Think of Aaron Burr; you’ll likely remember the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. That incident may be the most known moment in the third U.S. vice president’s career, but it’s far from the only scandal he faced in an exceedingly turbulent life. Infamy was something that Burr somehow couldn’t escape, but that drama in his own home might even surprise historians.
Aaron Burr was born in 1756 in Newark, New Jersey, into a well-to-do, highly respected family. Burr hadn’t yet reached his second birthday when his dad died, followed by his mom no more than a year later. The child and his sister, Sarah, were then given to the care of his uncle, Timothy Edwards, who was just 20 years old. How much this early childhood trauma can explain Burr’s later character is a matter of conjecture.
The American Revolution
In any case it seems Burr was determined not to let his personal tragedy blight his life. He graduated from the College of New Jersey — better known today as Princeton — at the tender age of 16. After college he opted for a career in law, but he interrupted his studies to take up arms in the American Revolution of 1775.
A courageous fighter
Burr was a brave fighter and was promoted to the rank of major. This service as a patriot was to serve him well as the foundation of a distinguished political career once independence had been won. But that was despite the fact that, while serving as a staff officer with George Washington, the two had developed a potent distaste for one another.
After promotion to lieutenant colonel, poor health forced Burr to resign his commission in 1779. He went on to complete his law studies and established a successful practice in New York City. Now settled in his professional life, it seems his mind turned to domestic matters, and in 1782 he married a widow named Theodosia Bartow Prevost. She’d previously been married to a British Army officer with whom she’d had five children. He’d died in 1781.