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Collection Overview

Burr, Aaron, 1756-1836
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections and Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
Princeton University Library Collection of Aaron Burr (1756-1836) Materials
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
1771-1958 (mostly 1782-1830)
2 boxes and 1.7 linear feet
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Boxes 1, P-000125


Consists primarily of letters by Aaron Burr (Princeton Class of 1772) to members of his family and associates, along with some documents pertaining to his legal career.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of over 50 letters and several documents of Aaron Burr (Princeton Class of 1772) and assorted photostats and facsimiles of additional Burr material. Addressees of the letters include Jeremy Bentham, Theodosia Burr (his wife), Theodosia Burr (his daughter), Mary Coles Payne (Dolley Madison's mother), and George Washington. In the latter letter, dated 1779, Burr resigns his rank and command in the Continental Army. Many of the other letters and documents deal with legal cases and legal advice, including a case related to slavery in which Burr represented an enslaver.

Collection Creator Biography:

Burr, Aaron, 1756-1836

Aaron Burr was born in Newark, New Jersey on February 6, 1756, to Aaron Burr, a theologian and second president of the College of New Jersey, and Esther Edwards Burr, daughter of famous revivalist pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards. The younger Burr's parents died before he was three, and he was raised by his maternal uncle, Timothy Edwards. Burr entered the College of New Jersey at age thirteen, and graduated in 1772 with distinction. After graduation, he studied theology privately before switching his concentration to law. Burr interrupted his studies when he enlisted in the American army attacking Boston in 1775. He rose quickly through the ranks because of his skills on the battlefield, but did not get along well with George Washington. Although promoted to Washington's secretarial staff, Burr transferred to the staff of Washington's second-in-command, Israel Putnam, to avoid conflicts with the general. Burr was successful under Putnam, valiantly leading troops in combat and securing important camps, such as in Brooklyn Heights and later at the battle of Monmouth Courthouse in New Jersey in 1778. Burr resigned from the army in 1779 due to poor health, which was aggravated by the high temperatures and humidity at Monmouth. He continued to study law after leaving the army and recovering from illness, and became a member of the bar of New York in 1782. He married Theodosia Prevost in the same year, with whom he had one child, Theodosia Burr. Professionally, Burr entered a rivalry with Alexander Hamilton, another prominent lawyer in New York. Burr began his political career in 1784 when he was elected to the state assembly. He continued in politics to serve in the United States Senate and ultimately as Vice President of the United States under Jefferson. He was a controversial character in Albany and Washington D.C., not siding clearly with any single faction and repeatedly being accused of self-interested legislation, political conspiracy, and generally unfair and dishonest practices, some of which can be confirmed. Burr's political career was thus tumultuous and he found himself regularly in and out of favor with the ruling powers. He ultimately lost his second candidacy for Vice President when he alienated Republican leadership with sympathies for the Federalists. In the same year, he lost a bid for the governorship of New York. Burr blamed much of his political downfall on Alexander Hamilton and his compatriots. After failing to force Hamilton to apologize for statements made against Burr in the gubernatorial race, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. When Burr killed the prominent politician, popular opinion cast him as a cold-blooded murderer, and warrants were put out for his arrest in New York and New Jersey. Burr fled to Philadelphia and then the South to escape capture. On these travels, Burr began dreaming of a new nation formed in the Southwest. Burr believed that conflict between Americans and the Spanish could encourage an occupation of Mexico, allowing a new nation to form. One of his allies in these plans, however, revealed the scheme to President Jefferson, and Burr was indicted for treason. He was acquitted by John Marshall, whose narrow interpretation of the Constitution's definition of treason was influenced by the justice's dislike of and disagreements with Jefferson. In Burr's later life, he lived abroad, attempting to gain support for his plan for a new nation in the Southwest. Upon returning to the United states in 1812, he began again to practice law in New York. He remarried to a wealthy widow, who divorced him for adultery. He died on September 14, 1836, the same day the divorce was granted.

Collection History


The collection was formed as a result of a departmental practice of combining into one collection manuscript material of various accessions relating to a particular author. Materials were acquired via various purchases and gifts.


No materials were separated from the collection during 2019 processing.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Anna Bialek in July 2005. Finding aid written by Anna Bialek in July 2005. Finding aid updated with a new acquisition by Kelly Bolding in June 2019.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Princeton University Library Collection of Aaron Burr (1756-1836) Materials; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Boxes 1, P-000125

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Related Materials

Related collections include C0090 (Aaron Burr, 1716-1757, Collection) and C0081 (Fuller Collection of Aaron Burr, 1756-1836).


The Dictionary of American Biography (New York, 1977) was consulted during preparation of the biographical note.

Subject Terms:
Lawyers—United States—18th century
Genre Terms:
Legal correspondence--18th century
Legal documents--18th century
United States. Continental Army
Burr, Aaron, 1756-1836
United States—History—Revolution, 1775-1783—Sources