Biography and History

Aaron Burr was born on January 4, 1716, to Daniel and Elizabeth Burr in Upper Meadows, Connecticut. He excelled in languages and sciences at Yale College, from which he graduated in 1735. He stayed at Yale for an additional year to study theology, supported by the Berkeley Foundation, during which he became involved in the colonial revival of religion led by Jonathan Edwards.

Burr converted to the Calvinistic belief in the absolute sovereignty of God and was ordained a minister in 1736 by the Presbyterian Church of Newark. He was well known for his reasonable and thoughtful sermons, which contrasted starkly to those of his contemporary revival leaders. Burr also began teaching local boys Latin, Greek, and other liberal arts and became a popular educator.

Burr and fellow “New Side” Presbyterians from the Middle Colonies who favored revivals (as opposed to the “Old Side” Presbyterians and Anglicans from New England) felt that they were in need of an educational institution to train ministers in their philosophies as well as to provide general education to gentleman scholars. Several “New Side” ministers began planning a college and raising funds, and were able to obtain a charter for the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1746. The institution was to be an institution for higher learning for all men, not only those interested in joining the Presbyterian clergy.

John Dickinson was appointed by the trustees of the college to be its first president, but he died only four months after assuming the position. Burr was chosen to be his successor and became a driving force behind the institution, establishing its location, educational standards, and reputation. He was involved in all aspects of the college, regularly teaching classes and tutoring students, as well as supervising construction and raising funds. Burr was president of the college from November 1748 until his death.

Burr continued to fulfill his ministerial duties in Newark during his time as president. He married Esther Edwards, daughter of preacher Jonathan Edward, in 1752. The couple had two children, Aaron and Sarah. Burr died on September 24, 1757.

Source: From the finding aid for C0090

  • Office of the President Records : Jonathan Dickinson to Harold W. Dodds Subgroup. 1746-1999 (inclusive), 1830-1869 (bulk).

    Call Number: AC117

    This collection contains records relating to Princeton University presidents from Jonathan Dickinson, who served in this capacity from 1746 to 1747, to Harold W. Dodds, whose tenure spanned the period from 1933 to 1957. It brings together both primary and secondary materials pertaining to individual presidents as well as the office of the president itself. The Princeton University Presidents' Records document the lives and accomplishments of each president with varying completeness, as well as the functions of their office.

  • Aaron Burr (1716-1757) Collection. 1750-1761 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0090

    This is an open collection for accessions of Aaron Burr (1716-1757) manuscripts, letters, documents, and related material.

  • Shippen Family Collection. 1750-1783 (bulk), 1750-1810 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C1200

    Consists of correspondence, manuscripts, and documents of several members of the prominent Shippen family of Philadelphia during the colonial, revolutionary, and early federal periods. Portions of the material are related to the College of New Jersey and its move from Newark, N.J. to Princeton, N.J.