The Adams family was well known in Mississippi. Dan’s father, George, had been active in politics and was appointed a federal judge by President Andrew Jackson. During a highly charged investigation of the state treasurer in 1843, Dr. James Hagan, editor of The Vicksburg Sentinel, published a piece that called into question the judge’s own conduct. On the afternoon of June 7, the 22-year-old Dan took it upon himself to defend his father’s honor. Adams confronted Hagan near his boardinghouse, and a scuffle ensued in which Adams pulled out a pistol and fatally shot Hagan in the head.
A reporter for The New Orleans Courier claimed Adams walked up behind Hagan and hit him with his cane without provocation. The two men then grappled and fell to the ground, with Hagan on top. According to the reporter, “Adams drew a pistol from his pocket while down, and placed it at the back of Hagan’s head; the ball, entering the spine, caused instant death. Dr. Hagan was unarmed, and [there was] no person near to offer assistance.”
The Washington [Mississippi] Globe claimed “Young Mr. Adams was, not long since, a student in this District. His manners and his countenance are kind and prepossessing. We know his father well, and his race on the mother’s side. On both sides he comes of a brave, generous, enthusiastic, honorable parentage, utterly incapable of a cowardly act.”
Despite the conflicting accounts, authorities charged Adams with murder, but he was quickly released on a $6,000 bond. At his trial, the jury accepted the claim of self-defense and acquitted him.
James O'Hagan was born in County Derry, Ireland