On a recent trip to Mount Carleton, my husband and I drove past a highway sign for New Maryland, New Brunswick. The sign proudly states that New Maryland is the site of the last fatal duel in the province. Being the curious person that I am, I couldn’t pass that up, so off we pulled into the village.
Unfortunately, once in New Maryland, I couldn’t find any monument or site dedicated to the duel. Perhaps I missed something? I scoured the internet for information on where I could go to commemorate this strange historical event. I couldn’t find anything about a landmark in town but I did find the story of the duel online, on the New Maryland village website.
The story itself is fascinating, and really quite shocking. Of course, I realize that duels were once the way conflicts were dealt with and that they no doubt occurred here, but to be faced with such detailed facts of the story, made it seem much more real.
For those who are interested, I encourage you to go to the Village of New Maryland website and read the full account, as written by Connie Shanks, published in the Atlantic Advocate in 1991.
Here’s my ‘Coles Notes’ version:
It was really all a case of mistaken identity. In 1821 in New Maryland, an attorney name George Frederick Street, mistakenly told the sheriff to arrest Jacob Smith Sr. instead of his son, Jacob Smith Jr.
Papa Smitty wasn’t on very good terms with Junior, and wasn’t too impressed with being dragged in on false charges, rightly so. He got himself a lawyer, a fellow by the name of George Ludlow Wetmore.
Some lawyer-ey stuff went down in court and the two George’s (Street and Wetmore) went at it in a heated argument that included insults and possibly physical violence, outside the courtroom.
Now, young Wetmore just couldn’t seem to let the whole thing go and had his good buddy John Winslow go to Street’s house the next morning and challenge him to a duel. It was all terribly formal. Street agreed and the plan was set.
Wetmore’s buddy Winslow tried to talk the two of them out of it, as any good buddy should, but pride being what it was between men in the 1800’s (or anytime, for that matter), both vehemently refused to offer an apology or take any blame in the matter.
The duel took place in the early morning of October 2nd, 1821, on Maryland Hill, four miles from Fredericton. As dueling was at this point technically illegal, the families of both men had no idea what was about to go down.
The two men faced each across the field, aimed and fired their pistols. Both missed with their first shot. Now, at this point, you’d think they’d quit while they were both ahead (and alive), but damn it if Wetmore didn’t insist they tempt fate one more time!
Murphy’s Law being what it is, Wetmore of course took the brunt of the damage in the second shot and quickly went down. He was hit in the arm and the head with the same bullet.
Winslow ran to the farmhouse to get some help for his friend. Street took off as soon he heard help coming and headed for the safety of Robbinstown, Maine.
Wetmore died from his wounds and Street surrendered in December that same year. There was a trial, but in the end no real charges were laid, presumably because both men were dumb enough to enter into a duel. Street even went on to practice law again and become a judge of the Supreme Court. He continued to insist that his actions on that fateful morning were justified.
The family of the fallen Wetmore carried on, one son became a judge of the Supreme Court and then later, premier of New Brunswick.
The story goes that the Streets and Wetmores never spoke again, becoming what I can only envision as the Capulets and Montagues of New Brunswick.
If anyone knows if there is actually a monument of some kind to the duel in New Maryland, please let me know.
If not, I would encourage the people of New Maryland to capitalize on this unique history! Your highway sign brings people in, but there should be some place they can go to learn more about the duel.
If you know of something that’s a Surprising Find in the Maritimes, I’d love to hear about it!