The Tragedies in Aaron Burr’s Life
Aaron Burr’s parents both died when he was two years old. He and sister Sally were temporarily cared for by their grand parents, but they also died of Yellow Fever while Aaron was two and Sally was four in 1758.
After graduating from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), and attending religion school and law school, he enlisted in the continental army. He volunteered for the battle of Quebec at age 19. In the fall and winter of 1775, 1100 soldiers crossed Maine, and most starved: “They were reduced to live upon dogs and reptiles; and, at length, to devour the leather of their shoes and cartridge boxes, and any thing, however loathsome, which contained the smallest nutriment.” While most of this force died around him, he survived.
At 20, he was assigned to George Washington's staff in New York City. For six weeks he wrote letters for the Commander in Chief, but resigned as a secretary to see action on the front lines where he distinguished himself. Washington resented it, and punished Burr for the rest of his life.
At the Battle of Monmouth, Colonel Burr’s horse was shot dead, tumbling him to the ground. His second in command, Colonel Dummer was killed.
Aaron Burr married the widow Theodosia Prevost, ten years his senior, and adopted her five children. In 1783, their daughter, Theodosia Bartow Burr was born, but two boys were stillborn, and daughter Sally Burr died at age three.
For four years, his wife Theodosia suffered chronic pain and in 1794, she died of stomach cancer at 48.
Newspaper editors such as American Citizen editor James Cheetham, who were unaccountable for the truth victimized Burr. He sued Cheetham for libel.
Senator Burr began writing a history of the Revolutionary War, but Secretary of State Jefferson (who never fought in it) closed the library access to him.
Burr survived two duels with John Church in 1799 and his brother-in-law Alexander Hamilton in 1804.
In 1797, Aaron’s sister Sally Burr Reeve died at age 43. Her only son Aaron Burr Reeve, and his son died as young men.
In 1801, Theodosia married Joseph Alston. They made Niagara Falls a honeymoon destination but moved to South Carolina, where Joseph later became governor. Burr’s only grandson, Aaron Burr Alston was born there in 1802, but died in 1812.
After the duel, and end of the vice presidency where he alienated President Jefferson by stopping him from controlling the Judicial Branch, Burr traveled to Ohio and led settlers toward Louisiana when everyone thought war with Spain was imminent. (But the Alamo occurred much later.) As a backup polan if war did not occur, Burr purchased the Bastrop Tract that would not allow cotton growing. The Plantation owners realized that if Burr, the "most radical abolitionist of his time" were to have a settlement that would welcome escaped slaves in 1806, the slavery system would be ruined. So Virginian Jefferson ordered Burr arrested for treason. Neither knew that the Army commander James Wilkinson was a spy for Spain. Burr defended himself from being hung in the famous Richmond trial, despite the government bribing the main witness with $10,000.
Burr traveled to Europe, but Napoleon’s regime would not let him back to America. Theodosia wrote to Dolley Madison, and two months later, Napoleon’s aides issued Burr a passport. He returned to NY and wrote Theodosia he was back.
In 1812, Theodosia set sail from Georgetown, SC aboard the schooner Patriot headed for New York to meet her father. She took trunks of his letters. Burr would go to the docks each day, but the Patriot never arrived. It was lost at sea, possibly by pirates or storm. Theodosia was never seen again.
Theodosia once wrote: "I had rather not live than not be the daughter of such a man."
Her distraught widower, Governor Joseph Alston died four years later.
Burr spent his sixties and seventies as a New York attorney, and at age 77 married the wealthy widow Madame Jumel. She thought he was after her money that she was saving for some reason. She accused him of adultery, and divorced him the day he died on Staten Island at age 80.
Burr became the victim of historical fiction and sensationalized literature. People who felt women should not be treated equally with men called him a womanizer. This unfair accusation of a gentleman who was interested in women's minds persists through the ages, and is totally untrue. Of course the country's "first feminist" would be attacked. It did not help that Matthew Davis claimed to burn letters from women whom Burr had embarrassed. (Nonsense) Perhaps Davis was upset that he and oarsman Mr. Wilson were sent to Bridewell prison for being with Burr on the morning of the duel, some thirty years earlier. Perhaps this sensationalism is what he sought, as do the morally correct and indignant.
Aaron was always faithful to his wife Theodosia while she was alive. As a widower, he did court women such as Celeste, whom he would not marry after Theodosia died. While destitute and stuck in Paris by himself at age 55, he did have sexual encounters, but always with women who met him half way.
In 1835 and 1858 biographers Samuel Knapp and then James Parton, (who as a boy played outside Burr’s house) wrote The Life and Times of Aaron Burr to correct most misconceptions about this founding father.
In 1946 Samuel Engle Burr, Jr. founded The Aaron Burr Association, a nonprofit organization, as one means of presenting facts and counteracting misinformation.
Why don't you consider joining our organization? We'd love to have you as a member.