Aaron Burr: Not Throwin' Away My Shot

Aaron Burr Jr. U. S. Vice President Aaron Burr Jr.

There is a roundabout connection in Sharon (née Weaver) Vitter's family through the Hastings line to American founding father Aaron Burr Jr., who is perhaps most well known as the person who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804, now immortalized on Broadway. Aaron Burr came from a high-profile family in New Jersey: His father Aaron Burr Sr. was a noted clergyman and Princeton University's second president. His mother Esther Edwards Burr was the daughter of famous theologian Jonathan Edwards and his wife Sarah.

Aaron Burr Jr. was a well-known lawyer who served as U. S. Senator from New York and the state's Attorney General. After an unsuccessful bid for president of the United States in 1800 against Thomas Jefferson, he served as vice president during Jefferson's first term in 1801–1805. The two were always at odds, and Jefferson marginalized Burr in his VP role. As the end of his term neared, Burr decided to run for governor of New York, but lost to little-known Morgan Lewis. Hamilton was an outspoken critic of Burr during the election, saying that Burr could not be trusted with the reins of government.

Hamilton-Burr Duel Depiction of the Hamilton-Burr duel, 11 July 1804 (click for more info on the duel).

Burr took offense and challenged Hamilton to the fateful duel, which occurred on 11 July 1804. Although dueling was illegal, Burr was never tried for Hamilton's death. The reason he wasn't tried in New Jersey was that technically Hamilton died in New York, where he was transported after the duel. In any case, Burr's reputation was forever tarnished.

Burr went West to seek his fortune and engaged in some speculative land intrigue in the Louisiana Territory and in a plot in Texas against Spanish rule in Mexico, for which Jefferson put him on trial for treason. Though he was acquitted, further damage to his reputation was done, and he spent the next several years in exile in Europe. He returned to the USA in 1814 and resumed his law practice, but with marginal success.

Aaron Burr's family life was equally turbulent: In total, he had children with five different women and married another in his very late years. During British rule, he had an affair with a British officer's wife Theodosia Bartow Prevost, whom he later married as his first wife after her husband died in Jamaica. Theodosia passed away just about 12 years into their marriage when their beloved daughter Theodosia Bartow Burr was still a child. The younger Theodosia grew up to marry Joseph Alston, who became governor of South Carolina, and they had three children.

During a trip up north to see her father Aaron, Theodosia's ship The Patriot disappeared near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Deathbed testimony years later by one of the pirates involved suggests that the ship was attacked by pirates and everyone on the ship was forced to "walk the plank," Theodosia being the last to do so. The terror in her eyes haunted the pirate for the rest of his days.

Theodosia Burr Alston
Portrait of Burr's daughter Theodosia Burr Alston, by Gilbert Stuart (click photo for more info).
Walking the Plank
Was "walking the plank" the fate of Theodosia Burr Alston? (click photo for more info).

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