Why Twigg? We get that question quite often. It all began long ago, in the early morning hours of July 11, 1804 (kind of). Two men left Manhattan in separate boats, and rowed across the Hudson to a spot in New Jersey known as the “Heights of Weehawken”, a popular dueling ground below the towering cliffs of the Palisades. Although engaged in a bitter political dispute for many years, the conflict had finally come to a head, when one man formally challenged the other to a duel, thereby questioning his honor.
Hamilton apparently fired first, and into the air, though it is not clear whether this was intentional, much less that Burr perceived him to be “throwing away his fire” (as it did not follow the standard protocol). Burr returned fire and hit Hamilton in the lower abdomen above the right hip. The musket ball ricocheted off Hamilton’s second or third false rib—fracturing it—and caused considerable damage to his internal organs, particularly his liver and diaphragm before becoming lodged in his first or second lumbar vertebra. According to witness accounts, Hamilton collapsed immediately, dropping the pistol involuntarily, and Burr moved toward Hamilton in a speechless manner (which was deemed to be indicative of regret) before being hustled away behind an umbrella.
Others have attributed Hamilton’s apparent misfire to the design of the Wogdon duelling pistols (both of which survive today), which incorporated a hair-trigger feature that could be pre-set by the user. According to Louisiana State University history professors Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, “Hamilton brought the pistols, which had a larger barrel than regular dueling pistols, and a secret hair-trigger, and were therefore much more deadly.”] They conclude that “Hamilton gave himself an unfair advantage in their duel, and got the worst of it anyway.”
Hamilton, familiar with the weapons, would have known about and been able to use the hair-trigger. However, when asked before the duel if he would use the “hair-spring”, Hamilton reportedly replied “not this time.” The “hair-spring” feature gave an advantage because it reduced the time required to fire the pistol, being more sensitive to the movement of the trigger finger.
The pistols belonged to Hamilton’s brother-in-law John Barker Church, who was a business partner of both Hamilton and Burr. Later legend claimed that these pistols were the same ones used in a 1799 duel between Church and Burr, in which neither man was injured. Aaron Burr, however, claimed in his memoirs that he supplied the dueling pistols for his duel with Church, and that they belonged to him. In 1801, Hamilton’s son Philip used the Church weapons in the duel in which he died. The pistols reposed at Church’s estate Belvidere until the late 19th century, and are owned today by J.P. Morgan Chase and Co.
Robert Wogdon, H.W. Mortimer, the Mantons, John Twigg, Durs Egg, Henry Nock, Joseph Griffin and James Purdey all created these instruments of honour and virtuousity. Although Wogdon built the pistols used in what is probably the most famous duel in history, it could just have easily been John Fox Twigg. Twigg is considered the father of the dueling pistol having created sets for royalty and any who could afford them in the 18th century. After all it was considered a sign of great prestige to own a set of dueling irons in that time. Much of his exquisite work remains to this day on display in museums and private collections.
Even Thomas Jefferson, considered to be America’s first distinguished viticulturist (grape grower) had his honor challenged by General John Walker. Walker, Jefferson’s neighbor, asked the grape grower to watch over his wife as he was off to fight the Indians. Upon his return, Walker challenged Jefferson to a duel when he suspected certain improprieties, Jefferson declined. It must have been harvest season.
As an enthusiastic admirer of all things early American, its easy for me to appreciate the major “minor” role something as insignificant as a device that sends a lead ball hurtling in the directions of two powerful men that had the ability to shape the country we live in. If Burr had not mortally wounded Hamilton, we could be under the role of a federalist president today.
Jonathon Fox Twigg was a master gun builder specializing in dueling pistols, however he did build long guns as well. Many years ago I was introduced to a gentleman who built and shot muzzle loading rifles for a hobby. We had many mutual interests including early American history, hunting, guns and even wine. He taught me to build and shoot guns from the “Golden Age” of America’s past. As a prerequisite to building these fantastic firearms it was necessary to learn the jargon and different makers of the age. One such gun builder from the 18th century, John Twigg was known for his expert quality and consistency.
How remarkable, Twigg died in 1792, in 2011 his creations still exist, people interested in old guns still know his name, if his guns come up for sale (a rare event) they sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Did Twigg have a business plan? I can only surmise that his motto was make every effort to do it right and build it to last.
So, why “Twigg” winery? I thought it sounded nice.