By Brad Dison
On Friday night, November 20, 1801, Stephen Price and Philip Hamilton went to Park Theater in Manhattan, New York, to watch a play. An usher seated Stephen and Philip in the same box with George Eacker, a wealthy New York attorney who had risen to the rank of Chancellor of New York, the highest judicial officer of the state. His position allowed him to give a speech at the 1801 New York’s Fourth of July celebration in Battery Park, a speech “that the Sentiments it contained were those of the Revolution, dressed in elegant and nervous language, and the delivery truly rhetorical.” Not all who heard his speech were impressed.
In the theater box, Philip and Stephen grew irate when they saw that they would be sharing a box with George. Since the July 4th celebration, Philip had grumbled to anyone who would listen that parts of the speech were political rants aimed directly at his father. They intentionally criticized George’s speech loudly so George could hear them. George asked Philip to step into the lobby as not to disturb the other people attending the play. Stephen followed George and Philip into the lobby. The three of them argued and George called one of them a “damned rascal,” a most serious insult for the era. The three men tussled for a few brief moments but were stopped by bystanders. The trio left the theater and went to a local public house where the dispute continued. Philip and Stephen demanded to know who George had called a “damned rascal.” After a short hesitation, George answered that he intended the insult for both of them. Tempers which were already flared boiled over. Rather than fight it out in public, which would have resulted in the arrest of all three, they decided to settle the dispute in two separate duels.
On Sunday morning, November 22, George and Stephen, each with their second, a representative of each party whose task was to resolve the dispute with honor if possible or to ensure each party performed honorably according to the long-standing traditions of dueling, met at a strip of land now known as the Weehawken Dueling Grounds at Weehawken, New Jersey. The Weehawken Dueling Grounds was a popular place for duels until the 1840s because it was only accessible by the river, and, therefore, offered privacy for the duelists. George and Stephen stood back to back, armed with single-shot flintlock pistols. They took an agreed upon number of paces away from each other, turned, and fired. Neither shoot took effect. Their seconds reloaded the pistols, and George and Stephen, again, took several paces, turned, and fired. Again, neither of their shots took effect. They repeated the process twice more with the same result. Flintlock pistols were inaccurate, but George and Stephen were not bad shots. Both had deloped, meaning they decided to intentionally miss their target to abort the conflict with honor. Deloping was against the traditions of dueling so both had to appear to make genuine efforts to hit their opponent. After four shots each, their seconds ended the duel and they considered the dispute resolved.
On the following afternoon, November 23, George and Philip, each with their second, met at the Weehawken Dueling Grounds. Like the duel the day before, George and Philip took the agreed upon number of paces and turned to face each other. Both men hesitated for a moment. Philip probably thought that since George had deloped in the previous duel, he would delope again. Philip was wrong. George fired his pistol and the shot struck Philip in the abdomen. Philip fell to the ground without firing his pistol. Philip’s second ferried the injured man back across the Hudson River to New York, and took him to his father’s home. Philip’s condition declined throughout the night, and he died the following morning.
George was never charged with Philip’s death. Philip’s father came into contact with George on several occasions following Philip’s death, and by all accounts, they were amiable to each other. On July 11, 1804, two-and-a-half years after Philip’s fateful duel, his father met at the Weehawken Dueling Grounds for a duel of his own. Father and son shared the same fate. In this famous duel, American Vice-President Aaron Burr killed founding father Alexander Hamilton.
The National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser, November 30, 1801, p.3.
Windsor Federal Gazette, December 8, 1801, p.3.
Lancaster Intelligencer, December 9, 1801, p.3.
New York Evening Post, July 13, 1804, p.2.