On September 25, 1777, the day before British Gen. William Howe’s army triumphantly marched into the newly designated American capital of Philadelphia, two of his officers were upstairs at Hull’s Tavern in New York City, resolving differences they had developed during the course of a trans-Atlantic voyage that had only ended earlier that day. A duel ensued, and it was the last day of life for one of them.
Royal Navy Commander of the 14-gun sloop HMS Zebra, twenty-seven-year-old Capt. John Tollemache (equivalent of the modern surname Talmadge; also appears as Talmash, or Tollemarche) and thirty-two-year-old Capt. Lowther Pennington of the 2nd, or Coldstream, Regiment of Foot Guards were both members of distinguished families. Tollemache had been the name of the Earls of Dysart in the Peerage of Scotland since 1698, and Captain John was third heir to the title, behind his brothers Earl Lionel and Sir Wilbraham. Pennington was the name of the Baronets Muncaster since 1676, and Captain Lowther was second in line, behind his brother Sir John.
Their clash is variously preserved in 1777 newspapers, personal correspondence, transcripts of the general court martial of Captain Pennington, and The Annual Register, published the following year; subsequent reports appear in The Suffolk Garland (1818), The Gentleman’s Magazine (1821), the Origin And Services Of The Coldstream Guards (1833), The Scottish Nation (1867), providing details for the Earls of Dysart, and finally, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (1890), in which appears the above illustration.
Dueling, particularly with firearms, had become commonplace enough to be formally regulated earlier that same year with twenty-five rules of the Code Duello at the Summer Assizes (court sessions) of Clonmel, “adopted … for the government of duellists by the gentlemen of County Tipperary, County Galway, County Mayo, County Sligo and County Roscommon, and prescribed for general adoption throughout Ireland.”
On September 29, the New-York Gazette printed the following account:
The Evening after the Arrival of the Fleet [September 25], a duel, with Swords, was fought at Hull’s, between the Honorable J Talmash (Brother to Earl Dysert) Commander of the Zebra, and Capt Pennington (Son to Sir Ralph Pennington) of the Guards, who came Passenger in the Zebra; in which the former received a Wound under the left Breast of which he expired immediately; the latter was wounded in 7 different Parts, but is like to do well.
Captain Talmash’s Corpse were [sic] decently interred in Trinity Church Yard last Saturday Evening.
And on October 4, Rivington’s New-York Gazette confirmed the news.
An unhappy difference having taken place on the passage between the Hon Capt Tollemache, of the Zebra, brother to the Right Hon the Earl of Dysert, and Capt Pennington, of the Guards, brother to Sir Joseph Pennington, it terminated in a duel on the night of their arrival, at Hull’s Tavern, when the former was killed by a thrust in the breast, and the latter who received three wounds is in very great danger.
Rivington reduced the number of wounds suffered by Pennington from seven to three and unsuccessfully attempted to correct the family relation previously asserted by the Gazette. Pennington was neither son to Sir Ralph nor brother to Sir Joseph, rather son to Sir Joseph, 4th Baronet Muncaster and brother to Sir John (1st Baron Muncaster, Peerage of Ireland, after 1783).
British politician, poet, and Gen. Richard FitzPatrick included the following report in a letter dated October 26 from Philadelphia, where he was quartered, to his sister-in-law Anne Liddell FitzRoy FitzPatrick, Countess of [Upper] Ossory. As was Tollemache, FitzPatrick was son and brother of an earl.
Captain Tollemache is killed in a duel by a wrongheaded officer in the Guards, a Mr Pennington, whom he brought over in his ship. As it happened at New York, we do not know the particulars, but everybody concludes the latter to have been in the wrong, from his general character. I cannot help pitying Lady Bridget [Tollemache], though she is a detestable woman.
FitzPatrick curiously comments on the “general character” of “Mr Pennington” and the detestability of “Lady Bridget.” One cannot know exactly what was meant by either remark, but it is possible Pennington suffered from being merely one of the landed gentry, while Lady Bridget’s alleged detestability is simply intriguing.
On November 13, British parliamentarian, historian, author, and 4th Earl of Orford Horace Walpole wrote a letter to the same countess, presumably after receiving an account via mail packet of what had occasioned the duel.
What is believed is, that Captain Tollemache, Lady Bridget’s husband, is killed in a duel at New-York, by a Captain Pennington, on a foolish quarrel about humming a tune.
Pursuant to a warrant issued December 11, Pennington was “accused of the Murder of the Honorable John Tollemache, Captain in the Royal Navy, and Commander of His Majesty’s Ship of War, Zebra,”  and brought before a general court martial on December 15 at Philadelphia, by authority of “His Excellency Sir William Howe, Knight of the most Honorable Order of the Bath, General and Commander in Chief of all His Majesty’s Forces, within the Colonies, laying on the Atlantic Ocean, from Nova Scotia to West Florida inclusive &ca &ca &ca.”
Britain’s 1748 Articles of War were “divided into twenty sections, each of which deals with a particular subject and comprises one or more Articles.” Among the punishable crimes were “quarrels and duels,” but “the kinds of punishment … are not very explicit … cashiering [ritual dismissal from the service] of officers” was one potential outcome, but “there [was] generally only the tantalizing indefinite alternative of ‘or such other punishment.’ Courts martial were either ‘general’ or ‘regimental,’” and arraigned soldiers were at the mercy of both.
The twelve court members were all officers from the Brigade of Guards. According to the court record, Tollemache and Pennington had been introduced some weeks before in England, by “a relation of [the former] and a very particular friend of [the latter], Sir Will’by Aston,” 6th Baronet Aston of Chester County. Both captains had received “Orders to join the [British] Army in America,” and Aston, “in order that [Pennington’s] passage might be made more agreeable … than it apparently could have been in a Transport, recommended [him] to his Brother in law [Tollemache], who was just appointed to a new Ship, & was supposed to be going upon the same Expedition.” 
Aston told Pennington, “Captain Tollemarche expressed great Satisfaction in the Hopes of seeing [him] on board his Ship, and … would be happy in the Pleasure of [his] Company,” but all this seemed to have changed “soon after [they] were out at Sea, & had lost sight of land, [as Pennington] began to feel [himself] greatly disappointed, for whatever [he] said or did in [the] Ship, Captain Tollemarche always endeavour’d to thwart or ridicule.” 
In addition to defendant Pennington, the court heard from Capt. Primrose Kennedy of the 44th Regiment of Foot, another officer who made the crossing on the Zebra. (In August 1776, Kennedy had fought and been wounded at the Battle for Long Island, then was captured and exchanged in December the same year.) Testifying for perhaps five minutes, Kennedy described the source of the quarrel.
[Kennedy] was in company with Capt Pennington and the late Captain Tollemarche when Captain Pennington happen’d after Dinner to be humming a tune and he (the Witness) said that he never was so tired of any thing in London, as he had been of that tune …; Captain Pennington laughed and told a story of his having also been plagued with the Savoyards about London; upon which Captain Tollemarche said that the continual humming of a tune was disagreeable.
“There was so much abuse, he (the Witness) cannot recollect a third part of it, but he observed that Captain Pennington was rather silent and that the abuse was rather from Captain Tollemarche, but Captain Tollemarche declared that he never would make an apology.” He further declared that Pennington “did not mean to call out Captain Tollemarche, as he did not look upon him in the line of a gentleman, but that he would ruin or hurt his character, (the witness is not positive with respect to the identical words) as he had done his.” Kennedy also stated “he was engaged to sup with Captain Tollemarche at 9 o’clock that night [of their arrival in New York] at the tavern, and did not go there till that hour when he found that the affair was over.”
With testimony lasting approximately thirty minutes, Pennington testified he was “happy in the opportunity … of clearing [his] Character” regarding the disagreeable nature of his crossing on the Zebra – during which, after a particular disagreement, Tollemache “went hastily to his Bureau, unlock’d it, and indeed I expect would have produced a brace of Pistols, but it was a mockery.” He also stated the tune remarked by Kennedy “slipt from me without my being sensible that I was humming or singing any tune at all,” and upon arriving in New York, he accepted an invitation from General Robertson ”to sup with him at Hull’s Tavern that [fateful] Night.”
Whilst I was drinking my Coffee, who should come in (to my great astonishment) but Captain Tollemarche. He passed me without notice, going up to General Robertson, and other Gentlemen that he was acquainted with to pay him Compliments &ca I observed he was armed with a small Sword by his Side.
Therefore stept directly into the opposite Room and passing the Stair Case took a Candle which I found there in my hand. On placing it on the Table I observed a Hat and a small sword (I should have mentioned before that, for myself, I was as I may say totally unarmed, having nothing with me but a Couteau de Chasse.)
Although Pennington dismisses preparedness by being “totally unarmed,” Rule 12 of the Code Duello specifically refers to the “Couteau de Chasse,” or small sword, as ample weaponry in “simple unpremeditated rencontres.”
Captain Tollemarche immediately came into the Room; the first thing he did was carefully to shut the door… Then pointing to the candle, he with the greatest Indifference said, ‘Do you not think this a bad light,’ and instantly stept back & drew his sword & attack’d me.
The Moment I return’d the attack he retreated very fast & presently fell back against the Wall, dropp’d his Sword & seized with both hands upon the blade of mine; snapt it, instantly rushed upon me, & with the broken piece of my own Sword, which he retain’d in his right hand, gave me several Stabs in the breast. I look’d round again to find my sword, but seeing it in that broken Condition, and that he himself was without one, I gave him with my fist two Blows in the face, this staggered him greatly, and he endeavour’d to throw me down, but in the attempt fell himself and pulled me upon him. I think I struck him twice more as we fell, then rising to leave him with Contempt, I observed he did not stir.
After this testimony, Kennedy further testified by replying to four questions posed by Pennington. His replies confirmed: 1) Tollemache had referred to Pennington as a “madman & fool;” 2) that he may have also called him a “coward,” but Kennedy “was so Astonished at the abuse in general, that it was impossible for him to recollect every word that passed;” 3) that Tollemarche wished to bring their “last dispute … to a reencounter,” or, chance meeting, perhaps ironically used; and 4) “that [Pennington] deserved to have his Throat cut, that he would have his Throat cut, & that [Tollemache] would like to cut it.”
Pennington was the only surviving eyewitness to the actual event, and there was no other testimony beside his own and Kennedy’s – nothing from General Robertson, nor from any of the “other Gentlemen that [Tollemache] was acquainted with” who had been at Hull’s that evening.
Concluding, the court, “having considered the Evidence against the Prisoner Captain Lowther Pennington, together with what he had to Offer in his Defence, is of Opinion that he is not guilty of the Crime of which he stood accused, and doth therefore Acquit him.” The decision was confirmed with Howe’s signature.
In addition to being the likely source of Walpole’s information regarding the humming, the court martial evidently informed further accounts, if not altogether accurately. Within the year, changes emerged as seen with the below abstract from the 1778 publication of The Annual Register, in which the mock duel morphed into a preliminary “firing a brace [matched pair] of pistols” before the swordplay, and Pennington’s “humming or singing” was transformed into the writing of a “sonnet” intended to insult Lady Tollemache’s “supposed wit.” Pennington’s number of wounds was corrected back to seven – where it would remain, and his “life was despaired of,” suggesting Tollemache’s formidable skill, but the omission of the name of Tollemache’s ship perhaps paved the way for future confusion.
A duel was lately fought at New York, between Captain Pennington, of the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards, and Capt Tollemache, husband of Lady Bridget Tollemache, when the latter was unfortunately killed on the spot. The quarrel originated from a sonnet being written by Capt Pennington, which Capt Tollemache took up as reflecting upon the supposed wit of his lady. After firing a brace of pistols each without effect, the gentlemen drew their swords, when Capt Tollemache was run through the heart, and Capt Pennington received seven wounds, of which he lay so dangerously ill when the accounts came away, that his life was despaired of.
If there was any truth behind the suggested insult to Lady Tollemache, it provided more than enough reason for the men to quarrel, as Rule 10 of the Code Duello suggests, “Any insult to a lady under a gentleman’s care or protection, to be considered as, by one degree, a greater offence than if given to the gentleman personally.”
In the later Suffolk Garland report of 1818. the year of Pennington’s death at age seventy-three, a reference was made to Tollemache’s earlier ship, Scorpion, and Captain Pennington’s subsequent rank of lieutenant colonel. The Garland also suggests the meeting at Hull’s was planned. The “humming or singing,” or “sonnet,” and mention of Lady Tollemache were omitted, but the erroneous “firing a brace of pistols” and the phrase, “[Pennington’s] life was despaired of” remained.
[Captain John Tollemache] was commander of the Scorpion Frigate at the commencement of the American war, and carried out among other Lieut Col Pennington, of the Guards. On their landing at New York, they immediately repaired to a tavern, to decide a difference which had occurred during the voyage. After firing a brace of pistols each, without effect, they drew their swords. Capt T was run through the heart, and Col P received seven wounds so severe that for some time his life was despaired of.
Three years later, with the 1821 publication of The Gentleman’s Magazine, there was no mention of any ships, but the “sonnet … reflecting on the supposed wit” was back, the “firing a brace of pistols” still there, and Pennington’s “life was despaired of” now “for some time after.” Lady Bridget was also back, with her parentage and prior marriage cited as they had previously been in the Garland, although under a separate entry noting the 1793 death of the son she bore Tollemache.
The quarrel originated in a sonnet, written by Capt Pennington, of the Guards, which Captain Tollemache considered as reflecting on the supposed wit of his lady. After firing a brace of pistols each, without effect, they drew their swords. Capt Tollemache was run though the heart, and Capt Pennington received seven wounds so severe, that his life was despaired of for some time after. Capt Tollemache’s Lady was Lady Bridget Henley, the daughter of Robert, the first Earl of Northington, and relict of the Hon George Fox Lane.
Twelve years on, the 1833 publication of the Origin And Services Of The Coldstream Guards naturally focused on guardsman Pennington, beginning with his embarkation for America two months before the event. Perhaps referencing the account by the Suffolk Garland, it confuses Tollemache’s ship as the Scorpion, and replaces the sonnet with “whistling” aboard “the quarter-deck,” generally considered an ill omen by sailors. It also omits mention of pistols or Pennington’s wounds, but notes his subsequent (1813) succession as Baron Muncaster.
In July, 1777, [Pennington] embarked for America in the Scorpion sloop, commanded by his friend the Honourable John Tollemache. From some unaccountable caprice Pennington persisted in whistling as he walked the quarter-deck, notwithstanding the repeated remonstrances of the captain. On their landing at New York in September these officers fought a duel, when Tollemache was run through the body and killed. Pennington afterwards succeeded to the title of Muncaster.
The much later report in William Anderson’s The Scottish Nation alternately focuses on Tollemache, revives the “sonnet … reflecting on the supposed wit” of Lady Bridget and repeats, “[Pennington’s] life was for some time despaired of.” It also offers familial details for Sir John and Lady Bridget, as well as “Captain, afterwards General Pennington,” but wrongly identifies him as first, rather than second Lord Muncaster.
The Hon. John Talmash, the fifth son, a captain in the royal navy, was killed in a duel at New York, with Captain, afterwards General Pennington (first Lord Muncaster in the peerage of Ireland), 25th September 1777, aged twenty-seven. The quarrel originated in a sonnet written by Captain Pennington, which Captain Talmash resented as reflecting on the supposed wit of his wife, Lady Bridget Henley, daughter of the earl of Northington, and widow of the Hon. George Fox Lane. His opponent, Captain Pennington, received seven wounds of so severe a nature, that his life was for some time despaired of.
The final account currently under review, accompanied by the illustration by famed American artist Howard Pyle, Meeting of Captain Tollemache and Captain Pennington at the New York Arms, appears in the May 1890 Harper’s article “Old New York Taverns,” by John Austin Stevens, Jr, New York businessman, author, founder of the Sons of the Revolution, and grandson of Society of the Cincinnati co-founder and famed Boston patriot Ebenezer Stevens.
Instead of Tollemache and Pennington being alone in the upper room of Hull’s Tavern as the court martial transcripts indicate, Pyle’s depiction shows them accompanied by what appear to be seconds and a surgeon, in the manner of a formal duel. Confirming this premeditated formality, a chair leans against the doorknob to ensure privacy. Also contrary to the transcripts, neither sword appears to be broken, but despite Steven’s text to the contrary, Pyle shows no brace of pistols, in or out of a carrying case, previously fired or otherwise.
In Stevens’ text, the quarrel between the two captains rightly begins weeks earlier, and correctly aboard Tollemache’s sloop Zebra. However, this version also suggests it was over a sonnet, not humming or singing. Lady Tollemache’s wit is no longer “supposed,” as it had been in the Annual Register, the Gentleman’s Magazine, The Origin and Services of the Coldstream Guards, and perhaps surprisingly Anderson’s Scottish Nation. On the other hand, the “brace of pistols” has been “first fired” again. Although Pennington’s fate is less uncertain, Stevens’ phrasing is his own.
During the voyage a difference had occurred between the Hon J Tollemache (brother to the Earl of Dysart), the commander of the Zebra man-of-war, and Captain Pennington, of the Coldstream Guards. The offence was a sonnet written by Captain Pennington, which Captain Tollemache took up as reflecting upon the wit of his Lady; suspended at sea by the necessities of the service, the quarrel was renewed on shore. The meeting took place at the tavern. A brace of pistols were first fired without result, when swords were drawn. Captain Tollemache was run though the left breast, and instantly expired, while Captain Pennington, who received seven wounds, appears to have survived the encounter. The body of the unfortunate Tollemache lies buried within the grave enclosure of old Trinity.
Neither the text nor the Harper’s illustration matches the court martial transcripts. Stevens perpetuates the mistaken story of the brace of pistols, and Pyle presents a somewhat idealized scene. The fact that Stevens’ friend and associate Frederick S. Tallmadge was president of the Sons of the Revolution at this time (1884-1904) may have influenced not only the inclusion of the Tollemache/Pennington story in the article, but very possibly the textual restoration of Lady Tollemache’s wit.
From the various accounts during just over one hundred years, the careful reader finds fluid facts and a gradual morphing, or evolution of the story, perhaps unintentionally at times, and at others, perhaps not. But if the course of the conflict was uncertain, the cause became even more so. Although Kennedy and Pennington testified about his absently “humming or singing” a Savoyard tune, the Coldstream Guards suggested he had been recklessly “whistling … on the quarter-deck,” while the Annual Register, Scottish Nation, and others had him maliciously writing an insulting sonnet.
Was it a duel? The word was used only once during the court martial, and then, only in regard to the “mockery” which seemingly gave rise to the accounts of “firing a brace of pistols.” Almost every other source, beginning with the newspaper accounts and including the FitzPatrick and Walpole letters, also termed it a duel – the two exceptions being The Suffolk Garland and The Gentleman’s Magazine, though these both included the spurious mention of fired pistols.
By the time of the Harper’s Stevens article with the Pyle illustration, systemic, often contradictory, alternate facts prevailed. A duel including pistols was described, and a formal duel with swords, seconds, et al, was depicted. Despite first-hand accounts clearly stating the two men were ultimately alone, a seemingly well-recorded event randomly shifted over time, and a complex duel evolved.
(Full disclosure: the author shares his surname with a principle subject of this article, but is unaware of any direct kinship and presently makes no claim to the titles, lands, properties, rights, or privileges appertaining to the Lords of Muncaster.)
 Spencer C. Tucker, Almanac of American Military History, Volume 1 (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013), 291.
 Sir James Balfour Paul, The Scots Peerage: Founded on Wood’s Edition of Sir Robert Douglas’s Peerage of Scotland; Containing an Historical and Genealogical Account of the Nobility of that Kingdom, Volume 3 (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1904), 408. Earl is the third highest degree of rank and dignity in the British peerage – after duke and marquess, and before viscount and baron; all five noble grades are above baronet, an hereditary, but non-noble, gentry title. According to the United Kingdom Precedency of Men – atop of which system is the reigning monarch, there are forty-two grades above younger sons of earls, seventeen more above baronets, and ten more grades above esquires, among which younger sons of baronets rank ninth. Debrett’s Complete Peerage of the United Kingdom, William Courthope, ed., 22nd Edition (London: J. G. & F. Rivington, 1838), 12.
 Sir Bernard Burke, Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, Volume 2 (London: Harrison and Sons, 1885), 962.
 The American Quarterly Review, Volume 2, September & December (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Carey, 1827), 154-156. The original twenty-five rules were soon followed by two Additional Galway Articles.
 Naval Documents of the American Revolution, Volume 9 – AMERICAN THEATRE: Jun. 1, 1777–Jul. 31, 1777; EUROPEAN THEATRE: Jun. 1, 1777–Sept. 30, 1777; AMERICAN THEATRE: Aug. 1, 1777– Sept. 30, 1777 (Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1986), 12. In HMS. Zebra‘s journal, Lieutenant Samuel Edwards noted: “at 2 AM the Coxswain of the Barge return’d in a transports Boat and inform’d us Captain Tollemache was Killed in a duel with Captain Pennington of the Guards one of our passengers; Sent on Shore immediately, found him Dead,” British National Archives (BNA), Admiralty 51/1100.
 Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1870 (New York: Printed for the Society, 1871), 289.
 The letters of Horace Walpole (4th Earl of Orford), Volume 7, P. Cunningham, ed. (London: Richard Bentley, 1858), 4-5.
 The letters of Horace Walpole (4th Earl of Orford), Volume 10, P. J. Toynbee, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1904), 158.
 Lowther Pennington Court Martial, WO 71/85, 167-182, BNA.
 H. C. B. Rogers, The British Army of the Eighteenth Century (London: Allen & Unwin, 1977), 40-41.
 Lowther Pennington Court Martial.
 Burke, Burke’s Peerage, 31.
 Lowther Pennington Court Martial.
 Historical Record of the 44th, or East Essex Regiment of Foot, Thomas Carter, compiler (London: W. O. Mitchell, 1864), 25.
 Calendar of the Correspondence of George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, with the Officers, Volume 1 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1914), 227.
 Savoyard – a person or the dialect (patois) from the Duchy of Savoy (Savoie), which destabilized by the end of the 17th century; in the 18th century, displaced Savoyards populated the ranks of Paris chimneysweeps, and certain streets of London echoed with the vielles (large violins) and songs of Savoyard minstrels.
 Lowther Pennington Court Martial.
 The American Quarterly Review, Volume 2, September & December, 1827.
 Lowther Pennington Court Martial. We shall not offer editorial opinions about the use of parentheses in the original transcripts, merely suggest there may be a reason the phrases “to my great Astonishment” and “I should have mentioned …” were both framed in this manner.
 The Annual Register, or a View of the History, Politics, and Literature for the Year 1777 (London: J. Dodsley, 1778), 209.
 The American Quarterly Review.
 The Suffolk Garland: Or, A Collection of Poems, Songs, Tales, Ballads, Sonnets, and Elegies, Legendary and Romantic, Historical and Descriptive, Relative to that County: And Illustrative of Its Scenery, Places, Biography, Manners, Habits and Customs (Ipswich: John Raw, 1818), 298.
 The Suffolk Garland, 296. Lady Bridget Henley, the daughter of Robert 1st Earl of Northington, and the relict of the Hon George Lane Fox, only son of Lord Bingley.
 The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1821, by F. Jefferies [Sylvanus Urban], (London: John Nichols & Son, 1821), Volume 129 , 278.
 Kevin J. Hayes, Melville’s Folk Roots (Kent, OH: Kent University Press, 1999), 11.
 Col. Daniel Mac Kinnon, Origin And Services Of The Coldstream Guards, Volume 2 (London: Richard Bentley, 1833), 8.
 William Anderson, The Scottish Nation; Or, The Surnames, Families, Literature, Honours, And Biographical History Of The People Of Scotland, Volume 2 (Edinburgh: A. Fullarton & Co, 1867), 115.
 I. N. Phelps Stokes, The iconography of Manhattan Island, Volume 1 (NY: RH Dodd, 1915), 616. Also known as the Province Arms, City Arms, New-York City Arms, York Arms, or [Robert] Hull’s Tavern, at 115 Broadway – in Lower Manhattan.
 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 842-64.
 New York State Bar Association, Proceedings of the 29th Annual Meeting of the NY State Bar Association (Albany: Argus Printers, 1906), 462-463.