John Hampden Pleasants

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John Hampden Pleasants
Born (1797-01-04)January 4, 1797
Goochland County, Virginia
Died March 1, 1846(1846-03-01) (aged 49)
Occupation Journalist, businessman
Spouse(s) Ann Elizabeth Irvine (1818–1819)
Mary Massie (1829–1846, his death)
Children 1 (with Mary Massie)
Parent(s) James Pleasants
Susanna Lawson Rose

John Hampden Pleasants (January 4, 1797 – March 1, 1846) was an American journalist and businessman.[1] He is known as the editor and founder of the Richmond Whig, a daily Confederate newspaper that was active during the Civil War. Pleasants died on March 1, 1846 after participating in a duel with Thomas Ritchie, who was the editor of a rival newspaper, the Richmond Enquirer.[2]


Pleasants was born on January 4, 1797 in Goochland County, Virginia to James and Susanna Lawson Rose Pleasants.[3] He studied at the College of William and Mary for one session, after which point he began studying law. While Pleasants was able to open his own practice, his fear of public speaking and lack of conversational skills kept him from succeeding in the profession.[3] In 1820 Pleasants purchased interest in the Lynchburg Press and began serving as an editor. Four years later he founded the Richmond Whig.[3]

Pleasants married his cousin Ann Elizabeth Irvine in the spring of 1818, but their marriage was short lived as she died after only a year of marriage. This marriage produced no children. Ten years later in 1829 Pleasants married Mary Massie, with whom he had one child.[2]

Black civil rights activist Mary Ellen Pleasant claimed to be his daughter.

Richmond Whig and duel with Ritchie[edit]

The newspaper served the Whig Party and during its run was one of the four major newspapers in the city of Richmond, Virginia.[4] Like many newspapers during the Civil War, the Richmond Whig published viewpoints and news on the institution of slavery and some of these viewpoints put Pleasants at odds with Thomas Ritchie, who edited the rival newspaper the Richmond Enquirer.[5] The arguments between the two men were known to grow so fierce that they used their own newspapers as an avenue for heated discussions and journalists from other newspapers as far as Philadelphia would occasionally take part in their debates.[6] Neither man was opposed to the emancipation of slaves, although Ritchie favored a slower emancipation process than Pleasants.[6]

Eventually the contempt between the two men grew to the point where Ritchie called Pleasants an abolitionist and a coward. While Pleasants did lobby for the freeing of slaves he took issue with being called an abolitionist, a term that was seen as an insult in slaveholding states.[7] As a result Pleasants challenged Ritchie to a duel and the two men met on February 25, 1846 in Manchester, Virginia.[8]

Accounts of the duel differ slightly. Some allege that Pleasants had loaded his pistol with blanks, as he had only wanted to frighten his opponent, while others state that he had fired into the air.[5][8] During the duel the two men initially shot at one another but later moved to swords. Ritchie managed to stab Pleasants in the abdomen with a sword, after which point he then fatally shot Pleasants.[6][9] Pleasants died instantly. Ritchie was tried for the crime but was acquitted, as dueling was not illegal during this point in time. Despite his early vehemence towards the other man, Ritchie was greatly remorseful for his actions and later left Pleasants's daughter a large sum of money in his will.[6]


  1. ^ Dabney, Virginius (1990). Richmond: The Story of a City. University of Virginia Press. pp. 129, 130, 109. ISBN 9780813934303. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Pleasants family Papers, 1745-1898". Library of Virginia. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  3. ^ a b c American Review: A Whig Journal. Edward O. Jenkins. 1847. pp. 285–294. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  4. ^ Tunnell, Ted. "Confederate Newspapers in Virginia During the Civil War". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  5. ^ a b Waddelove, Anna. "Richmond History: Duel in Richmond". Richmond Times Dispatch. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d Dallmeyer, Diane C. (2011). Chesterfield County Chronicles: Stories from the James to the Appomattox. The History Press. pp. 43–44. ISBN 9781609491420. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  7. ^ Goings, Henry (2012). Rambles of a Runaway from Southern Slavery. University of Virginia Press. ISBN 9780813932385. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  8. ^ a b Bridges, Peter (2002). Pen of Fire: John Moncure Daniel. Kent State University Press. pp. 27, 46. ISBN 9780873387361. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  9. ^ Grimsted, David (1998). American Mobbing, 1828-1861 : Toward Civil War: Toward Civil War. Oxford University Press. p. 89. ISBN 9780195353662. Retrieved 19 October 2015.

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