow from the pommel of his foil on my chin, the mark of which I still retain. It may be remarked of that celebrated man that, although he might be considered as a lion with a foil in his hand, the contest over he was as docile as a lamb, for soon after the above engagement, when seated to rest himself, he said to me: ‘Mon cher ami, donnez-moi votre main; nous tirons tous les jours ensemble.’”

Although there are too many anecdotes about Saint-George’s prowess to recount here, one of the best comes from Alfred Hutton, and occurred in Dunkirk.

Saint-Georges was attending a party with a large number of ladies, when a Captain of the Hussars began boasting of his own skill in fencing—oblivious to the identity of Saint Georges. The latter calmly asked the captain, “That is interesting…but did you ever happen to meet with the celebrated Saint-Georges?” The Captain responded: “”Saint Georges? Oh yes; I have fenced with him many a time. But he is no good; I can touch him just when I please.” Whereupon Saint-Georges challenged the Captain to a bout at foils on the spot. Hutton’s account continues:

“The Captain, seeing that he is opposed to a man much older than himself, is inclined to treat him with contempt, when the veteran fencer calmly turns to the ladies and asks them to name the particular buttons on the gentleman’s coat which they would like him to touch. They select half a dozen or so.

The pair engage. The famous swordsman plays with his man for a few minutes for the benefit of his audience, and then proceeds to hit each of the named buttons in rapid succession, and finishes by sending the foil of his vainglorious enemy flying out of his hand, to the great delight of the ladies, and the discomfited Captain is so enraged that he wants to make the affair a serious one [a duel] there and then. His victorious opponent corrects him with: “Young gentlemen, such an encounter could have but one ending. Be advised; reserve your forces for the service of your country. Go, and you may at last tell your friends with truth that you have crossed foils with me. My name is Saint Georges.”

Saint-Georges also became a respected music composer, and became the instructor of Queen Marie Antoinette. In her diary, the Queen referred to Saint-Georges as her “favorite American.”

Sketch entitled "St. Georges and the Dragon," depicting Saint-Georges boxing

Sketch entitled “St. Georges and the Dragon,” depicting Saint-Georges boxing. Source: http://theprintshopwindow.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/a-truly-british-art-images-of-pugilism-in-georgian-caricature/

Not one to forget his African roots, Saint-Georges was also an ardent and active abolitionist, stating in public, “The slave trade is a barbarous practice and must be eliminated.” Saint-George’s activism drew the ire from many in the slave trade, who attempted to silence him with violence—attempts which were thwarted by the Chevalier’s considerable martial prowess:

“Early in July [1789], walking home from Greenwich, a man armed with a pistol demanded his purse. The Chevalier disarmed the man… but when four more rogues hidden until then attacked him, he put them all out of commission. M. de Saint Georges received only some contusions which did not keep him from going on that night to play music in the company of friends.”

The Journal General de France, on February 23, 1790, also reported that: “the Chevalier was peacefully walking to Greenwich one night where he was going to make music in a house where he was awaited when he was suddenly attacked by four men armed with pistols. Nevertheless he managed to drive them off with the help of his stick.”

Saint-Georges meets a rival fencing master who has challenged him to a duel, under L'arche Marion

Saint-Georges meets a rival fencing master who has challenged him to a duel, under L’arche Marion. Source: Source: Wikimedia Commons

Saint George also commanded, as colonel, the first all-black military regiment in Europe, a unit that came to be known as St. Georges’ Légion. Among its officers was a lieutenant colonel named Thomas Alexandre Dumas. The father of the famous novelist, Dumas would go on to become a general in Revolutionary France, and the highest-ranking person of color of all time in a continental European army.

General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, painted by Olivier Pichat. Source:http://s236.photobucket.com/user/DeeOlive/media/GeneralDumas_zps10105513.jpg.html

General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, painted by Olivier Pichat. Source:http://s236.photobucket.com/user/DeeOlive/media/GeneralDumas_zps10105513.jpg.html

Saint Georges was evidently looked upon by the French with great veneration, for a number of drawings and paintings of fencing salles show his famous portrait displayed upon the wall with considerable prominence:

Angelo's famous Salle d'Armes, displaying Saint-George's portrait

Angelo’s famous Salle d’Armes, displaying Saint-George’s portrait

Although Saint Georges passed away in 1799, his name and image is venerated among classical and historical fencers throughout the world.

 

Jean-Louis Michel

 

“The founder of the modern French school of swordsmanship, and the greatest swordsman of his century, was a mulatto of San Domingo, that famous Jean Louis, who in one terrible succession of duels, occupying only forty minutes, killed or disabled thirteen master-fencers of that Italian army pressed into service by Napoleon for his Peninsular campaign.” – Lafcadio Hearn, 1886

Jean-Louis was born in Haiti (then Saint-Domingue) in 1785, the son of a French fencing master. Later, he served as a soldier in Napoleon’s army.

His most famous exploit as a duelist was a regimental “mass” duel that took place near Madrid, Spain, in 1814. French soldiers from the 32nd Regiment and Italian soldiers from the 1st Regiment quarreled. Within 40 minutes, Jean-Louis killed or disabled thirteen Italian fencing masters in succession:

The regiments were assembled in a hollow square on a plain outside Madrid. At its center was a natural elevation forming a platform where, two at a time, 30 champions would duel for the honor of 10,000 men. As the premier fencing master of the 32d Regiment, Jean-Louis was the first up. His opponent was Giacomo Ferrari, a celebrated Florentine swordsman and fencing master of the First Regiment.

Drums rolled. The troops were ordered to parade rest, and as they slammed down the butts of their muskets in unison, the earth shook. Jean-Louis and Giacomo Ferrari stepped onto the fencing strip, each stripped to the waist to show that they wore nothing that would turn a thrust. An expectant silence filled the air as every eye was fixed on the two masters…

The fencing masters crossed swords and the bout began. Ferrari took the offensive, but Jean-Louis followed all his flourishes with a calm but intense attention; every time Ferrari tried to strike, his sword met steel. With a loud cry Ferrari jumped to the side and attempted an attack from below, but Jean-Louis parried the thrust and with a lightning riposte wounded Ferrari in the shoulder. “It is nothing, start the fight again!” cried Ferrari, getting back to his feet. Jean-Louis’ next thrust struck home, and Ferrari fell dead.

Jean-Louis wiped the blood from his blade, resumed his first position, and waited. His battle had only begun. The victor in each bout was to continue until he was injured or killed, and Jean-Louis still faced 14 swordsmen of the 1st Regiment, all of them eager to avenge their comrade.

Another adversary came at him. After a brief clash, Jean-Louis lunged and, while recovering, left his point in line. Rushing at him, his opponent was impaled. A second corpse lay at the French master’s feet.

His third opponent, a taller man, attacked fiercely, with jumps and feints, but Jean-Louis’ point disappeared into his chest, and he fell unconscious.

The next man approached. The regiments watched in fascinated silence. They were accustomed to the wholesale music of slaughter: the booming of artillery, the bursting of shells, the rattle of musketry, the clash of sabers. All are impressive, but none so keenly painful as the thin whisk of steel against steel as men engage in single combat. As one contemporary observer wrote, “it goes clean through the mind and makes the blood of the brain run cold.”

Jean Louis and his fencing master, M. D'Erape. From L'Almanach Des Sports, 1899.

Jean Louis and his fencing master, M. D’Erape. From L’Almanach Des Sports, 1899.

After 40 minutes only two Italian provosts were left awaiting their turn, pale but resolved. A truce was called, and the colonel of the 32d approached Jean-Louis.

“Maitre,” he said, “you have valiantly defended the regiment’s honor, and in the name of your comrades, and my name, I thank you sincerely. However, 13 consecutive duels have taken too much of your body stamina. Retire now, and if the provosts decide to finish the combat with their opponents, they will be free to do so.”

“No, no!” exploded Jean-Louis, “I shall not leave the post which has been assigned me by the confidence of the 32d Regiment. Here I shall remain, and here I shall fight as long as I can hold my weapon.” As he finished his statement he made a flourish with his sword, which cut one of his friends on the leg. “Ah,” cried Jean-Louis, distraught, “there has only been one man of the 32d wounded today, and it had to be by me.”

Seizing upon the incident, the colonel said, “This is a warning; there has been enough blood. All have fought bravely and reparation has been made. Do you trust my judgment in the matter of honor?” After Jean-Louis said he did, the colonel said there was nothing more to do but extend a hand to the 1st Regiment. Pointing to the two provosts who still waited, he said to Jean-Louis, “They cannot come to you!”

Jean-Louis dropped his sword, approached the two Italians, and clasped them by the hands. His regiment cheered, “Vive Jean-Louis! Vive the 32d Regiment!”

Jean-Louis added, “Vive the First! We are but one family! Vive l’armee!”

– Paul Kirchner, The Deadliest Men

1816 match between the Comte de Bondy and the fencing master Lafaugere by Frederic Regamey. Jean Louis served as the President de Combat, and can be seen at center, behind the fencers' blades.

1816 match between the Comte de Bondy and the fencing master Lafaugere by Frederic Regamey. Jean Louis presided as “President de Combat,” and can be seen at center.

Jean Louis’s fencing style would become a major influence on the French school of fencing, and he is credited with the saying—now famous among fencers—“A foil should be held as one holds a little bird; not so tightly as to crush it, but just enough to prevent it escaping from the hand.” He became sought out by members of the nobility for fencing instruction.

Jean-Louis retired from the army in 1849, at age sixty-five, and began teaching fencing permanently at his school in Montpellier. Later he came to denounce dueling. He instructed his daughter in the art of fencing, and she would go on to become one of his most accomplished disciples.

JeanLouisPortrait

Arsene Vigeant, a famous writer on fencing, remarked of him “Jean-Louis’ face which appeared hard at first meeting, hid a soul of great goodness and generosity.”

 

Basile Croquère

 

During the nineteenth century, New Orleans came to be regarded by many as the dueling capitol of the western world. There, duels were fought more frequently than in any other American city. As to exact statistics, one nineteenth-century visitor noted that “in 1834 there were no less than 365 [duels], or one for every day in the year; 15 having been fought on one Sunday morning. In 1835 there were 102 duels fought in that city, betwixt the 1st of January and end of April.” In 1839, another resident noted “Thirteen Duels have been fought in and near the city during the week; five more were to take place this morning.” Most of these duels were said to have been fought by those of French Creole descent, however, in 1833 William Ladd noted that blacks “are taking it up [dueling]” in the city.

In fact, African Americans fought a large number of duels in Louisiana, which were reported throughout newspapers of the era. One example, published in April 1872 by the New York Times, noted that:

“Two young colored men fought a duel with small swords in New Orleans, on Tuesday, and one was slightly wounded in the breast. One is a son of an internal revenue assessor, and the other a son of a Custom-house official. The quarrel grew out of testimony given before the Congressional Investigating Committee.”

Due in part to this prolific dueling culture, the tradition of classical and historic fencing flourished in old New Orleans. From about 1830 until the Civil War, at least fifty maitre d’armes (masters of arms) operated fencing academies in Exchange Alley, from Canal to Conti between Royal and Bourbon Streets. Of these, the author has personally come across six New Orleans fencing masters of African ancestry. Among the most notable of these were “Black” Austin, a free black man, and Robert Severin, also of African ancestry—who fought at least one duel in the city, and served as a second in at least another.

The most renowned of these masters, however, was Basile Croquère.

Croquère, according to Lafcadio Hearn, was “the most remarkable colored swordsman of Louisiana.” For much of the last century, Croquère’s life has been shrouded in mystery, and what is known about him consists mostly of scraps of anecdotal information set down in local histories. What is certain is that he was born in New Orleans around 1800 to a white father and a mother of mixed African-European ancestry.

At a young age, Croquère took part in the War of 1812, and likely participated in the famous Battle of New Orleans (1815)—in which the Americans soundly expelled the British and effectively won the war. In 1879, Croquère was listed as a member of L’Association des Vétérans de 1814-15.

Like the famous St. Georges, Croquère was sent by his white father to be educated in Paris, where he obtained a degree in mathematics, and probably received some, if not most, of his fencing instruction. After completing his studies in France, Croquère returned to New Orleans, where he set up shop as both a fencing master and a staircase builder, in which profession he applied his mathematical knowledge to construct the “soaring, multidimensional staircases” which became the staple of antebellum southern mansions.

By all accounts, Croquère was one of the best masters-of-arms in New Orleans. As one author of the period recounted:

“Though the population could count a considerable number of these fencing experts and duelists, Basile Croquère was proclaimed their superior in all things…He employed his talent to train the youth, to give them the benefit of his skill and his knowledge in arms.”

In a city known as the fencing and dueling Mecca of North America, where men literally lived and died by the sword on a daily basis, this was high praise.

“Mr. Basile was an educated and respectable man; he knew how to estimate and consider by his character, his behavior and his distinguished manners.

It was not therefore strange that a man having these recommendable qualities should enjoy a certain credit among people of high society, in whom he cultivated an elite clientele…

As to his profession of arms, it is told that he could touch his opponent almost as though composing a ballad…He often said that his chest was a holy place: it was filled with air because, we are told, no adversary’s foil was ever able to touch it…”

John Augustin (1838-1888), a New Orleans poet, editor, and Confederate veteran, recounted that Croquère “was such a fine blade that many of the best Creole gentlemen did not hesitate, notwithstanding the strong prejudice against color, to frequent his salle d’armes, and even cross swords with him in private assaults.”

Although little is known about this extraordinary master, his legend continues to endure among New Orleans guidebooks and books about dueling. Although it would be presumptuous to declare him the greatest of African American martial artists, he was, by all accounts, an extraordinary person and a swordsman of the highest caliber.

Above: A duel under the famous "Dueling Oaks" in New Orleans' City Park.

Above: A duel under the famous “Dueling Oaks” in New Orleans’ City Park.

Further reading:

 

African American Knife-Fighters of Old New York

African American Soldiers fight off 24 Germans with Bolo Knives during World War I

Fencing in Colonial America and the Early Republic

http://www.chevalierdesaintgeorge.com/bio_fulltext.html

Gabriel Banat, The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow

Reminiscences of Henry Angelo

Alfred Hutton, Sword & the Centuries

http://sworddueling.com/2010/03/08/jean-louis-michel/

Paul Kirchner, The Deadliest Men

Benjamin Truman, The Field of Honor

 

This article © 2015 by Ben Miller. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that credit is given with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

First Patriots’ Day: An Eyewitness Account

In Colonial (American) Period on May 2, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Although no sound recordings of Revolutionary War veterans exist, the following recording, made in 1950, is the next best thing. In it, the ninety-five year old Dr. Alfred Worcester relates the events of Lexington, Concord, and Battle Road as told to him by his great-grandmother, who witnessed them firsthand. It’s an extraordinary audio piece, and possibly the only second-hand account of the Revolutionary War ever recorded:

First Patriots’ Day, The: An Eyewitness Account By Dr. Alfred Worcester – WGBH Open Vault.

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