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FROM JULY DUEL TO DELTA: THE STORY OF AARON BURR

The recent Broadway musical, “Hamilton” has called attention to Aaron Burr, the 3rd Vice President of the United States under Thomas Jefferson. It fails, however, to tell the story of Burr’s treason and capture in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta in 1807.

            The musical recounted the fact that Burr killed Hamilton in a dual on July 11, 1804.  A lyric intones: “Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints it takes and it takes and it takes.” Whatever we may think of Aaron Burr who escaped charges for Hamilton’s death, his history is entwined with that of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

            Albert J. Pickett, in his 1851 History of Alabama, recounts the arrest. The charge of treason was not due to his dual with Hamilton, for each man agreed to “shoot it out.” It was due to Burr’s attempt to annex the Spanish territory in Louisiana and Mexico and establish independent republic.

            Let us, then, imagine a cold Delta morning, February 19 1807.  Captain Edward P. Gaines, alerted to Aaron Burr’s whereabouts, sees a strange man dressed in dyed pantaloons, a roundabout jacket of drab cloth, and a wide-brimmed shabby beaver hat. The historian, Albert J.Pickett writes:

            Gaines:  “I presume, sir, I have the honor of addressing, Colonel Burr.

            Burr: “I am a traveler in the country, and do not recognize your right to ask such a question.”

            Gaines: “I arrest you at the instance of the Federal government . . . I am an officer of the army. I hold in my hands the proclamation of the President and the Governor, directing your arrest.”

            Let us not leave Burr riding alongside Gaines in route to Boatyard near Fort Mims.  Burr had blamed Hamilton for his political defeats, and yet he was a devoted husband, and father. On the eve of his duel, in case he did not live, he wrote his daughter, Theodosia: “I am indebted to you, my dearest, for a very great portion of the happiness which I have enjoyed in this life. You have completely satisfied all that my heart and affections I had hoped for or even wished.”

            In the end, Burr suffered several strokes and was partially paralyzed. He had lost his beloved wife, daughter, and grandson, but his place in history is etched in Delta land. 

Sue Walker

July, 2020

 





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