Enoch Poor went off to fight with the Continental Army in 1775, and fought in every major battle of the Revolution until he died in 1780 outside Hackensack, N.J. But it wasn’t the British who killed him. On that, at least, everyone agrees.
Poor was originally from Andover, Mass., born June 21, 1736, the son of a soldier. In 1755 he enlisted as a private in one of the Massachusetts units that fought in the French and Indian War. Upon returning home, he eloped. He and his new wife moved to Exeter, N.H., where he became a successful shipbuilder.
He was a vocal supporter of the anti-British agitators in the 1760s, and after the Battle of Lexington and Concord he restarted his military career, becoming the colonel of the Second New Hampshire regiment.
Poor’s regiment stayed in New Hampshire through the Battle of Bunker Hill, but after that fight it joined the Continental Army. It fought throughout the war at battles of Trois-Rivières, Trenton, Princeton, Hubbardton, Saratoga, Monmouth, and finally Yorktown. His regiment accompanied Gen. Richard Montgomery on the disastrous invasion of Canada. Poor and his men also went with Gen. John Sullivan to western New York, where they destroyed some 40 Iroquois villages.
Poor, however, did not see the war to the end. He died in New Jersey in September of 1780. Diaries of other soldiers reported that he died on September 8 after suffering from a bilious fever for several days. Typhus was the suspected cause.
Over the years, however, another story has always haunted Poor’s legacy. Conspiracy theorists say the cause of his death actually represents one of the earliest American political coverups. This school of thought holds that Poor actually died as the result of wound suffered in a duel.
Dueling was against military rules and could have resulted in court martial and disgrace, reason enough for a cover up. And a fever quite likely could have accompanied a bullet wound.
The Massachusetts Historical Society put forth this theory in the 1880s, in its official proceedings, when it published “The Duel of General Poor with Major Porter.”
Essentially, the story holds that Poor, known as a demanding leader, instructed Major John Porter of Bridgewater, Mass., on one hot August day to rouse his resting troops and have them continue marching. The recalcitrant troops stayed seated and Poor had to repeat the command, to which Porter responded rudely.
In the follow up exchange, Porter challenged Poor to a duel.
“The seconds arranged that each should stand back to back against the other with loaded pistol in hand, that each should advance five paces, fire over the shoulder at the other when the word should be given, and that they should then advance and finish the contest with swords. At the fire General Poor fell, wounded by the ball of his adversary. Major Porter, not wounded, instantly turned and drew his sword, when the seconds interfered and stopped all further proceedings. General Poor’s wound proved fatal, and he died on the 8th of September following. The affair was hushed up as much as possible, but Major Porter was not long after relieved of his command.”
Both generals Washington and Lafayette attended his funeral and grieved his passing. But how did he really die? Skeptics would say it is unlikely that either man would resort to dueling. Porter was a minister in civilian life, and Poor was a respected officer. But the story remains unresolved to this day, with various sources split on exactly why Enoch Poor lies buried in Hackensack instead of back home in Exeter.
This story was updated in 2021.
Images: Enoch Poor’s burial site CC BY 2.5, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12017247.