Thursday, July 11, 2013


July 11, 2013


Weehawken, New Jersey (JFK+50) A long time personal and political feud between former Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton* and Vice-President Aaron Burr** was settled 209 years ago today at 7 a.m. on the "field of honor" here in Weehawken, N.J.

The feud between the two men intensified in the New York Governorship race of 1804^ when Hamilton was quoted in the newspapers as having called Aaron Burr "the most unfit and dangerous man of the community."

^When Burr learned President Jefferson would drop him from the ticket in 1804, he decided to run for Governor of NY.

The site of the duel was known as the Heights of Weehawken.  It was a popular location for the settlement of gentlemen's "affairs of honor."

Hamilton, who fired his pistol first but missed high, was shot in the lower abdomen by Burr.  The bullet lodged near the spine.

The pistols used in the duel, which belonged to Hamilton's brother-in-law John Baker Church, had a larger barrel than regular dueling pistols and a secret hair-trigger.

                      Wogdon Dueling Pistols
                      Actual weapons used in 
                         Burr-Hamilton Duel

Historian Joseph J. Ellis says that Alexander Hamilton "aimed to miss Burr, sending his ball into the tree above and behind.." but because Hamilton fired in the direction of his adversary, Burr "was perfectly justified" in returning fire.

Nevertheless, Burr was indicted for murder in both New Jersey and New York but the charges were either dismissed or resulted in acquittal.

Mr. Hamilton was carried from the field in critical condition.  He died on July 12, 1804 at 2 o'clock in the afternoon.  His remains were interred in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery in Manhattan.

                   Hamilton-Burr Duel 
                    Sketch by J. Mund

*Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) was born in the British West Indies.  He graduated from Kings College (Columbia University) in New York.  Hamilton practiced law before serving in the Continental Army and after the Revolution continued his law career.

Hamilton was a delegate to the Confederation Congress in 1788-89 and served as the 1st Secretary of Treasury 1789-1795.

                         Alexander Hamilton
           Portrait by John Trumbull (1806)
          Washington University Law School

**Aaron Burr (1756-1836) was born in Newark, N.J. to a Presbyterian minister and mother who was Jonathan Edwards daughter.  He studied at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) and served in the Continental Army.  

After the war, Burr was admitted to the bar in NY and became NY State Attorney General in 1789.  He was elected 3rd Vice President of the United States in 1800 and served 1801-1805.

After leaving the Vice-Presidency, Burr was arrested and charged with treason, but was acquitted.

                           Aaron Burr (1802)
                Portrait by John Vanderlyn