American Fencing in the 18th Century

When we think of fencing during the Renaissance we tend to think of France or Italy, which were indeed the centres of the sword arts.

But did you know there was another major center of fencing?

Between 1754 and 1787, New York City was a veritable hub for American fencers, with at least fourteen fencing schools total, eleven of which operated in a concentrated area of lower Manhattan that could be spanned during a twenty-minute walk. By way of comparison, Paris, traditionally thought of as the Mecca for European fencing, contained about eighteen fencing schools during the same period. (30) The oldest New York fencing school of which we have record opened sometime prior to July 12, 1731[.] (Miller, 2009)

In fact, according to Miller, guns were still fairly uncommon in America in the 17th and 18th centuries, and most militia didn’t have enough guns for more than a third of their number. Even when they did fight, he says, they tended to fire the guns once, throw them down, and then leap into close combat with the enemy. (Which makes sense when you consider how long the things took to load.) So being skilled with weapons was a major part of defending your home and loved ones in the colonial period.

Fencing in America: 1620 – 1800 from the Association for Historical Fencing’s Library