Manuscript Group 34, Aaron Burr




Documents, Manuscripts, Maps, & Photographs


Manuscript Group 34, Aaron Burr (1756-1836), Lawyer, U. S. Vice President Papers, 1755-1833, 0.1 linear feet / 13 items


Call Number: MG 34









An open collection of letters
and narratives by and about Aaron Burr.  Included are letters of Harman
Blennerhasset and Matthew Livingston Davis.

Biographical Note:

Aaron Burr, the son of Esther Edwards
(1732-1758) and Aaron Burr (1716-1757), was born on February 16, 1756 in Newark,
New Jersey.  Later that year, his family moved to Princeton, New Jersey
where his father was the second President of the College of New Jersey (now
Princeton University).  Within the next two years, both Esther and Aaron
Burr died, leaving their young children, Aaron and his sister Sarah (Sally), to
be raised by Esther’s brother, Timothy Edwards.


Aaron Burr (1756-1836) entered the
sophomore class of the College of New Jersey in 1769 at the age of thirteen,
graduating three years later.  He briefly studied theology, but switched to
the study of law from which he was interrupted by the outbreak of the American
Revolution.  He promptly joined the Continental Army and participated in
numerous battles, including the attack on Quebec and fighting at Brooklyn
Heights, New York and Monmouth, New Jersey.  He served variously under
Benedict Arnold, George Washington, and Israel Putnam until his bad health
forced him to resign in 1779.


In July of 1782, Burr married the widow
Theodosia Bartow Prevost (d. 1794), becoming the stepfather of her two sons
Frederick and Bartow and the father of their daughter Theodosia
(1783-1813).  He earned admission to the bar and moved to New York in 1783,
where he practiced as a lawyer.  His professional rival, Alexander
Hamilton, soon became his political rival as Burr entered politics.  He was
elected to the New York State Assembly in 1784 and five years later was
appointed by New York’s Governor George Clinton, the Attorney-General of New
York.  The Legislature transferred Burr to the U. S. Senate in 1791,
choosing him over Philip Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law, and
further distancing the two men.


In 1796, Burr was the Republican nominee
for Vice President, running with Thomas Jefferson, and losing.  The
following year, Burr was defeated for re-election to the U. S. Senate, but was
then elected to the New York Senate, where he gathered political supporters and
increasing power.  In 1800, he was elected the third Vice President of the
United States, serving under President Thomas Jefferson from 1801-1805.


While still Vice President, the tension
between Burr and Alexander Hamilton came to a head with Hamilton publicly
denouncing Burr and Burr challenging Hamilton to a duel.  On July 11, 1804,
the two met in Weehawken, New Jersey, where Burr mortally wounded Hamilton, who
died the next day.  Burr fled to Philadelphia and, later, further south
with his good name and reputation tarnished.


It was after these events that Burr became
involved in a scheme to separate the western states from the Union, invade
Spanish territories around Mississippi and Mexico, and create a western
confederacy.  Burr’s co-conspirators were General James Wilkinson of the
U. S. Army and Harman Blennerhasset, a wealthy Georgian merchant who financed a
settlement for separatists/colonists interested in their plans.  During the
years 1805-1806, Burr took a number of trips to the western territories where
his overtures to British and Spanish officials became known.  Suspicions
about Burr’s actions grew until President Thomas Jefferson finally issued a
proclamation in November of 1806 warning citizens not to participate in Burr’s


In 1807, Burr was captured and brought
before the U. S. Circuit Court where he was tried for treason.  During the
course of his trial, treason was defined as an overt act in which the accused
actually participated, and Burr, having been absent from the colony he helped
create, was acquitted.  By October of 1807, he was a free man.


In 1808 he traveled to England and then
Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and finally France where he attempted to find support
for his western nation.  When these efforts failed, he returned to the
United States in 1812 and reestablished his law practice in New York.  In
1833, at the age of 77, Burr married his second wife, Elizabeth Brown Jumel, who
filed for divorce a year later.  Aaron Burr died on September 14, 1836, the
day the divorce was granted.




American National Biography.


Dictionary of American Biography.

Provenance Note:

This is an artificial collection, created
from a number of sources.  The Jonathan Sergeant, Peter Van Schaack, Harman
Blennerhassett, and the Matthew Livingston Davis letters were bought at
auction.  The M. Eden letter was donated by Thomas Ingham, the Joseph
Shippen letter was donated by the Honorable J. C. G. Kennedy, and the notes on a
portrait of Aaron Burr were donated by David A. Hayes.  With the exception
of the Nicolas Olive letter, which was probably purchased, the source of the
remainder of the documents is unknown.

Scope and Content Note:

The papers consist of thirteen items,
mostly letters written by Aaron Burr (1756-1836), dating from 1755-1833.


Burr’s correspondence largely deals with
business matters, particularly lawsuits he was involved in, his finances, and a
railroad venture.  It also contains a printed copy of the June 22, 1804
letter, owned by the Library of Congress, in which Burr challenges Hamilton to a
duel.  The correspondence also includes a letter written by Aaron Burr
(1716-1757) referring to money for the College of New Jersey, a letter written
by Joseph Shippen describing the college president’s sudden marriage, and
letters by Harman Blennerhassett, Burr’s co-conspirator; George Hay, the man
who prosecuted Burr; and Matthew Livingston Davis, Burr’s biographer.


Lastly, the papers contain a cipher
written or used by Aaron Burr (1756-1836) to encode messages during his western
travels, and notes written by David A. Hayes on a portrait of Aaron Burr

Related Collections:

There are Aaron Burr (1756-1836) letters in the following collections:


Manuscript Group 294, Walter N. Eastburn Manuscript Collection


Manuscript Group 409, Stevens Family (Hoboken, NJ) Papers


Manuscript Group 718, William Paterson (1817-1899) Papers


Manuscript Group 800, De Zeng Family (Geneva, NY) Papers

Folder List:


Folder Title Dates
Correspondence – Aaron Burr (1716-1757) to:
1 Jonathan Sergeant, Treasurer of the College of New Jersey May 26, 1755
Correspondence – Aaron Burr (1756-1836) to:
2 Francis Arden October 30, 1802 (?)
M. Eden, with notes from Elizabeth and Rebecca W. Maltbie to their parents June 12, 1819
Alexander Hamilton, printed copy of his June 22, 1804 letter challenging Hamilton to a duel n. d.
Nicolas Olive, a merchant March 14, 1800
Peter Van Schaack January 2, 1790
James D. Wescott, Secretary of the State of New Jersey March 22, 1833
Correspondence – Other:
3 Harman Blennerhassett to Dr. ( ) Wallace May 2, 1804
4 William H. Cabell to George Hay, partial copy of a letter with court notes, n.d. n. d.
5 Matthew Livingston Davis to John S. Skinner November 5, 1836
6 Joseph Shippen, Jr. to his father, copy of a July 6, 1752 letter n. d.
7 Cipher created/used by Aaron Burr (1756-1836) 1806
8 Notes by David A. Hayes on a portrait of Aaron Burr (1716-1857) n. d.

Processed by Kim Charlton, March 2000 as part of the “Farm to City”
project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records


Submit a request to copy part of this collection




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