Stephen F. Austin to Joshua Pilcher, 05-13-1817

Summary: Quarrel between Stephen F. Austin and Joshua Pilcher—Biographical: (1) Pilcher to Austin, May 13-14, 1817. (2) Austin to Pilcher, May 14, 1817. (3) Masonic committee to Austin, May 16, 1817. (4) Resolution of Masonic lodge, May 31, 1817. (5) Austin challenges Pilcher to a duel, June 1, 1817. (6) Austin's statement of the history of the misunderstanding. (7) Report of committee of arbitration, ruling that Pilcher should apologize, June 7, 1817. (8) Pileher's apology, June 7, 1817.


St Louis 13 May 1817

Mr. Stephen F Austin

Sir This evening you called on me and remarked that you thought you had perceived a coolness in my conduct towards You during Your present visit to St Louis; at the same time observing that if your impression was correct, You ware intirely unable to account for it. I informed you that I was not disposed to enter into verbal explanations of my conduct; but as you have taken the liberty of introducing the subject I consider it my right to and perhaps my duty to renew it, which I will do in a manner not to bee forgotten, though it should leave you as much in the dark with respect to the cause as you professed to bee this evening. You sem'd to think it your duty to make those inqueries in consequence of ******* [sic] a dutiful young man indeed! it is a pity you had not have reflected on these duties at an earlier period, among other conjectures too insignificant to mention, you concluded by observing that you ware bound to infer that my conduct grew out of a suspicious disposition but could not imagine of what I suspected you— Strange indeede, that you should suppose I suspected you of something and you not able to say what.— I immagine I understood you, but you being either afraid to insinuate the meaning or ashamed to expose your own vanity could not tell, but be ashur'd Sir you ware mistaken. I never permit suspicions to govern me in my conduct I am always governed by existing facts,—so this conclusion is false but being the production of your own fertile immagination will no doubt be receiv'd and given as matter of fact as other conjetures have been with which your brain seems always pregnat—

Had you have possessd comn sagacity you might have made this wonderful discovery some months ago but finding that you either would not or could not understand, and finding the necessaty of such a couse still increasing and that nothing but down right contempt would make You understand, I was redusd to the necessaty of adopting a course of conduct even in my own room which I should never do unless it was under the like imperious circumstances

May 14th

To enter into such an explanation as you would require would not only bee attended with difficulty but necessarily involve unpleasant circumstances and the names of individuals for whom I entertain too high an opinion and for whose feeling I have too much it respect ever to permit them to escape either my lips or pen on an occasion like this, by way of explanation however I would remark that there are two classes of men in the world who in my opinion are equally contemptable.— The deceitful treacherous fauning sycophant who by ambiguous insinuations will, under the sacred name of friendship wound the feelings of others choseing such time piase and circumstance as to piase it out of the power of the person injured to treat such conduct as it merits; and the officious news gatherer who goes about collecting trash and construes the idle and loose remarks of others into mighty things and gives his own foolish conjectures as facts those two characters combined become still more odious and I never can reconcile to my feelings to recognise them as friends

Joshua Pilcher

I have taken the liberty of delivering this in person


St Louis May 14 1817


Dureing my present visit to this place I observed a coolness in you towards me and being fully under the conviction that I had intentionally done nothing either directly or indirectly to injure you or wound your feelings, I noticed this singular Change in your deportment with real astonishment expecting however that you would persue that course toward me which a Man of honor and of Sperit never hesitates about adopting when he finds or conceives himself injured by another, I waited patiently untill last evening, expecting to be call'd on to answer for those injuries your deportment told me you conceived I had done you, I waited in vain—you remained Silent—and intending to leave Town this day I called on you Myself for an explination of your conduct, not doubting, but that I should have recd one, and not doubting but that, that full explination would have enabled me to convince you that I did not merit the treatment I had received and that the cause of your singular deportment might be very readily traced to the false representations of some meddling busybody; or to the misconception of some innocent and inadvertant act or expression of mine, which was never intended to wound the feelings or injure the reputation or views of any person liveing, much less one who I once considered a man of principle and consistancy and who I once esteemed as a friend. I consider it one of the first duties of a Gentleman to render reparation where it is due and there are * certain other duties [Austin inserts the marginal note "Masonic"] which sometimes exist between men and which to me I hope will always be Sacred however lightly and contemptuously they May be treated by others, and in order to do my utmost in the discharge of these duties I was induced to call on you to State to me when and how, I had injured you, that I might make reparation if bound as a man of honor to do so, or that an explination of your conduct- might the better enable me to regulate my future deportment toward you, I applied to you Sir with these motives, with these views, and in the true Sperit of conciliation, and what was my answer? that you had no verbal explanation to make which at that time I took for a total denyal to make any explination at all. The first impression which this declaration made upon my mind was Surprise that you Should treat me with coolness bordering on contempt. And when called on be either afraid or unable to assign the cause, was certainly a matter of astonishment, this impression of surprise however was soon displaced by another which must naturally have arisen in the breast of every Man of Correct principle under similar circumstances, the impression I allude to is Contempt, the answer that you had no verbal explination to make at once convinced me that you either had no just and substantial cause for your conduct, and was therefore ashamed to assign the rediculous trifles which your suspicious imagination had Magnified into injuries—or that your cowardly soul shrunk from taxing a Man to his face with acts which you knew he never performed, with intentions which you knew he never possessed—it was with regret I turned with scorn from a Man who I once esteemed, and who but a few moments before I conceived to be consistent and honorable, as I left you, you told me I should hear from you again before I left Town. I received this intelligence with real pleasure hopeing that in a written communication, I should receive a full and complete development of the affair, not doubting as I before observed but that an amicable understanding must have accrued therefrom—therefore when you handed me your letter this Morning, viewing it as a harbinger of peace, I received it with joy, the impression of contempt which your first answer had forced upon my mind was Momentarily Suspended and I now hoped to find you that candid man of honor I had heretofore believed you to be, but however My pleasing anticipations, my hopes and my wishes disappointed and disapated, and with what renewed force did the Suspended Impression of contempt fall upon my Mind, on pexuseing your letter, have you given Me the explination I asked for ? have you given me the least clue which will lead to Solution of the Mistery and to a discovery of the injuries I have done you? No sir, you have said nothing pointed, all is ambiguous, inconsistent, and unintelligable, and I am now compeled to remain under the conviction that the injuries I have done you Knew no other existence than in your own fever'd and distempered brain, and that either wanting sufficient common sence to discriminate between a fiction and a reality, or possessing one of those Mean dispositions which Suspecting every thing that is and thousand of things that are not gives importance and magnitude to every frivolous and unmeaning act or expression and converts them into an injury or an insult. You have fixed your jealous Suspicions on Some inadvertant Expression Some unmeaning act of Mine which you have revolved in your disordered brain untill it has swelled to the immense magnitude of a deadly injury a vital stab in your reputation, your prospects or whatever rediculous bubble your imagination may have been blowing up. Your letter is too pitifully prevaricating to merit an answer in detail, I will however give it one in part. You say it is a pity I had not reflected on those duties at an earlier period, this observation merits no answer, and certainly can have no application to me untill I am Shewn that I have neglected or violated them and I defy you before the eternal God to State an instance where I have violated them with you, you say I was " either afraid to insinuate my meaning, or ashamed to own my vanity " let me caution you Sir to beware of cherishing the idea that fear ever has, or ever will deter me from utering my sentiments freely and openly to you and to the world—and it may be discovered that I have spirit enough to resent contemptable and unwarranted insinuations, and to chastise impertinance as it Merits—As to what you say about vanity I see no application it can have to the subject at all and Suppose you must have put it in to fill up the sentence or because your imagination not being as fruitful as usual—could furnish you with nothing else You say that you are not governed by Suspicions that you are governed by facts I have demanded of you Sir what are those facts and received an evaseive, equivocating answer which a Gentleman would feel himself disgraced in giveing, but you repeat that you are governed by facts and I again reiterate the demand What are those facts? You Say that " I might have discovered your coolness Some Months ago if I had possessd common understanding ["] I am now Sencible that I did perceive a coolness in your address to me when I was at Herculanium and felt a little piqued at it but being equally conscious at that time as I now am, that I had intentionally done nothing to offend you I took no further notice of it and soon totally forgot it— Under date of May 14th you Say that "you cannot enter into the explination you require without mentioning the names of those you respect etc. ["] I know not who you allude to, but as you have left me entirely to conjecture I have been induced by a great variety of circumstances to Suspect who you mean and here I will remark that if I am correct in my conjecture and if you intend to insinuate that I have ever directly or indirectly or in any manner whatever intentionally treated these persons with the least disrespect or impropriety. You insinuate what is false, you have discribed two characters in the last clause of your letter which you Say you can not recognise as friends and which I suppose I am to conclude you apply to me, but which I think do not at all Suit me I do not merit Such a portrait and you seem indirectly to insinuate that I " have willfully tried to hurt your feelings chooseing such time, place, and circumstances as put it out of your power to treat Such conduct as it merits "—

Sir I can think of no time, no place, no circumstances, when a person could wantonly and openly wound my feelings without having it [in] my power either instania or in a very Short time afterwards to resent Such treatment as it merits, but you poor pitiful good natured creature, you could have your feelings wounded, and Suffer the Sacred name of friendship to be basely prostituted as a cover from behind which you could be assailed in the Most vulnerable part, you could suffer all this to be done by me as you insinuate and find no time, no place to punish it no way to resent it but by Sullenness for I know not what more deserving name to give it. Since when called on to State what ails you, like a Sullen child you answer not but continue to pout and doubtless the Same remedy applied to Sullen children would be of equal service to you, the other character you have drawn is that of a tattler a talebearer and if you intend to apply this [to] me, every person who knows me, all who have known me from infancy will at once give the lie to Such a charge. I will now Sir Most pointedly, observe, that if you intend to insinuate (for your letter is such a type of ambiguity and inconsistancy that I [hardly] know what you intend) if however you intend to insinuate that I have under the cover of Friendship Secretly or in any other way intentionally injured you I pronounce Such an insinuation false and the person who makes it a Liar, and further if you intend to insinuate that I have been or am a tattler a talebearer Magnifying trifles into Mighty things with an evil intent, giveing my own foolish conjectures as facts and attempting to injure others by dark and ambiguous insinuations I also pronounce Such an insinuation false and the person who makes it a liar.

I shall now close this communication, probably the last one which will ever pass between us, by reiterating the assertion which I repeated to you verbally that I am unconscious of ever haveing at any time, in any place or under any circumstances injured you or wounded your feelings or even harboured the Most distant the least Shadow of an intention to do so in my life, Actuated by a Sence of my duty to- ward you as a Mason, as one who once esteemed you, as a Man of honor who was ready to make reparation where it was due I called on you for an explination of your conduct, your answer has erased every vestage of the esteem the respect I once felt for you and left me with no other impression towards you but contemft, a contempt which can only be removed by an elucidation of the Misteries which now envelope you and an explination of the absurdities and inconsistencies of your conduct, at the same time repeating what I have here [to] fore said that when I am made sencible thai I have injured you, I shall always be ready to give any explination or satisfaction a Gentleman ought to give—

I want no more communications from you unless they explain your conduct

J. Pilcher S. F. Austin


Saint Loues May 16th 1817

Having perus'd the communications between Mr Pilcher and Mr Austin, We must request that those Gentlemen will suspend all further proceedings for, at least, four or five days— They will please say whether this request will be complied with— With esteem

T Douglass

Jerh Connor

Stephen Rector

[Addressed:] Mr Stephen F Austin Present


Resolved, Mem. [sic] Con, That as the efforts of a volunteer committee of this Lodge, as also of a Committee appointed at a special meeting called for the express purpose have proved ineffectual towards settling the unfortunate misunderstanding between Brothers Pilcher and Austin, that the Worshipfull Master be authorised to appoint a Committee of three Masters Masons to watch the Hostile movements of said Brothers against each other. And in case they will not agree to submit said misunderstanding to this Lodge the Committee so named be authoris'd and commanded to call the officers of Justice to their aid to arrest an act which this Lodge fears they contemplate, equally abhorrent to Religious Masony and Law—Missouri Lodge St Louis May 31. 1817

by order of the lodge

J. G. Brady W M P. T [Rubric]


St. Louis June 1th 1817


You have wantonly and without provocation insulted me, and injured my person, I demand of you that Satisfaction which is due to the outraged honor of a Gentleman

My friend Doctor Farrar will point out to you the mode and manner by which you are to make reparation


S. F. Austin

Mr. Joshua Pilcher

6. Austin's statement of the cause of the dispute

[June 1, 1817?]

for Some time past I observed a coolness in Mr. Pilche[r]s deportment toward me, which I noticed with the utmost astonishment being perfectly unconscious of ever having, even in thought, injured him in my life. I waited untill the 13th May for him to call on me for a redress of these greivences he thought I had done him, but finding that he would say nothing but continued his coolness I thought it my duty to call on him for a candid declaration of the causes of his conduct. I deemed my duty to do so in consequence of our being Masons amongst whom the utmost candour and frankness aught always to exist, another reason which induced me to call on him was that I feared if an open rupture took place between us, it might be attributed by the world to a young Lady whose feelings of course would have been mortified thereby I therefore called on him for an explination of his conduct his Letter to me and my reply contain the Substance of what passed verbally between us. He gave me no Satisfaction as to the cause, either verbally or in his letter he gave me his Letter on the morning of the 14th May and he recd mine in evening of the Same day the next morning as I was walking down Street with Mr. Wash, Pilcher came up behind me and without giving the least notice or warning of his intention Struck me before I saw him and injured my eye so that I was deprived of the use of it for more than ten days—I wished to demand satisfaction of him immediately, but my Friends would not permit me to do so untill my eye was recovered, and on the 16th Mr J Connor call'd on me and requested that I would submit the subject of dispute to T. Douglass, S Rector and himself—I freely submitted every thing I knew of the business—and gave them the Letters which had passed on the 17th- I recd. a note from the above gentlemen requesting me to suspend all further proceedings for 5 days—I answered that my eye was in such a state that I should be compelled to suspend proceeding untill my recovery—from Those Gentlemen I have never heard more on the subject and know not what they [have] done or attempted to do— on my arrival in St Louis on the 30th May I was called on by Mr Kennerly and Hanly a Committee appointed by the Lodge to investigate the cause of the differance. I gave them at once all the information on the subject in my power and they professed to be much gratified at the promptness with which I complied with the request of the Lodge made through them, they then informed me that they would call on Pilcher for an explanation of the causes of his conduct- they did so and he refused to give them, on the 31 May in the morning I sent Pilcher a note by Doctor farrar, and soon after recd. an order from the Lodge to attend at the Lodge room at 3 o clk of that day I accordingly obeyed the order and attended. I was called on to state what I knew of the cause of—dispute, and answered that I knew not the cause of Pilcher's conduct and assured the lodge that I was unconscious of ever haveing done or said anything in my life to wound feelings of Mr. Pilcher Mr. Douglass then rose as the representative of his friend Pilcher who refused to attend and stated that the ground work of his offence was this—that Pilcher had communicated to me in Masonic confidence the particulars of an affair he had in Tennessee with a girl, and that one evening in a large company Pilcher and myself were joking each other and I asked him if he had lost his heart, he answered no he had it safe and I then answerd yes I presume it is secure as it has gone through the wars in Nashville—this he said was the first cause of offence the cause he said was of a nature which he could not mention without introducing names which delicacy forbid thereby alluding as I conceive to femalesJohn W. Honey informed me that the first cause of offence was this, that Pilcher presented Miss F_________ with a Ticket for the play and walked with her to the Theatre, when the play broke up he says, that I took hold of Miss F_____'s arm and walked home with her and he conceived it to be his right to walk home with [her] since he had walked there with her. Honey says that he knows this was the first cause of offence

Pilcher has absolved me from all restrictions as to what he communicated in confidence I shall therefore state what it was he informed me that he had been engaged to a Girl in Nashville but did not return at the time appointed and therefore the match was broken off—he did not state the name of the Girl or any other particulars and I had heard the same thing before in substance from various sources before he told it to me, but after he told me [the] circumstances I never communicated to any living soul in the world and I defy him to prove that I ever did—I must infer that he has recd. his intelligence from FEMALES, the only females with whom he was known to be in the habits of intimacy have declared most solemnly that they never heard me say any thing at all relative to Pilcher and that they never communicated anything to him the females I allude to are Mrs E____ Mrs C. and Miss F____.

Sometime last winter Pilcher observed that he expected I intended to court Miss F. I assured him on my honor that I did not and some time after-wards he repeated the same thing and I again assured him that I did not and asked him if [he] had any Such intentions—he [said] no I have not—

My belief as to the cause of Pilcher conduct is this—I think that he suspected that I was courting Miss F. and therefore had deceived him in saying that [I] was not—and I think that he then became jealous and suspected that I had used some unfair means to supplant him with Miss F—— gealousy I believe is the sole and only cause, and that the most unfounded for I never in my life had any designs of courting the Girl he was then addressing, nor did I ever in my life give her or any of her friends the least reason to suppose that I intended to address her. And were they the last words I ever expected to utter in the world I would say that I never did in any manner, at any time, nor under any circumstances say or do anything to injure that man or to wound his feelings—

as to what the Lodge have done I consider their conduct to be every thing but what Masonic duties inculcate, they have accused me of refusing to submit the cause of dispute to them which is absolutely false. I did submit to their committee and in open lodge all and everything I knew on the subject their conduct merits the severest investigation and I require and injoin it on my friends that the[y] Make a full statement of this transaction and send it to the Grand lodge


Saint Louis June 7th 1817

The undersigned to whom has been refer'd the matters of difference between Mr Austin and Mr Pilcher having heard from Mr P the causes why he had adopted that distant reserve and coolness of manner towards Mr A. "viz ". An impression that Mr A. had violated the confidence which he had repos'd in him; And that he was under the impression that Mr A. was aware of the cause, even at the time he ask'd for explanations, that with such impressions, he consider'd Mr A's. demand for an explanation as adding to the injury particularly as that injury had not been complain'd of. he (Mr P) refus'd to give any, that during the conversation between Mr Austin and himself he observed to Mr A. " that he had on a certain occasion acted officously and treacherously" Towards him and to Mr A's question of " how when and where " he replied " that he could not enter into verbal explanations" That his letter of the 13th and 14th May was elicited by an observation of Mr Austin's made at the moment of separating in which was infer'd the probable cause of Mr. P's, coolness and the source from whence it originated but which inference was incorrect, and being still under the impression that he (Mr A) was well aware of the true cause, he (Mr P) addressed to him the letter of the 13th and 14th May to which Mr A replied by letter of the latter date, repeating his demand for explanations, and clos'd by declining any further communications, unless his demands were complied with Mr Pilcher still retaining the same impressions, that Mr A was perfectly conscious of the circumstances which gave rise to the coolness on his part, yet would not recognize those circumstances, but continued to press his demand. As also from the tone of Mr A's letter conceived that no other course was left him to persue than that which he adopted.—

On the other part Mr Austin assures us that he never did intentionally give cause of offence to Mr Pilcher, and that the circumstance was inadvertant, and without any intention of wounding his feelings, Consequently Mr P's coolness arose from mistaken impressions of his intention. Also that at the time he call'd on Mr P for an explanation, he was intirely unconscious of the cause of such coolness and that the inference he drew at the time he was leaving Mr P. grew out of his denial to make any explanation. Consequently Mr P's. letter of the 13th and 14th was also written under wrong impressions, which letter has given rise to the subsequent events.—

We therefore the referees chosen by the parties from the declarations of Mr Austin that he never did either directly or indirectly intentionally wound or injure the feelings of Mr Pilcher and also his declaration that at the time he ask'd for explanation he was totally ignorant of the cause of Mr P's. coolness, (that cause having been subsequently suggested.) Are unanimously of opinion that Mr Pilcher should state in writing to Mr Austin, that he regrets having attack'd him, and is sorry for the personal injury he has sustain'd. And that he had acted under wrong impressions—Such statement ought in our opinion to satisfy Mr Austin and all previous communications which may have pass'd between them relative to this matter shall be mutually withdrawn and destroyed—

J [or T.] Hanson

J. G Brady

Stephen Rector

T. Douglass


Mr Stephen F Austin St Louis June 7th 1817


The award of Messrs Hanson Recter Brady and Douglass to whom was submitted the determination of the difference between us has just been communicated to me. I lose no time in complying with so much of that award as I find to be obligatory upon me by stating to you in writing, that I regret having attacked you, and am sorry for the personal injury you have received, and that I have acted under wrong impressions

I am etc etc

Joshua Piloher [Rubric]