Today In Charleston History – October 28, Ladd-Issacs Duel

OCTOBER 28 – Ladd- Issacs Duel

  Dr. Joseph Brown Ladd met Ralph Issacs in a duel on Philadelphia Alley at dawn, approximately 6:30 a.m.


Philadelphia Alley, Charleston, SC. Photo by author

In the spring of 1784  nineteen-year-old Dr. Joseph Brown Ladd arrived in Charleston from Rhode Island to establish a medical practice. He was fleeing vicious rumors about his character spread by the relatives of a woman, Amanda, he wished to marry. Amanda, an orphan, was from a wealthy family, but her fortune was held in a trust controlled by her uncle, who would lose access to the fortune if she married.

However, none of that scandal was known to the residents of Charleston and Ladd quickly became a popular man about town. Over the next two years,  he published over seventy poems in the American Museum, one of the most influential magazines in America, with a subscription list that included Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington. 

Ladd also became part of Charleston’s intellectual and social community. On July 4, 1785, at the invitation of Governor William Moultrie, he delivered a patriotic address before the Sons of Cincinnati of South Carolina.

On October 12, 1786, Dr. Ladd responded to a public smear campaign by Ralph Issacs in the Charleston Morning Post. Issacs was jealous of Ladd’s success in Charleston society and publicly called Ladd a “social climber that cared only for money … a quack.”

Ladd responded in the paper by writing, “I account it one of the misfortunes of my life that I ever became friends with such a man.”

Four days later, Ralph Issacs responded to Dr. Ladd:

I dare affirm that the event of a little time will convince the world that the self-created doctor is as blasted a scoundrel as ever disgraced humanity.

Issacs then challenged to settle the affair “with honor” – a duel. 

At dawn on October 28, Ladd met Ralph Issacs in a duel on Philadelphia Alley. There was a fog hanging on the narrow alley next to St. Philip’s Church graveyard. Dr. Ladd had the honor of the first shot and fired into the air.

Issacs, not able to clearly see Ladd due to the fog, hollered out, “Hah! You missed!” Then he fired at the vague outline of Dr. Ladd standing in the mist. Ladd was struck in the right knee, shattering bone and Ladd fell to the ground screaming in agony. He was carried to his boarding house at 59 Church Street. 



59 Church Street, Charleston, SC. Photo by author.


On November 2,  Dr. Joseph Brown Ladd died from his injuries.

For more complete details of the story, read this entry from the book Charleston Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City, by James Caskey, the most historically accurate book about Charleston hauntings and paranormal activity.