Collection Facts

Extent: 
36 items
Dates of Original: 
1801-1809 (bulk 1804)
Collection Owner:
NYH Topic Area(s):

Historical Context

A political rivalry developed between Aaron Burr (1756-1836), Vice President of the United States from 1801 to 1805, and Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), Secretary of the Treasury from 1789 to 1795, when Hamilton repeatedly used his influence to oppose Burr's ambitions, often attacking his motives and character. A reference printed in the Albany Register of April 24, 1804, at the time of Burr's defeat for governor of New York, led to the fateful correspondence which culminated in the tragic "interview" (their euphemism for a duel) at Weehawken, N.J.
Between the dates of June 18 and July 9, 1804, an extensive communication by correspondence took place between Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and their appointed seconds, Nathaniel Pendleton for Hamilton and William P. Van Ness for Burr, in an attempt to resolve the confrontation initiated by Burr's reaction to Hamilton's statement that appeared in the Albany Register. During the course of the correspondence, both men declined to resolve the dispute when such opportunities arose. Hamilton's long practice of criticizing and vilifying Burr had finally exhausted Burr's patience. Hamilton felt he would destroy his own reputation if he refuted a position he believed to be based on truth. Burr demanded an apology of all derogatory remarks Hamilton had ever made about him. Both men refused to make the statements which would have enabled them to defuse the confrontation. On the day of July 11, 1804, Burr, Hamilton, and their seconds crossed the Hudson River from New York in boats and held their now famous duel at a site near Weehawken, N.J. In the duel, Burr shot and killed Hamilton.

Scope of Collection

The Burr - Hamilton Duel Collection is comprised of the correspondence that passed between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr (and their seconds, Pendleton and Van Ness) before the historic duel. The exchange of letters by the four participants -- Burr, Hamilton, Van Ness, and Pendleton -- preceding the duel took place from June 18 - July 9, 1804. Further correspondence and statements made after the duel, from July 11, 1804 to Mar. 5, 1805, by Burr, Van Ness, and Pendleton are also included in the collection. Included among the correspondence are accounts of the duel by Van Ness and Pendleton, the only living witnesses of the duel besides Burr himself.

Letters by Aaron Burr -- to Alexander Hamilton: # 1, 3, 4; to William P. Van Ness: # 8, 9, 14, 18, 19. Letters by Alexander Hamilton -- to Aaron Burr: # 2, 5; to William P. Van Ness: #7.
Letters by William P. Van Ness -- to Alexander Hamilton: #6; to Nathaniel Pendleton: #10, 15, 17, 20, 22, 32.
Statements by Van Ness: # 25, 26, 28, 29, 30.
Letters by Nathaniel Pendleton: to William P. Van Ness, # 13, 31, 23. Statements by Pendleton: #16, 24.

 

Collection Image:  Mason, Lynch Augustus. The Romance and Tragedy of Pioneer Life. Cincinnati, OH: Jones Brothers and Company, 1884.