BURR, Aaron, clergyman, born in
Fairfield, Connecticut, 4 January, 1716; died 24 September, 1757. He belonged to
a Puritan family that for three generations had given to church and state men of
eminence. He was graduated at Yale in his nineteenth year, having gained one of
the three Berkeley scholarships, which entitled him to maintenance at the
College for two years after graduating. While pursuing his post-graduate studies
he was converted, and at once turned his attention to theology.
At the age of twenty-two he became pastor of the Presbyterian church in
Newark, New Jersey, where he soon acquired a commanding reputation as a pulpit
orator. Here he also established a school for boys, which proved highly
successful. He prepared for his pupils a Latin grammar known as the "Newark
Grammar" (1752), which was long in use at Princeton. In later years he
published a small work on the "Supreme Deity of Our Lord Jesus
Christ" (new ed., 1791), with an occasional sermon.
In 1748, at the age of thirty-two, he became president of the College
of New Jersey, but without interrupting his pastoral service. In the summer
of 1752 he married Esther, daughter of Jonathan Edwards, of Stockbridge,
Massachusetts. In the autumn of 1756 he resigned his charge at Newark and
removed to Princeton, where he died from overwork. He left two children, Sarah,
born 3 May, 1754, and Aaron. As scholar, preacher, author, and educator,
President Burr was one of the foremost men of his time. To his more solid
qualities were added a certain grace and distinguished style of manner, which
re-appeared in his son. Though nominally the second president of Princeton, he
was practically the first, since the former. Jonathan
Dickinson, only served for a few months. He was in a true sense its founder,
and the College may be said to be his monument. Six of its presidents are buried
in Princeton by his side.
Burr, statesman, born in Newark, New Jersey, 6 February, 1756; died
on Staten Island, New York, 14 September, 1836. His mother was Esther Edwards,
the flower of the remarkable family to which she belonged, celebrated for her
beauty as well as for her superior intellect and devout piety. In the truest
sense, Aaron Burr was well born. Jonathan Edwards, his grandfather, illustrious
as divine and metaphysician, had been elected to succeed his son-in-law as
president of Princeton, but died of a fever, resulting from inoculation for
small-pox, before he had fairly entered upon his work. Mrs. Burr, his daughter,
died of a similar disease sixteen days later. The infant Aaron and his sister
Sarah, left doubly orphaned, were placed in charge of their uncle, the Rev.
Timothy Edwards, of Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), New Jersey A handsome fortune
having been bequeathed to them by their father, their education was conducted in
a liberal manner; a private tutor was provided, Tapping Reeve, who afterward
married his pupil, Sarah Burr, and became judge of the Supreme Court of
Connecticut. A bright, mischievous boy, and difficult to control Aaron was still
sufficiently studious to be prepared to enter Princeton at the age of eleven,
though he was not admitted on account of his extreme youth. He was very small,
but strikingly handsome, with fine black eyes and the engaging ways that became
a fascination in his maturer life.
In 1769 he was allowed as a favor to enter the sophomore class, though only in
his thirteenth year. He was
a fairly diligent student and an extensive reader, and was graduated with
distinction in September, 1772. Stories of wild dissipation during his College
course are probably exaggerations. Just before his graduation the College was
profoundly stirred by religious excitement, and young Burr, who confessed that
he was moved by the revival, resorted to Dr. Witherspoon, the president, for
advice. The doctor quieted his anxiety by telling him that the excitement was
fanatical. Not entirely satisfied, he went in the autumn of the next year to
live for a while in the family of the famous theologian, Dr. Bellamy, of
Bethlehem, Connecticut, with the ostensible purpose of settling his mind with
regard to the claims of Christianity. The result was a great surprise to his
friends, if not to himself; he deliberately rejected the gospel and adopted the
infidelity then so rife in Europe and America. The form of unbelief accepted by
him was that of Lord Chesterfield, along with his lordship's peculiar views of
morality. Here is probably the key to a comprehension of
Burr's entire life. He resolved to be a "perfect man of the world,"
according to the Chesterfieldian code.
of the next year (1774) he passed in Litchfield, Connecticut, where he began the
study of the law under Tapping Reeve, who had married his sister. At the
beginning of the revolution, in 1775, Burr hastened to join the patriot army
near Boston. He had a genuine passion for military life, and was singularly
qualified to excel as a soldier. Here, fretted by inaction, he resolved to
accompany Col. Benedict Arnold in his expedition to Quebec. Against the
expostulations of all his friends and the commands of his uncle, Timothy, he
persisted in his determination. Out of the memorable hardships and disasters of
that expedition young Burr came back with the rank of major and a brilliant
reputation for courage and ability. Soon after his return he became a member of
General Washington's family. From some cause the place did not please him, and
after about six weeks he withdrew from Washington's table and accepted an
appointment as aide to General Putnam.
incident was extremely unfortunate for him. During their brief association Burr
contracted prejudices against Washington, which grew into deep dislike, and
Washington got impressions of Burr that ripened into settled distrust. In July,
1777, Burr was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, with the command of
his regiment, the colonel preferring to remain at home. In September, while
occupying the house near Ramapo Pass, of which a representation is here given,
he defeated the enemy near Hackensack and drove them back to Paulus Hook. At
Monmouth he distinguished himself at the head of a brigade.
Burr's command lay in Orange County, New York, he became acquainted with Mrs.
Theodosia Prevost, an intelligent and accomplished lady living at Paramus, widow
of an English officer who had recently died in the West Indies. She was ten
years his senior and had two sons. In March, 1779, after four years of service,
he resigned his commission on account of broken health. In the autumn of 1780,
his health having improved, Burr resumed the study of law, first with Judge
Patterson, of New Jersey, and afterward with Thomas Smith, of Haverstraw, New
York On 17 April, 1782, he was admitted to the bar in Albany, the rule that
required three years spent in study having been in his ease relaxed on account
of his service as a soldier. Now, at the age of twenty-six, he took an office in
Albany and almost immediately commanded a large practice. Being at last in a
condition to warrant this step, he married Mrs. Prevost, 2 July, 1782, and at
once began housekeeping in Albany in handsome style.
the first year of his marriage his daughter, Theodosia, was born, the only child
of this union. In the latter part of the next year, just after the British had
evacuated the City, he returned to New York and devoted himself to his
profession for eight years, having during that period twice served as a member
of the New York legislature. He stood among the leaders of the bar, with no
rival but Alexander Hamilton. Obtaining possession of Richmond Hill, a fine New
York mansion with ample grounds, he dispensed a liberal hospitality. Talleyrand,
Volney, and Louis Philippe were among his guests.
1788, just after the adoption of the constitution, Burr entered the arena of
politics as a candidate of the anti-federal party, though he was not distinctly
identified with those who nominated him, and soon afterward he was appointed by
Governor Clinton attorney general, an office which he held for two years. In
1791 he was elected to the United States senate over General Philip Schuyler, to
the great surprise of the country and the keen disappointment of Hamilton,
Schuyler's son-in-law. The federalists had a majority in the legislature, and
Schuyler was one of the pillars of the federal party. The triumph of Burr under
these circumstances was mysterious. For six years he served in the senate with
conspicuous ability, acting steadily with the Republican Party.
Burr died of cancer in 1794. Among the last words he ever spoke was this
testimony to the wife of his youth: "The mother of my Theo was the best
woman and finest lady I have ever known." After her death the education
of his daughter engrossed a large share of his attention. In 1797 the tables
turned, and his defeated antagonist, General Schuyler, was almost unanimously
elected to his seat in the senate. Burr was shortly afterward made a member of
the New York assembly. Into the presidential contest of 1800 he entered with all
his energy. The republicans triumphed; but between the two highest candidates
there was a tie, each receiving seventy-three votes, which threw the election
into the House of Representatives. In connection with this affair, Burr was
charged with intriguing to defeat the public will and have himself chosen to the
first office, instead of Jefferson. After a fierce struggle of seven days, the
house elected Jefferson president and Burr vice-president.
was then forty-five years old and at the top of his fortune. His daughter had
made a highly satisfactory marriage, and his pecuniary prospects were improved.
In 1801, just before entering upon his duties as vice-president, he was a member
of a convention of the state of New York for revising its constitution, and was
made chairman by unanimous vote. But a great change was at hand. Near the close
of his term of office as vice-president, Burr, finding himself under a cloud
with his party, sought to recover his popularity by being a candidate for the
governorship of New York, but was defeated by Morgan Lewis. In this contest
Alexander Hamilton had put forth his utmost energies against Burr. Though the
relations of these political leaders had remained outwardly friendly, they had
long been rivals, and Hamilton had not hesitated to express in private his
distrust of Burr, and to balk several of his ambitious projects. In the
gubernatorial canvass Hamilton had written concerning his rival in a very severe
manner, and some of his expressions having got into the newspapers, Burr
immediately fastened upon them as ground for a challenge. A long correspondence
ensued, in which Hamilton vainly sought to avoid extremities. At length the
challenge was accepted, and the parties met on the bank of the Hudson, at
Weehawken, New Jersey, at seven o'clock A. M., 7 July, 1804.
the first fire Hamilton fell mortally wounded. But Burr's shot was more fatal to
himself than to his foe; he left that "field of honor" a ruined
man. The tragedy aroused an unprecedented excitement, before which Burr felt it
wise to fly. The coroner's inquest having returned a verdict of murder, he
escaped to South Carolina and took refuge in the home of his daughter. Though an
indictment for murder was obtained against him, the excitement subsided, and he
was left unmolested. After a season he ventured to Washington, and completed his
term of service as vice-president. Though his political prospects were now
blasted and his name execrated, his bold and resolute spirit did not break.
Courage and fortitude were the cardinal virtues of his moral code, and his
restless mind was already employed with new and vast projects.
in 1805 he turned his course toward the great west, then a new world. From
Pittsburgh he floated in a boat, specially built for him, down to New Orleans,
stopping at many points, and often receiving enthusiastic attention. After some
time spent in the southwest, he slowly returned to Washington, where he sought
from the president an appointment suitable to his dignity. Foiled in this
effort, he turned more earnestly to his mysterious western projects. His purpose
seems to have been to collect a body of followers and conquer Texas--perhaps
Mexico--establishing there a republic of which he should be the head. With this
he associated the hope that the western states, ultimately falling away from the
union, would cast in their lot with him, making New Orleans the capital of the
new nation. As a rendezvous and refuge for his followers, he actually bought a
vast tract of land on Washita river, for which the sum of $40,000 was to be
paid. It was a wild scheme, and, if not technically treasonable, was so near to
it as to make him a public enemy. Events had advanced rapidly, and Burr's plans
were nearly ripe for execution, when the president, who had not been ignorant of
what was maturing, issued a proclamation, 27 October, 1806, denouncing the
enterprise and warning the people against it. The project immediately collapsed.
On 14 January, 1807, Burr was arrested in Mississippi territory, and, having
escaped, was again arrested in Alabama, whence he was conveyed to Richmond,
Virginia Here was held the memorable trial for treason, beginning 22 May, 1807,
and lasting, with some interruptions, for six months. In the array of
distinguished counsel, William Wirt was pre-eminent for the prosecution and
Luther Martin for the defense. Burr himself took an active part in the case. On
1 September the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on the indictment for
treason, and some time afterward the prisoner was acquitted, on technical
grounds, of the charge of misdemeanor.
Burr was now free, his good name was not restored by the issue of the trial, and
he soon sailed for England, still animated by new schemes and hopes. After
various adventures in that country, he was expelled as an "embarrassing"
person, and went to Sweden. Having spent some time in Copenhagen and various
cities of Germany, he reached Paris in February, 1810. Here, kept under
government surveillance, and refused permission to return to the United States,
he was reduced to the severest pecuniary straits. Returning again to England, he
was obliged to remain there in desperate extremities for a year and a half.
last he got away in the ship "Aurora," and reached Boston in
May, 1812. Disguised under the name of Arnot, as well as with wig, whiskers, and
strange garments, the returning exile entered the City in a most humiliating
plight. The government prosecutions still hung over his head, and some of his
creditors had executions against him, which might throw him into a prison. He
ventured to New York, however, reaching that place four years after leaving it.
He soon opened an office in Nassau Street, old friends rallied around him, and
the future began to brighten somewhat, when he was stunned by the information
that his only grandchild, Theodosia's son, aged eleven, was dead. A still more
crushing blow soon came. The daughter, who was his idol, perished at sea while
on a voyage from Charleston to New York in January, 1813.
was now fifty-seven years old. Shunned by society, though with a considerable
practice, he lived on for twenty-three years. At the age of seventy-eight he
married Madame Jumel, widow of a French merchant, who had a considerable
fortune. The union soon proved unhappy, owing to Burr's reckless use of his
wife's money, and they finally separated, though not divorced. In his last days
Burr was dependent on the charity of a Scotch woman, a friend of former years,
for a home. He died at Port Richmond, Staten Island, and his remains lie,
according to his request, in the cemetery at Princeton, near those of his
honored father and grandfather.
person, Burr was small, often being spoken of as " little Burr,"
but his appearance and manners were fascinating. In his ease the finest gifts of
nature and fortune were spoiled by unsound moral principles and the absence of
all genuine convictions. His habits were licentious. He was a master of
intrigue, though to little purpose. He was a respectable lawyer and speaker, but
lacked the qualities of a statesman. Dauntless resolution and cool
self-possession never forsook him. On the morning of his duel with Hamilton he
was found by a friend in a sound sleep. Though a skeptic, he was not a scoffer.
In his last hours he said of the holy Scriptures : "They are the most
perfect system of truth the world has ever seen."
daughter, Theodosia Burr, born in
New York City in 1783; died at sea in January, 1813, was one of the most highly
accomplished and brilliant of American women. Her father, to whom she was an
object of pride as well as passionate affection, devoted himself to informing
her mind and training her character in accordance with his own ideal of
womanhood. In her tenth year she read Horace and Terence in the original Latin,
spoke French, and was studying the Greek grammar. He was as careful of her
physical as of her mental education, and sought to develop the independence of
thought and self-reliance that was universally discouraged at the time in the
training of girls. After her mother's death, in 1794, Theodosia became mistress
of her father's house and the companion of his leisure hours.
February, 1801, she married Joseph Alston, a wealthy and talented young planter
of South Carolina, who in after years became governor of his native state.The devotion of Theodosia to her father approached idolatry; through all
the disasters of his career she clung to him with unshaken fidelity. She and her
husband were cognizant of her father's scheme to become emperor of Mexico, her
son was to be the heir to the throne, and when Burr was brought to trial at
Richmond his daughter was there, and, by the power of her beauty and
intellectual graces, did much to stay the torrent of popular indignation and
secure a favorable verdict. Her eloquent letters to Mrs. Madison, Sec. Gallatin,
and other old friends of Burr paved the way for his return to New York after
four years of exile and poverty. Before his arrival Theodosia's son and only
child died, in his eleventh year. In consequence of this blow she was prostrated
by a nervous fever; but, eager to see her father once more, she embarked at
Charleston for New York, 29 December, 1812, on a pilot-boat called the "Patriot."
A storm soon arose, and raged along the coast, in which the "Patriot"
probably foundered off Hatteras. Nothing was ever heard of the vessel again.
This event completed the tragedy of the Burr family. The accompanying portrait
of Theodosia represents her at the age of nineteen. See " Life of Aaron
Burr," by Samuel L. Knapp (New York, 1835);"Memoirs, with
Selections from his Correspondence" (2 vols., 1837-'8), and "Private
Journal" during his residence abroad, with selections from his
correspondence (2 vols., 1838), both edited by Matthew L. Davis; and "Life
and Times of Aaron Burr," by James Par-ton (New York, 1858).
Americana: Aaron Burr
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Burr, (1756-1836), American politician and adventurer. Dynamic and ambitious ...
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Person Sheet. Name, Aaron BURR. Birth Date, 6 Feb 1756. Death Date,
14 Sep 1836 Age: 80. Father, Reverand Aaron BURR (1716-). Spouses. ...
(1756 - 1836)
Vice President under Thomas Jefferson March 4, 1801 until March 3, 1805
BURR, Aaron, (cousin
of Theodore Dwight), a Senator from New York and a Vice President of the United
States; born in Newark, N.J., February 6, 1756; was graduated from the College
of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1772; studied theology but soon
abandoned it for the law; during the Revolutionary War entered the Continental
Army 1775-1779; was admitted to the bar in 1782 and practiced in Albany, N.Y.;
moved to New York City in 1783; member, State assembly 1784-1785, 1798-1799;
attorney general of New York 1789-1790; commissioner of Revolutionary claims in
1791; elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from March 4,
1791, to March 3, 1797; unsuccessful candidate for reelection; president of the
State constitutional convention in 1801; in the presidential election of 1800,
Burr and Thomas Jefferson each had seventy-three votes, and the House of
Representatives on the thirty-sixth ballot elected Jefferson President and Burr
Vice President; challenged and mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton in a duel
fought at Weehawken, N.J., July 11, 1804; indicted for murder in New York and
New Jersey but never tried in either jurisdiction; escaped to South Carolina,
then returned to Washington and completed his term of service as Vice President;
arrested and tried for treason in August 1807 for attempting to form a republic
in the Southwest of which he was to be the head, but was acquitted; went abroad
in 1808; returned to New York City in 1812 and resumed the practice of law; died
in Port Richmond, Staten Island, N.Y., September 14, 1836; interment in the
President’s lot, Princeton Cemetery, Princeton, N.J.- -Biographical
Data courtesy of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
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