A Colorless “league” – Crossing the Color Barrier

A Colorless “league” – Crossing the Color Barrier

American Fencing Magazine, Fall 2005
Article by Andy Shaw
At the founding of the USFA (called the Amateur Fencers’ League of America), the Executive Committee was formed with two members of each of five clubs in New York City.

To become a member of the “League”, a man (women could not join) had to be proposed by one member and seconded by another. The league was not going to allow professionals to prejudice their national championships. The league was populated by the “right people” in New York society.

The first colored people in American fencing fenced in New Orleans, Louisiana.

A man known as Black Austin was a free Negro fencing master in New Orleans in the 1800’s. Robert Severin, a mulatto fencing master, also taught in New Orleans, as did Basil Croquere, another mulatto fencing master,” the most remarkable colored fencing master of Louisiana”, wrote Stuart O. Landry in his dueling in old New Orleans c. 1950. But New Orleans was an exception as it refused to join the league until 1940 and it’s Fencers’ Federation of New Orleans held international tournaments open to professionals and amateurs from all over the world with noentry fee.

But our fencing association had no people with color for many years.

Here is an excerpt from the Riposte Magazine, the fencing magazine prior to American Fencing.

American Fencing Potentialities

It is estimated that there are between 100,000 and 150,000 fencers in the United States. There are approximately 131,000,000 people in the United States, which means that 1/10 of 1%, or 1 person in 1,000 knows anything about fencing. According to the latest A.F.L.A. records, 1 person in 109,000 is sufficiently interested in organized fencing to join the league.

Read moreA Colorless “league” – Crossing the Color Barrier

Early 19th Century American Fencing

Some notes on American Fencing in the early 19th century.  Andrew Jackson advocated training in swordplay, and urged training in foils for its value as a discipline. In a paper on military practice he remarked:  “Fencing sharpens the eyesight, increases active power in general, tries the temper, and teaches decision in seizing occasions for acting offensively with effect, or defensively with coolness and resolution. A knowledge to fence with foils, even to exercise with sabre or broadsword, is deemed a necessary accomplishment for all military men of the higher class.”


Lexington, Kentucky was a newly settled community in 1800 and there was a fencing master in town.
from “Lexington : Frontier Metropolis” by Mayo p. 27


“A Treatise On The Art Of Fencing For the use of the Officers of the United States, dedicated to the officers of Virginia” by T De St Margueritte, Winchester, 1808.
Our thanks to Malcolm Fare of England for bringing this text to our attention.

Anyone with information about a father and son fencing coach team with the name Rossiere from New Orleans, please contact Andy !


In 1827, Francis Lieber, a disciple of Prussia’s Friedrich Jahn, came to America and founded the Boston Gymnasium. Fencing received a small measure of popularity among colleges and gymnasiums for a short period of time.
from “Brief History of Physical Education” by Rice, p. 156


Robert Jackson (1750-1827) advocated training in swordplay, and urged training in foils for its value as a discipline. In a paper on military practice he remarked:  “Fencing sharpens the eyesight, increases active power in general, tries the temper, and teaches decision in seizing occasions for acting offensively with effect, or defensively with coolness and resolution. A knowledge to fence with foils, even to exercise with sabre or broadsword, is deemed a necessary accomplishment for all military men of the higher class.” Jackson, “View of the Formation, Discipline, and Economy of Armies,” quoted in the preface of Wayne, “The Sword Exercise Arranged for Military Instruction.”


Thomas Stephens published a fencing manual in 1843. It was entitled “A New System of Broad and Small Sword Exercise, comprising the broad sword exercise for Cavalry and the small sword cut and thrust practice for Infantry, to which are added instructions in horsemanship.” Stephens wrote on the development of a system of attack and defense for purely practical combative purposes. He offered a series of observations designed to aid the aspiring swordsman.


In 1844, H. R. Hershberger, the instructor of riding at the United States Military Academy, published a text on horsemanship with a section devoted to sabre training. He recommended bouts between mounted swordsmen for the purpose of military training. His training consisted of seven cuts, two thrusts and three parries.


Captain H. Martin, Fencing Master, was instructing in San Francisco. He was described as “a tenacious little man, who had more courage and will power than science.”   Also in 1849, Brevet Major Henry Wayne published a work called, “The Sword Exercise Arranged for Military Instruction.”  He taught a method for sabre, espadon, and stick, and demonstrated techniques for opposing various combinations of weapons.; It devoted some space to foil work especially as a means to learning to useProfessor Jacobi the espadon or small sword. The foil illustrated by Wayne had a short thick “gripe,” with a “figure eight” guard and a very small pommel. Wayne preferred a flat-bladed foil, 31 inches long, which should curve for three quarters of its length. The foil for the assault should be an inch longer, with a square blade tapering from shoulder to point and should, when bent, curve its whole length. The fencer’s costume should consist of a loosely fitting jacket of brown linen, with standing collar, to button on the left side; the right side, with the sleeves of the right arm, from the elbow to the shoulder, to be faced with strong buckskin, or other pliable leather. Over this was to be worn a plastron of soft leather on the outside and strong linen underneath, stuffed to the thickness of half an inch with hair. The jacket should be complemented by loose easy pantaloons, a black silk cravat, an iron wire mask, with wings for the protection of the ears and side face, and a slipper for the right foot and a sandal for the left. from “The Sword Exercise Arranged for Military Instruction” by Wayne pp 7-12


Entered, according to an act of Congress, in the year 1852, by George B. McClellan, in the Office of the Clerk of the District Court of the United States in and for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania:
by George B. McClellan
Commander-In-Chief U.S. Army
Printed by order of the War Department
J. P. Lippincott & Company


The Boston Fencing Club opens its doors.  One of its rules provided that “No females shall be admitted to the club-rooms under any pretext whatsoever, except by permission of a member of the government of the club.”  In addition to females, dogs and beverages were excluded from the salle. The club’s mission was “to afford its members, at a small annual assessment, a convenient salle d’armes with a competent instructor, or instructors, free from the objections and inconveniences which apply to Fencing Schools open to the public.


A book was written by Captain Matthew W. Berriman, and a second edition in 1862.   “The MILITIAMAN’S MANUAL, AND SWORDPLAY WITHOUT A MASTER.”
Rapier and Broad-Sword Exercises copiously explained and illustrated
“The most perfect manual ever placed in the soldier’s hand.  Should be carried in every soldier’s knapsack.”
Published by D. Van Nostrand , 192 Broadway, first published November 9, 1858
“The sword exercise is of all others the most graceful, sanatory and invigorating; it expands the chest, gives poise and agility to the figure, quickens the eye and hand with new excitement, and sends that chivalrous hot current through the veins which only the practiced Swordsman can experience. More than all other means of defence or attack, the sword is the weapon of the gentleman; the weapon of chivalry and romance; the weapon of Murat and Marion.”


The New York Times, February 21, 1875:


One of our Winter Evening’s Amusements.
Where and How It Is Done — New York Salles D’Armes
A Contrast Between Different Styles at Different Periods —
The Italian, French, and Spanish Schools.
View the text of the entire article.


December 28, 1880 – NY Times:

For some time past, especially since the opening of the present season, New York women have been receiving instruction in fencing, and they like, as women usually like anything and everything new. Apart from its novelty, it is so healthful an exercise that it has been recommended by different physicians on medical grounds alone. Those who have practiced it have, they say, experienced much benefit, and are enthusiastic on its behalf. It develops their chests and muscles, quickens their blood, steadies their nerves, and helps them in many ways. Fencing is particularly advantageous to persons of sedentary habit and delicate constitution, which includes the majority of American women residing in cities. They need exercise sorely, and to their lack of it must be ascribed many of their ailments, much of their invalidism. While fencing is active, excellent exercise, it is not violent, requires no special amount of muscle and no straining, and is, therefore, admirably adapted to women. Flexibility of limb, which the other sex commonly have in a conspicuous degree, as well as quickness of eye and delicacy of touch, are always important in sword play, and are, consequently, inducements to women to learn it. Foils are light enough, ordinarily, for any woman to handle, and can be made lighter if necessary. It is odd that women have not taken up fencing before this, so well are they qualified for it. They would probably have done so, had they not considered it a purely masculine accomplishment. The argument formerly employed against fencing-that it encouraged dueling-could not apply to women, even were this a dueling age and country, which, fortunately, it is not. A good many fashions and customs originate in New York that are unworthy of countenance or imitation. Fencing is not one of them, and we hope that the country in general will be eager and energetic to emulate the Metropolis in this particular.

A number of Professors of Arms, as they style themselves, advertise to give women public or private lessons, and some of them say that they have found their feminine pupils very apt and skillful. Married women are as much benefited as, indeed more benefited than, unmarried women by sword play. It is to be hoped that all women who can afford it will take lessons. Fencing will not only give a new departure to their mind, it will yield them a new pursuit; it will, too, redden their cheeks, brighten their eyes, stimulate their brains, round their figures, augment their gracefulness, increase their agility and strength- in a word, improve materially both their health and beauty. When anything appeals to the aesthetic as well as the hygienic in woman it ought to enlist her interest, especially when it is no trouble, and its advantages are palpable.


Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly
1884 , Volume 17 page 671
“The Origin of Fencing”
From the first invention of the sword down to the period when the fifteenth century was drawing to a close, the weapon had always been used as an arm of offense. The person using it thrust or hewed into the body of his antagonist whenever he had a chance, and the only defense against it was a stout armor or an interposed shield. It is not to be supposed that an ancient warrior, or one belonging to the earlier Middle Ages, never thrust aside or parried with his own a stroke of his enemy’s; but this method of defense was not depended upon in those days; the breastplate, the helmet, or the buckler, was expected to shield the soldier while he was endeavoring to get his sword into some unprotected portion of the body of his antagonist. But about the time of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain the science of fencing was invented. This new system of fighting gave an entirely new use to the sword. It now became a weapon of defense as well as offense. Long, slender rapiers, sharpened only at the point, were the swords used in fencing. Armed with one of these, a gallant knight or high-toned courier, who chose the new method of combat, disdained the use of armor; the strokes of his opponent were warded off by his own light weapon, and whichever of the two contestants was enabled to disarm the other, or deliver a thrust which could not be parried, could drive the sharp point of his rapier into the body of his opponent if he felt so inclined. The rapier, which was adopted to combat two persons, and not for general warfare, soon became the weapon of the duelist; and as duels used to be as common as lawsuits are now, it was thought necessary that a man should know how to fence, and thus protect the life and honor of himself, his family, and his friends.


Records show that many women, mostly actresses, were studying fencing at Regis Senac’s school above the Broadway Theatre in New York City. Smith College also added fencing to their curriculum about the same time.

March 22, 1885

5:1 NY Times

May 31, 1885

An Evening At Their Club In
Twenty-Fourth Street.

A Glimpse of Novelists, Poets, Critics
Essayists, and Magazine Editors in
Their Hours of Recreation.



It was common practice to fence without the use of masks well into the 1800’s. Conventional wisdom said that people of breeding would never stoop to striking another in the face. Here’s what Major W. J. Elliott says in his book, “THE ART OF ATTACK AND DEFENCE,” 1886: “On no account should practice with the foil against an adversary be engaged in, without placing a wire mask over the face. The author when fencing many years ago with his brother, both without masks, was struck on the shoulder with a return point. The foil snapped, the jagged blade swept upwards, and struck the author’s cheek above the bone and just under the eye, inflicting an ugly wound. Let this statement act as a warning.”


1887 “Fencing and the New York Fencers” Century Magazine Vol. VII January
1887 by Henry Eckford
View the entire text of the article here.

April 9, 1887

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, 117
New York City, Fencing Tournament at Cosmopolitan Hall held on March 28th, 1887.
Louis Tronchet of the Paris Fencing Academy wins the Professional Fencing Championship of America over Regis Senac.

Early American Fencing 17th & 18th Century

Although fencing didn’t truly flourish in America until the 19th century, here are some of the earliest American references to the teaching of fencing.  The appearance of a fencing school in Boston indicates an increased interest in recreation in Puritan life, as per the "Encyclopedia of American Facts and Dates" by Gorton Carruth.


The appearance of a fencing school in Boston indicates an increased interest in recreation in Puritan life, as per the "Encyclopedia of American Facts and Dates" by Gorton Carruth.


"A Complete System of Fencing or The Art of Defence" by Edward Blackwell

Printed in Williamsburg, Va. In 1734 Printed and Published by William Parks This is the first book on sports to be published in the United States.


"As was but natural, fencing came to America with the Spaniards and Frenchmen who generally antedate the Dutch and English. The period was that of great, but not the greatest, eminence in sword-play. In 1754, John Rievers, apparently a hollander, taught fencing and dancing to the colonists in New York at the corner of Whitehall and Stone streets, doubtless encouraged more or less by the british officers in the garrison here. The period was still favorable to side-arms, and most gentlemen were supposed to know how to handle a small-sword."

This was written by HENRY ECKFORD "Fencing and the New York Fencers" 1887 In "Century Magazine," Volume VII January, 1887 , p. 414-7


(continued from Eckford’s "Fencing and the New York Fencers.") "W. C. Hulett appears in 1770 to have needed a wider range of accomplishments to earn a livelihood, for in addition to the small-sword, he taught dancing, the violin and the flute."

Eugene Higgins


(continued from Eckford’s "Fencing and the NY Fencers.") "In 1789 somebody too delicate to give his name, probably an emigre of good family, opened a fencing school at No. 4 Great Dock Street (now Pearl Street). By the end of the year he seems to have decided to cry mackerel in a louder voice, if he be that same M. Villette who uses the "Daily Advertiser" in September of 1789: [the ad reads] FENCING ACADEMY M. Villette respectfully informs the gentlemen amateurs of Fencing, that he intends opening his Academy on the 5th of October in Cortland Street, the second door from Greenwich Street, where that noble art will be taught every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.


Noah Webster wrote, "when it iz not the lot of yung persons to labor, in agriculture or mekanic arts, some laborious amusement should be constantly and daily performed as a substitute, and none iz preferable to fencing. A fencing school iz perhaps az necessary an institution in a college, az a professorship of mathematics" Noah Webster, An Address To Yung Gentlemen, p. 379