James M. Denham


The December 27, 1839, issue of the St. Augustine News reported that on December 12 a “duel as fought . . . on the Georgia line between Leigh Read and Augustus Alston of Tallahassee. Weapons, rifles; distance, fifteen paces; finale, Alston killed.“ As was typical editorial policy in the reporting of such affairs, no commentary was offered. But the editor might have added that Alston, a Whig, and Read, a Democrat, each led their political parties in a time when a man’s honor and bravery were proven by action as well as words. Neither could, nor wished, to evade the field of honor. Indeed, both men regarded the conflict as a cure to both personal and partisan differences. Far from solving anything, the Read-Alston duel inaugurated a two-year long feud in which leading members of rival political factions in Florida took part. Triggering violence and civil disorder, the affair culminated in the bloody assassination of Leigh Read. The feud is significant because it was inextricably tied up with the emergence of an ultrapartisan two-party system in Florida. The event is also significant because it can be contended that it ended Leon County’s— and indeed Florida’s— toleration of dueling. Yet when the duel was fought, it was more condoned that condemned.