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Waightstill Avery (10 May 1741, Groton, Connecticut – 13 March 1821, Morganton, North Carolina) was an early American lawyer and soldier. He is noted for fighting a duel with future U.S. president Andrew Jackson in 1788.


Avery was descended from the Plantagenet Kings of England, as well as several Magna Charta Sureties and William Marshal (1st Earl of Pembroke) through his grandmother Susan / Susannah Palmes (c. 1665 - 2 October 1747, Groton CT). He was a descendant of Christopher Avery (born England, died 12 March 1670) who had come to America in 1630 aboard the Arbella as part of the Winthrop Fleet.

Avery married Leah Probart Francks (d. 13 January 1832) on 3 October 1778 in New Bern, North Carolina.

A grandson, Isaac E. Avery, served as a colonel in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, perishing at the Battle of Gettysburg. Another grandson was William Waightstill Avery, speaker of the North Carolina Senate and a member of the Confederate Congress. [1]


Avery was elected to the colonial assembly in 1772 and served as attorney-general for the Crown. In 1775 and 1776, Avery was elected to the North Carolina Provincial Congresses and in that capacity helped draft the first North Carolina Constitution. He was the first Attorney General of North Carolina (1777–1779) and a colonel in the state’s militia during the American Revolutionary War; he also served in the North Carolina General Assembly (the House of Commons in 1782, 1783, 1784, 1785, 1793, and the Senate in 1796). He was among the early instigators clamoring for the colony's independence from Great Britain.

According to the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (ed. Powell, Vol I. p. 70) "In 1780, while occupying Charlotte, Cornwallis ordered the burning of Avery's office; of his books and papers, only those stored at the home of his friend Hezekiah Alexander were saved. This evidence of displeasure was visited only upon those whom Cornwallis considered leading offenders.”

Duel with Andrew Jackson

In 1788, Avery was challenged to a duel by Andrew Jackson, then a young territorial lawyer. Avery, also a lawyer, would often proclaim "I refer to Bacon"—meaning The Elements of the Common Laws of England, the noted law text written by Francis Bacon—when making a point. Jackson once replaced a copy of the text with an actual side of bacon in Avery’s saddlebags. When Avery criticized him for levity in the courtroom, “Old Hickory” issued the duel challenge. The two men met on the field of honor, each intentionally missed the other while firing, and they left fast friends.


Avery County, North Carolina was named for him, as is the Waightstill Avery Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Brevard, North Carolina.

External links

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