Burr – Hamilton Duel Collection. 1793-1828 (bulk 1804).


Summary Information

Repository
New York State Historical Association – Research Library
Title
Burr – Hamilton Duel Collection
ID
Coll. No. 268
Date
1793-1828 (bulk 1804)
Extent
0.5 Cubic feet (one 16.5 x 10.5 x 2 in. clamshell box + one 23 x 17.5 x 1.5 in. clamshell box)
Language
English
Funding Source
This finding aid was made available electronically through a Regional Bibliographic Data Bases (RBDB) grant from the South Central Regional Library Council, Ithaca, N.Y.

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Historical Background

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.

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Scope and Content Note

The Burr – Hamilton Duel Collection comprises the correspondence that passed between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and their seconds 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 – Mar. 5, 1805, by Burr, Van Ness, and Pendleton are also included in the collection. Included among them are eye-witness accounts of the duel by Van Ness and Pendleton, the only living witnesses of the duel besides Burr himself. Also added to this collection are letters by Aaron Burr, 1793-1828, and documents pertaining to Burr, none of which concern the duel.

The documents in this collection are of the following types (indicated in the collection inventory by abbreviations):

AD – Autograph Document

ADS – Autograph Document Signed

ADf – Autograph Draft

ADfS – Autograph Draft Signed

AL – Autograph Letter

ALS – Autograph Letter Signed

DS – Document Signed

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.

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Series Descriptions

Series 1. Correspondence and Statements Pertaining to the Duel. June 18, 1804 – March 5, 1805. Folders 1-35.

Item level description.

Series 2. Documents by and about Aaron Burr Which Do Not Pertain to the Duel. 1793 – 1828. Folders 36-37.

Item level description.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

New York State Historical Association – Research Library

Special Collections
P.O. Box 800, 5798 State Highway 80
Cooperstown, NY 13326
(607) 547-1470

 

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Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research. If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of fair use, that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

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Accession Numbers

CM-3.39, CM-20.39, NM-174.57, NM-5.56, NM-28.56, NM-6.61 (1-35), NM-7.61, NM-8.61

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Collection Inventory

Series 1 – Correspondence and Statements Pertaining to the Duel

268.1/1 – 268.1/35 – Box 1
268.1/1 — Letter (ADf) by Aaron Burr to Alexander Hamilton. “I send for your approval a letter signed …” Burr states that he desires either a denial or acknowledgment of remarks attributed to Hamilton. In handwriting of William P. Van Ness. New York, June 18, 1804.
268.1/2 — Letter (ALS) by Alexander Hamilton to Aaron Burr. “I have maturely reflected on the subject of your letter …” New York, June 20, 1804.
268.1/3 — Letter (ADf) by Aaron Burr to Alexander Hamilton. Draft / contains no signature. “I have this day received your letter of the 20th.” In the handwriting of Van Ness. undated.
268.1/4 — Letter (ADfS) by Aaron Burr to Alexander Hamilton. “Your letter of the 20th inst. has been this day received …” Corrected copy of a rough draft, again insisting upon Hamilton’s avowal or disavowal of the remarks made concerning Burr. Desires a definite reply. In the handwriting of Aaron Burr. New York, June 21, 1804.
268.1/5 — Letter (ALS) by Alexander Hamilton to Aaron Burr. “Your first letter in a style too peremptory …” New York, June 22, 1804.
268.1/6 — Letter (ADfS) by William P. Van Ness to Alexander Hamilton. “In the afternoon of yesterday, I reported to Mr. Burr …” Van Ness to Hamilton inquiring as to when and where it would be convenient to hold a meeting with him so that they may discuss further the Burr-Hamilton affair. June 23, 1804.
268.1/7 — Letter (ALS) by Alexander Hamilton to William P. Van Ness. “I was in Town today until half …” Grange, June 23, 1804.
268.1/8 — Letter (AD) by Aaron Burr to William P. Van Ness. No signature. “I am disappointed of my ride …” Burr gives Van Ness advice on just what to say to Hamilton. Tells him that he must be sure to tell him more will be required of him in order to settle the argument than had been before. June 25, 1804.
268.1/9 — Letter/notes (AD) by Aaron Burr to William P. Van Ness. No signature. “This last proposition of Genl. H. is a worse libel than even the letter of Dr. C. …” Contains instructions for Van Ness as to what course to take as Burr’s second. States that Hamilton’s letters seek to evade the question and are a worse libel than the letters of Cooper which started the argument. June 26, 1804.
268.1/10 — Letter and draft (ADfS) by William P. Van Ness to Nathaniel Pendleton. “The letter which you yesterday delivered …” Van Ness stresses to Pendleton, Hamilton’s second, the absolute necessity for an explanation of the derogatory remarks made by Hamilton. Suggests that he and Pendleton meet to discuss the subject. June 26, 1804.
268.1/11 — Letter (ADf) in Aaron Burr’s handwriting. Fragment of a draft. “The injury complained of and the reparation expected are so definitely …” [June 26, 1804].
268.1/12 — Statement (ADf) of Aaron Burr for Alexander Hamilton. Draft. “Being apprised that expressions are ascribed to me … G.H. being apprised that expressions are ascribed to him impeaching the honor & affecting the private reputation of A. B. …” Reworded by Van Ness. June 25, 1804.
268.1/13 — Letter (ALS) by Nathaniel Pendleton to William P. Van Ness. “I have communicated to General Hamilton the letter you did me the honor to write …” States that Burr’s letters tend to pry into Hamilton’s private life and seek to know anything and everything that Hamilton may have said in his lifetime about Burr. June 26, 1804.
268.1/14 — Letter (AL) by Aaron Burr to William P. Van Ness. “It is proper that you be informed that I have made an engagement with Miss C. at ½ past 8 on Monday morning.” Burr writes to his second requesting that Van Ness be more faithful to him. Calls Van Ness “a perfect jilt.” [June 29, 1804].
268.1/15 — Letter (ALS) by William P. Van Ness to Nathaniel Pendleton. “I have engaged two gentlemen to dine with me tomorrow. …” Van Ness, Burr’s second, writes to Pendleton, Hamilton’s second, to change the date for a meeting between the two. July 4, 1804.
268.1/16 — Report (AD) of Nathaniel Pendleton of remarks made by Hamilton in the presence of Dr. Cooper [June 25, 1804]. “In answer to a letter properly adapted …”
268.1/17 — Letter (ADf) by William P. Van Ness to Nathaniel Pendleton. “The letter which I had the honor to receive from you …” States that Burr has been injured to such an extent by Hamilton’s slurring remarks that he wishes to carry the point further, even if it means hostilities. The lengthy correspondence between the rivals has accomplished nothing and Burr has nothing more to say but challenge Hamilton to the duel. June 27, 1804.
268.1/18 — Letter (AL) by Aaron Burr to William .P. Van Ness. “I should with regret pass over another day. …” Asks about the arrangements for the duel. Whatever arrangements Van Ness makes will be agreeable to him, except an early morning hour. July 9, [1804].
268.1/19 — Letter (AL) by Aaron Burr to William P. Van Ness. “There is in circulation a report which is ascribed to Mr. Pendleton and which he must forthwith contradict. …” States that a report made by Pendleton, Hamilton’s second, has been circulating around which Pendleton must contradict. Suggest that they meet again, preferably at Burr’s house. July 11, [1804].
268.1/20 — Letter (ADfS) by William P. Van Ness to Nathaniel Pendleton. Written by Burr’s second to Hamilton’s second after the duel in which Burr shot Hamilton. Van Ness hopes that the wound which Hamilton sustained is not mortal. Suggest that Pendleton remain very cautious about the duel until the two have had the opportunity to talk. July 11, 1804.
268.1/21 — Letter (ALS) by Nathaniel Pendleton to William P. Van Ness. “Having thought it expedient on consideration to make a small addition to the statement which I had the honor of communicating to you on Friday last …” States that he thinks it proper that the story of the duel should be publicized very shortly. [July 14, 1804].
268.1/22 — Letter (ADfS) by William P. Van Ness to Nathaniel Pendleton. “I left you for the purpose of procuring & examining my own papers relative to the late Duel (unfortunate affair). …” States that Van Ness had examined his own papers relative to the duel and that he hopes to see Pendleton before any story is published about it. July 14, 1804.
268.1/23 — Letter (ALS) by Nathaniel Pendleton to William P. Van Ness, “It will not be possible for me to give you another opportunity of seeing the Statement before it is printed. …” July 16, 1804.
268.1/24 — Statement (AD) for the press prepared immediately after the duel by Van Ness and Pendleton. “Col. Burr arrived first on the ground, as had been previously agreed. When General Hamilton arrived, the parties exchanged salutations. …” July 11, 1804.
268.1/25 — Statement (AD) by William P. Van Ness. “The second of G.H., having considered it proper to subjoin an explanatory note to the statement mutually furnished …” Van Ness’s amended version of the duel added to the statement mutually agreed upon between Van Ness and Pendleton.
268.1/26 — Statement (AD) by William P. Van Ness. “On the afternoon of the 17th June last, I received a note from Col. Burr. …” Van Ness’ narrative of events preceding the duel.
268.1/27 — Letter (AL) by William P. Van Ness. “In consequence of my absence from the city …” Van Ness’ account of the “interview between Col. Burr and Genl. Hamilton …” undated.
268.1/28 — Letter by William P. Van Ness. “In consequence of my absence from the city …” Statement of Van Ness to Charles Biddle giving a full explanation of what took place July 11, 1804 when Alexander Hamilton was killed by Aaron Burr. Draft endorsed Mar. 1, 1805.
268.1/29 — Letter by William P. Van Ness. “In consequence of my absence from the city …” Another written version by Van Ness of the events of the duel. undated.
268.1/30 — Statement (AD) by William P. Van Ness. “1804, June 18. Delivered a copy of the letter on the other side written to Genl. Hamilton at 11 o’clock A.M.” Another account of the events leading up to the duel. undated.
268.1/31 — Letter (ALS) of Aaron Burr to William P. Van Ness. “My friends have left me to this day ignorant of all those circumstances which ought to accelerate or retard my return to N.Y. …” Burr desires to know what has happened, what Burr may expect, any court proceedings, indictments, etc. Statesburgh, Oct. 14, 1804.
268.1/32 — Letter (ADf) by William P. Van Ness to Nathaniel Pendleton. “I went to the city yesterday for the express purpose of conferring with you on the subject of the contemplated publication.” Gives his reasons for objecting to Pendleton’s statement of the duel. Arranges time for meeting so that Van Ness may submit his statement for inspection. July 16, 1804.
268.1/33 — Letter by William P. Van Ness. “The late duel between Col. Burr and Genl. Hamilton …” undated.
268.1/34 — Letter by Alexander Hamilton to Aaron Burr. Copy of letter number 2 in Van Ness’ handwriting. “I have maturely reflected on the subject of your letter of the 18th inst. …” New York, June 20, 1804.
268.1/35 — Denunciation of Aaron Burr by Alexander Hamilton, 5 p. (1 folded sheet, 1 single sheet); Letter, Jan. 4, 1801 by Alexander Hamilton to James McHenry.
268.2 – Box 2
268.2/1 — Pardon of William P. Van Ness. Aug. 2, 1809.

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Series 2 – Documents by and about Aaron Burr Which Do Not Pertain to the Duel

268.1/36 – 268.1/37 – Box 1
268.1/36a — Agreement (DS) between Isidore Guillet of Paris, presently New York City, Elizabeth Eden of New York City, and Aaron Burr, Counselor at Law, concerning the marriage of Isidore and Elizabeth. Mar. 15, 1828.
268.1/36b — Letter (ALS) by Aaron Burr to Goldsbrow Banyar. June 30, 1793.
268.1/36c — Letter (ALS) by Aaron Burr to Rev. Ernest Lewis Hazelius, D.D., prof. at Hartwick Seminary, about two prospective students at the seminary. New York, Dec. 4, 1825.
268.1/36d — Letter by Aaron Burr regarding his request for patronage for John Devan. Letter of inquiry addressed to Col. A. Ogden, signed by Burr. Apr. 14, 1807.
268.1/36e — Letter (ALS) by Aaron Burr to James Monroe. New York, Dec. 25, 1798.
268.1/37 — Illustration of Aaron Burr’s tombstone, Princeton, N.J.; two prints of John Vanderlyn’s portrait of Aaron Burr; and a one page biographical sketch of Aaron Burr. undated.

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