TABLE OF CONTENTS
The New Jersey Historical Society
Finding aid encoded by Julia Telonidis. July 2005. Production of the EAD 2002 version of this finding aid was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Finding aid written in English.
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 activities.
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.
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 (1716-1757).
There are no access restrictions on this collection.
Photocopying of materials is limited and no materials may be photocopied without permission from library staff.
Researchers wishing to publish, reproduce, or reprint materials from this collection must obtain permission.
The New Jersey Historical Society complies with the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code), which governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials.
This collection should be cited as: Manuscript Group 34, Aaron Burr Papers, The New Jersey Historical Society.
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.