James King challenged to a duel

On July 14, 1855, only a few months after the failure of both Page, Bacon & Co. and Adams & Co. and while there was still a great stir about all the losses and anger over the fraud supposedly perpetrated by the management of Adams & Co., James King of William published a statement in a local newspaper indicating that on more than one occasion Isaiah Woods of Adams & Co. had said that they made one hundred thousand dollars a year out of sales of gold dust to Page, Bacon & Co. Then King went on to add that he had learned in the last few days that Woods had used improper means to make these sales.

Page Bacon check to James King of Wm.

Three days later, in front of a jewelry store on Montgomery Street, King ran into Alfred Cohen, the agent who brokered the gold dust sales for Adams & Co. and heated words were exchanged between them over the issue. There was also a physical encounter of some kind, though neither man was hurt. Later that day, in a letter delivered by John Hackett, Cohen challenged King to a duel. King responded both in a letter to Hackett and in the newspapers. He refused to duel with Cohen because of obligations to his family and his opposition to dueling on moral grounds. While insisting that nothing could change his opinion on dueling he reserved the right to defend himself should he be assaulted.

Montgomery Street 1856

King’s refusal to duel, the first time a man born south of the Mason Dixon line had ever done so, raised him even higher in the esteem of the population opposed to dueling. At the time most southern men still accepted the code, as it was called in those days, while men from the north did not and the general sentiment of San Francisco was violently opposed to dueling. The state constitution of 1849 spoke out strongly against the practice and in 1850 the legislature had made the act of dueling a felony. But public men at that time paid little respect to either the constitution or the law and King’s stand was considered as an enlightened principal and brought great credit to him. James King of William, more than any other man, is entitled to the praise of starting a movement that ended the barbarous practice of dueling.

 

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