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Samuel Jarvis Fights a Duel

Bad Blood

No one seems to know exactly how it all began. The Ridouts and the Jarvises didn't like each other in general.
      What we do know is that John Ridout, then eighteen, entered the office of Samuel Jarvis and a few minutes later was expelled. Most likely the argument was over some debts Jarvis owed to the Ridouts. Ridout was working as a law student in the law office of his brother, who was suing William Jarvis. John was probably trying to reach a settlement out of court.
      A few days later, Jarvis and Ridout brawled in the street and had to be pulled apart. They agreed to meet for a duel.

The Duel Begins

      The duel was set for Saturday, July 12, 1828 at daybreak. The two enemies met at Elmsley's Farm (northeast of present-day College and Yonge Streets), each with his "second" or assistant. It was agreed that the two men would stand back to back, take eight paces forward and turn to face the other. Then Jarvis's second would count "One, two, three, fire!"
      Something went terribly wrong. Ridout fired before he was supposed to. Ridout's second later explained that the counting was not loud enough to hear properly. Whatever the reason, the seconds conferred to discuss dueling etiquette and decided, as they expressed it in a later statement, that "Mr. Jarvis should have his fire."

The Duel Ends in Death

To do the honourable thing, Ridout had to return to his place and offer himself as a target to Jarvis. He did this, the count was repeated, Jarvis fired, and Ridout was struck.
      Questions have been raised about whether Ridout was killed instantly. According to the doctor who later performed the autopsy, the injuries indicated that Ridout's death must have been almost instantaneous.

What Really Happened?

But Jarvis and the two seconds later submitted a formal, written statement which contradicted the evidence of the autopsy, painting a vastly different picture of what happened after Ridout returned to present himself as a target. It was all marvellously gentlemanly and formal and humane:

Mr. Jarvis, at the word 'fire,' did fire, without deliberation, and without raising his arm until the word 'fire.' Mr. Ridout partly reeled around, but did not fall--all parties ran up to him--Mr. Jarvis threw his Pistol on the ground and said, 'My God, what have I done.' Mr. Ridout shook hands with all parties, and freely forgave Mr. Jarvis, and said, 'if Jarvis had not shot him, he might have shot Jarvis.'--There was a full expression of forgiveness on the one side, and sorrow and regret on the other. After this conversation Mr. Ridout fainted, and the parties supposing he was dead, left the ground.
Which side was telling the truth? Both sides of the story are told, in vivid detail and with great emotion, in a fascinating pamphlet Samuel Jarvis published ten years later.

Samuel Found Guilty of Murder

A coroner's inquest was set up to hear evidence, both from the witnesses and from the doctor who performed the autopsy. At the conclusion of the inquest, the jury found Samuel Peters Jarvis guilty of murder. He surrendered himself to the authorities and was put into the jail at Yonge and King Streets to await trial.

Late-Breaking News

The only newspaper of the time, the Upper Canada Gazette, owned by one of the prominent families, until this time had not printed anything about the duel. The son of one prominent family killing the son of another prominent family apparently was not "news fit to print." After Samuel was taken to the jail, the Gazette finally broke its silence on the incident. But it managed to report the duel without naming Jarvis:

"It is our unpleasant duty to notice the fatal termination of a Duel, fought early on Saturday morning last, in the vicinity of this Town; Mr. John Ridout was mortally wounded and expired before he could be conveyed home."

Mackenzie Sees It Differently

When William Lyon Mackenzie arrived a few years and began publishing his anti-establishment Colonial Advocate, he was much less reticent, referring to Samuel Jarvis as a "murderer" for his part in the duel.

Denounced Eternally--a "Blight"

Today if you visit St. James Cathedral on King Street East, near Church Street, you will find old gravestones on the walls of the south porch, removed from the old cemetery. One is inscribed,

In memory of John Ridout, son of Thomas Ridout, Surveyor General. Filial affections, engaging manners and nobleness of mind gave early promise of future excellence. This promise he gallantly fulfilled by his brave, active and enterprising conduct which gained the praise of his superiors while serving as Midshipman in the Provincial Navy during the late War; at the return of Peace he commenced with ardour the study of the Law and with the fairest prospects; but a Blight came and he was consigned to an early Grave on the 12th day of July 1817, aged 18. Deeply lamented by all who knew him.

Attitudes Toward Duelling

Although duelling was in its last days as a socially acceptable practice, there still remained some of the old attitudes which tolerated it. The laws called it murder, but many people still believed that, so long as the duel was fair, no one should be punished for it. Prosecutors didn't fight hard to convict an offender, and juries usually returned a not guilty verdict. The key question was whether the duel was fair.

More on Duelling

Toronto's First Duel: The Attorney-General Killed
In January, 1800, the Attorney-General, John White, was killed in a duel with John Small. The two men had exchanged insulting comments about each other's wife over a period of months, until Small "demanded satisfaction." Small was tried for murder but acquitted.
      Later, his son, James Small, served as the second of John Ridout in his duel with Samuel Jarvis.

An Aborted Duel
In July, 1801, there was an aborted duel between a Joseph Wilcocks and a Mr. Weeks. They quarrelled when Weeks, known to be emotionally unstable, accused Wilcocks of being an informer. When Wilcocks called Weeks a liar, Weeks challenged him to a duel. On the way to the duelling ground, however, Wilcocks was arrested and forced to pay a bond to keep the peace for six months. Weeks died as a traitor at Fort Erie in the War of 1812, fighting for the Americans.

A Member Of The House Of Assembly Killed In A Duel
In July, 1806, a member of the House of Assembly, William Weeks, was killed in a duel with a resident of the town of Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) named William Dickson. They fought on the American side of the Niagara River.

A Duel Between Old Friends Ends Happily
Another aborted duel took place between two old friends, Col. MacDonell and Dr. Warren Baldwin, in April, 1812. Meeting at Gibraltar Point, they prepared to duel. When the fatal moment arrived, however, MacDonell refused to fire, Baldwin fired into the air, the two men shook hands warmly and returned to the town as friends again. MacDonell died soon afterward at the Battle of Queenston Height, charging up the slope with General Brock.

Two Soldiers Duel To The Death
In 1813 two soldiers stationed at Fort George at Newark fought a duel. the challenger, Dr. Shumate, killed his opponent, Lieutenant Smith.

More stories about the history of Jarvis Collegiate, early Toronto and William and Samuel Jarvis.