Aaron Burr.

Trial of Aaron Burr for treason : printed from the report taken in short hand (Volume 1) online

. (page 1 of 64)
Online LibraryAaron BurrTrial of Aaron Burr for treason : printed from the report taken in short hand (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 64)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


|<-^K g UQ

I-TJOJ5 3M^n

T! f V v *- JP^ I

***T >X ?3 c? sr



^* >^-^ ^ ^- s^*.



^ ,-3


j.ClF CAllFOff*















AMONG all the deeds of wonderful projected adventures
devised by an astute, sagacious, and practical mind, none
that the world had heard of was, perhaps, more strange
and romantic than that undertaken by Aaron Burr, for the
conquest of Mexico. Aaron Burr was quite an unusual
type of adventurer, having been Vice-President of the
United States, used to the forms of government, and distin-
guished by remarkable talents, but he was possessed of a
restless nature and daring ambition. With a mind tor-
tured by remorse for his unfortunate duel with Hamilton,
sickened by discontentment in political preferment, and
disgusted with the pacific measures of Jefferson, he seems
\l to have determined to direct his thoughts into scenes of
outward conflict, and to bury the disquietudes which were
rending his soul by plunging into deeds of romantic 1 and
wondrous magnitude. A thousand miles beyond the Mis-
sissippi lay a vast and wealthy province of Spain, governed
by tyrants whom the people hated, and the riches of that
province had long been the theme of travelers. The
mines were inexhaustible, -and had flooded Europe with

Q gold. The capitol was said to be blazoned with jewels,
and men dreamed of that magnificent city as Aladdin

</x dreamed of his palaces or Columbus of Carthay. A bold
adventurer could possess himself of the empire, and the
time was most favorable for the enterprise. The priest-
hood was disaffected, and exercising then, as now, a para-
V mount influence over weak and superstitious Mexicans,
would gladly lend its aid to a conqueror. More than that,
the United States were supposed to be on the eve of a


Spanish war, and any one who could seize on the glitter-
ing prize might realize in this new world a dream as great
as that of Napoleon in the old. It was with such feelings
that ex-Vice-President Aaron Burr, in the spring of 1805,
after the closing of the session of Congress, set out on a
journey through the Western States, having in his mind a
threefold object. He wanted, first, to ascertain the senti-
ment of the people of the West upon the subject of a
separation from the Atlantic states; secondly, to enlist re-
cruits, and make arrangements for a private expedition
against Mexico and the Spanish provinces ; and thirdly, in
the event of failure in their measures, to purchase a tract
of land on the Washita river, in the territory of Louisiana,
where he contemplated the establishment of a colony of
intelligent and wealthy individuals, where he might rear
around, him a society remarkable for its refinement in civil
and social life. Knowing the advantages of wealth and
influence in such an undertaking, Burr endeavored to pro-
cure the co-operation of the most conspicuous characters in
the country. Some previous correspondence had taken
place between him and General Wilkinson, who commanded
the Western forces at that time, temporarily, at Fort Massac,
at the mouth of the Ohio. Burr wished to ascertain with
what confidence he could rely on the aid of that officer and
his men, in the event of an expedition to Mexico. The
result of that interview has never been definitely known,
but it is strongly suspected that Wilkinson assured him of
his support. What casts a remarkable air of mystery over
the whole affair, is that for the purpose of correspondence
they adopted three different ciphers, and it is still more
strange as almost foreshadowing Burr's daring design long
before, that this correspondence commenced about the year
1800 or 1801, near the period when Burr ascended the chair
of the Vice-Presidency. It is also a significent fact that
when the ex-Vice-President arrived in the West, the Gen-
eral furnished him with an elegant barge, sails, colors, and
ten oars, with a sergeant and ten able hands, to prosecute


his journey. It was now that Burr became acquainted with
a gentleman whom he contrived to inveigle into this scheme
by glowing descriptions of the prize, and false assurances
that he knew the views^of the administration, and that the
expulsion of the Spaniards from the American territory
then violated by them, or even an invasion of Mexico, would
be pleasing to Mr. Jefferson, if either could be effected
without a war against Spain, which was now prevented by
parsimony, on the one hand, and dread of France on the
other. This remarkable future colleague, Mr. Herman
Blannerhassett, was an Irish gentleman of high connec-
tion, and a member of the Irish Bar. In company with
one of his companions he had taken a tour on the conti-
nent, and had visited France when she was rocked by the
whirlwind of revolution, and the established despotism of
her military monarchs had been crumbled to atoms. There
were at this time a large number of young Irishmen in
France, many of whom entered into the spirit of the revo-
lution with great zest, and endeavored to enlist the sympa-
thies of their fellow-countrymen against the oppression of
England. Two well-educated lawyers, John and Henry
Sheares, were executed for treason on their return from the
taking of the Bastile, and Blannerhassett, seeing the danger
and inconvenience of his situation, and having lately mar-
ried a young, intelligent, and beautiful woman, disposed of
his lands to a relative, and set sail to this country. In the
year 1798 he eventually purchased an island named Backus
Island, on the Ohio river, in Western Virginia, and here
surrounded himself with so much elegance and refinement
as to cause this island home to be known by the title of^
the American Alhambra. It was here that Burr, with elo-
quence of expression and power of imagination, infused
into him a desire to join his daring expedition; and imme-
diately afterwards Burr commenced active preparations.
At length President Jefferson issued a proclamation warn-
ing and enjoining all engaged in the enterprise to with-


The proofs of General Wilkinson's complicity with Burr
are very numerous. He writes to General Adair: "Burr
understood your merits and reckons on you. Prepare to
visit me, and I will tell you all. W"e must have a peep into
the unknown world beyond me." Burr's design compre-
hended the dismemberment of the Western country, and
the seizure of New Orleans, in the bank of which were
several millions of dollars he intended to appropriate;
and he writes to Wilkinson that he will meet him at
Natchez, "there to determine whether it will be expedient
to seize or pass by Baton Rouge." Being a chief accom-
plice, Wilkinson now made Burr his victim, communicated
the whole plot to President Jefferson, and succeeded in
.fastening upon Burr the entire treason. The President ac-
cordingly issued his proclamation, requiring all who had
been led into the unlawful enterprise to withdraw without
delay, and calling upon the vigilance of all military and
civil officers. By virtue of this proclamation the Virginia
militia of Wood county was called out, and as they were
about to invade Blannerhassett's island home, he and his
wife fled. Burr also left the Cumberland, where boats were
being constructed for the expedition, and, supplying him-
self with lead, tomahawks, &c., proceeded to Palmyra, and
thence to Bayou Pierre. Arrived at the Western margin of
the Mississippi river, he found that a proclamation had been
issued by Cowles Mead, acting governor, to " the Burr con-
spirators," from whom he also received a courteous letter.
To the charge of designs inimical to the government, Burr
replied with a sneer, that any projects or plans he might
have formed were now completely frustrated by the con-
duct of Wilkinson, and the world must pronounce him a
perfidious villain. He was arrested and then escaped, and
disguising himself in a boatman's coat proceeded on his

Late at night,* about the last of February, Burr, with a

* For this interesting description of the arrest of Aaron Burr, we are in-
debted to Pjckett's History of Alabama.

companion, arrived at a small log cabin, in what is now the
village of Wakefield, in Washington county, Alabama.

Without alighting, he called at the door, and inquired oi
the inmates if Colonel Hinson resided in the neighborhood?
Receiving for answer that he did, they further informed
him the house was seven miles distant.

Near midnight, the glimmering of a light, through the
distant trees, directed the travelers to the rude but comfort-
able quarters of Colonel Hinson. Having hailed and
received no answer, they dismounted and entered the
kitchen, where the remaining embers in the fire-place were
soon kindled into a comfortable blaze. Seating himself
before it, Burr left his companion to take charge of the
horses, and had just begun to feel comfortable, when he
was interrupted by a stranger, who, he concluded, had rid-
den till late to reach desirable lodgings. But in this he
was mistaken. The real cause of his appearance at this
unseasonable hour originated in Burr's mysterious depart-
ure from the inn. As it afterward appeared, Colonel Nicholas
Perkins observed, by the light of the fire, as Burr sat upon
his horse, that although he was coarsely dressed, yet he
possessed a countenance of unusual intelligence ; an eye
of sparkling brilliancy, and a demeanor wholly unsuited
to the garb he wore. The tidy boot, in particular, which
his vanity could not surrender, with his other articles ot
finer clothing, attracted Perkins's attention, and led him 10
conclude that the gentleman before him was none other
than the famous Colonel Burr, described in the proclama-
tion of the governor. Perkins immediately started after
Theodore Brightwell, the sheriff, who occupied an adja-
cent cabin, and awakening him from his slumbers, hurriedly
communicated the circumstances of the travelers, appear-
ance, conversation, and departure, and requested him to
join in pursuit of the parties. Brightwell consented, and
the two mounting their horses, took the road to Hinson's.
The night was cold and windy, and the moaning of the
*ofty pines, along the solitary road, rendered their journey


gloomy and inauspicious. Still they pressed on, for the
object of their pursuit was of no small importance at that
particular time to the minions of the government. As
they arrived in sight of the illuminated dwelling, Perkins
recollecting that the travelers had seen him at the tavern,
declined entering, but sent Brightwell, whom he requested
to return to him at a certain place in the woods after he
had ascertained whether or not the suspicious individual
was Aaron Burr.

As Brightwell called at the door his voice was recog-
nized by Mrs. Hinson, who was his relative, and who until
now had remained silent in another room, through fear of
the strangers, in the absence of her husband.

She soon prepared something to eat for her unknown
guests. As Burr seated himself at the table, he thanked her
in the most courteous terms for her kindness, and apolo-
gized for the trouble he had imposed upon her. His con-
versation was sprightly and agreeable, so much so, indeed,
that Mrs. Hinson soon discovered that the gentleman and
his attire did not correspond.

His attention was often directed to Brightwell, who stood
before the fire, and at whom he cast the keenest glances,
evidently endeavoring to read his thoughts. A momentary
separation having taken place during the night between
Burr and his companion, at the suggestion of Brightwell,
the latter was asked by Mrs. Hinson if she had the honor
of entertaining as her guest the celebrated Colonel Burr.
Fearing to make the disclosure, the man remained silent,
and shortly after left the room.

Early in the morning, Burr privately communicated to
Mrs. Hinson his real name, and regretted the absence of
her husband.

For some unaccountable reason, which has never yet
been explained, Brightwell neglected to return to Perkins,
whom he left highly excited and shivering in the cold.
Having remained at his post until his patience was
exhausted, and supposing that Brightwell, probably on


account of the fascinations of Burr, or the pity which had
seized him, in his behalf, had betrayed their plans, Per-
kins mounted his horse and rode rapidly to the house ot
Joseph Bates, at Nannanhubby Bluff, to avoid the creek
which intervened on the main route to Fort Stoddart.

Here he was furnished with a canoe and a negro to nav-
igate it, and descending the Tombigbee, arrived at the mil-
itary station early in the morning. The late General
Edmund P. Gaines was then lieutenant in command. Per-
kins briefly acquainted him with the particulars of the pre-
ceding night's adventure, and of his suspicions, which
although of slight foundation, had nevertheless impressed
him with the solid convictions of truth.

Placing himself at the head of a file of mounted soldiers,
the lieutenant started in pursuit, accompanied by Perkins.
They shortly encountered the object of their search, with
his traveling companion and the sheriff, Brightwell. The
parties having met, Lieutenant Gaines accosted one of the
strangers, remarking that he presumed he had the honor of
addressing Colonel Burr.

" I am a traveler," answered Burr, " and in a strange land,
and do not recognize your right to ask such a question."

" 1 arrest you, at the instance of the United States," re-
plied Gaines.

" By what authority do you arrest me, a stranger on the
highway, on my own private business ?"

The lieutenant then informed Burr that he was an officer
of the United States army, and held in his hand the procla-
mation of the President, as well as that of the Governor
of the Mississippi Territory, directing his arrest.

Burr's manner was firm, his air majestic, and his lan-
guage impressive ; but the resolute young officer told him
his mind was made up; the prisoner must accompany him
to his quarters, where he would be treated with all the re-
spect due the ex-Vice-President of the United States, so
long as he made no attempt to escape. He was then con-
ducted toward Fort Stoddart.


Three weeks had passed away since the arrest of the dis-
tinguished prisoner, and still the lieutenant had been unable
to convey him to the seat of the general government for
trial. The difficulties were great, and, for a time, the tin-
taking appeared impracticable. At last Burr left the
fort, under guard, and proceeded in a government boat up
the Alabama river, into the Fensaw lake, accompanied by
Lieutenant Gates, and stopped at the house of John Mills.

When Burr fled from the authorities in the Mississippi
Territory, he had disguised himself in a boatman's dress.
His pantaloons were of coarse, copperas-dyed cloth, with
a roundabout of inferior drab. His hat, a flapping, widfc-
brim beaver, had, in times long past, been white, but now
gave evidence of .having encountered much rough weather.
Placed upon his fine horse, he bestrode him most elegantly,
and flashed his large, dark eyes, as though he were at the
head of his New York regiment. On the last of February
they set out upon their long and perilous journey. Within
a quarter of a mile from the point of departure, the dread-
ful massacre at Fort Mimms occurred six years after.

Pursuing the Indian path, which led from the " Bigby
Settlement" to Fort Wilkinson, on the Oconee, they
reached a point thirty miles distant the first day. At night
the only tent in the company was pitched for the prisoner,
who reposed himself upon his blankets. The country
abounded in immense pine forests. Here the ex- Vice-
President lay the first night, before the blazing fire, which
threw a glare over the dismal woods.

To what an extremity had he now been reduced ! In the
boundless wilds of Alabama, under a small and comfortless
tent, amid the perils of Indian barbarities, with the cry of
the panther, answered by the howl of the hungry wolf,
ringing in his ears ; while the moaning of the winds
through the tops of the lofty trees added dreariness to the
solitude of the night ; with none with whom to hold con-
verse ; surrounded by a guard to whom he dared not
speak ; a prisoner of the United States, for whose liberties


he had fought, and whose government he had helped to
form ; exiled from the state of his adoption, whose statutes
and institutions bore the impress of his mind ; deprive.! by
death of his devoted wife ; his only child then on the distant
coast of Carolina ; his professional pursuits abandoned and
his fortune swept away ; the magnificent scheme of the con-
quest of Mexico uprooted and the fragments dispersed ; slan-
dered and hunted down, from one end of the Union to the
other ; these were considerations sufficient to weigh down an
ordinary individual and sink him into an untimely grave.

But his was no common mind, and the characteristic for-
titude and determination which had ever marked his course,
still sustained him in the darkest hour. In the morning
he arose cheerfully and pursued his journey. Although
guarded with vigilance, his few wants were gratified, as far
as they could be, and he was treated with respect and kind-
ness. The trail being narrow and obscure, Burr rode in
the middle, having a part of the guard in fiont, while the
rest followed behind in single file. The route lay about
eight miles south of the present city of Montgomery, then
an Indian town, called Eacoucharte meaning Red Ground.

When Perkins reached the confines of South Carolina,
he watched Burr more closely than ever ; for in this state
lived the son-in-law of Burr, Col. Alston, a gentleman of
talents, wealth, and influence, and afterward governor of
the state. Upon reaching the frontiers of Georgia, he
endeavored to convey the prisoner in by-roads, to avoid the
towns, lest he should be rescued. The plan was attended
with difficulty ; they were often lost, the march impeded,
and the highway again resumed. Before entering the town
of Chester, in South Carolina, the party halted. Two men
were placed before Burr, two on either side, and two
behind, and in this manner they passed near a tavern on
the street, where many persons were standing ; while music
and dancing were heard in the house. Burr conceived it a
favorable opportunity to escape, and suddenly dismounting,


"I am Aaron Burr, under military arrest, and claim the
protection of the civil authorities !"

Perkins leaped from his horse, with several of his men,
and ordered him to remount.

" I will not !" replied Burr.

Not wishing to shoot him, Perkins threw down his pis-
tol, and being a man of prodigious strength, and the pris-
oner a small man, seized him around the waist and placed
him in his saddle, as though he were a child. Thomas
Malone caught the reins of the bridle, slipped them over
the horse's head, and led him rapidly on.

The astonished citizens had seen a party enter their vil-
lage with a prisoner ; had heard him appeal to them for pro-
tection ; had witnessed the feat of Perkins, and the party had
vanished before they had time to recover from their confu-
sion ; for when Burr dismounted the guards cocked their
pistols, and the people ran within the piazza to escape from

Burr was still to some extent popular in South Carolina,
and any wavering or timidity on the part of Perkins would
have lost him his prisoner ; but the celerity of his move-
ments gave no time for the people to reflect before he was
far in the outskirts of the village. Here the guard halted.
Burr was highly excited ; he was in tears ! The kind-
hearted Malone also wept at seeing the uncontrollable
despondency of him who hitherto had proven almost iron-
hearted. It was the first time that any one had ever seen
Aaron Burr unmaned.

The guard being very much alarmed on the subject ol
Burr's rescue, Malone and Henry advised the purchase ot
a carriage. The former took charge of the guard, while
Perkins returned and purchased a gig. The next day Burr
was placed in a vehicle, and driven without further inci-
dent to Frederick sburg, Virginia. Here Perkins received
dispatches from the President, requiring him to convey
the prisoner to Richmond. The guard took the stage and
soon reached that place. The ladies of the city vied with


each other in contributing to the comfort of Burr. Some
sent him fruit, some clothes, some wine, some one thing,
some another. Perkins and his men went to Washington,
were paid for their services, and returned to Alabama by
way of Tennessee.

After Colonel Burr's conveyance to Richmond, Blan-
nerhasset, wishing to revisit his island home, started from
Natchez in June, 1807, with the intention of doing so. On
his arrival, however, at Lexington, he was taken into cus-
tody for his endorsement of several of Burr's bills on a
civil process; and then learnt for the first time that bills of
indictment had been found against Colonel Burr and him-
self for high treason and a misdemeanor, and that Burr was
in custody. He writes to his wife that Burr's situation
might be perilous as well as his own; but that he had no
idea of attempting an escape, and adds : " Wilkinson will
fall and be disgraced, whatever fate may attend Burr and
myself." Before his discharge from the civil process, he
was again arrested by the Marshal of the Kentucky Dis-
trict, on an affidavit made by Mr. David Meade that he
had been indicted for treason, and a true bill found against
him at Richmond. He was brought before Judge Todd,
and as he wished to be heard by counsel was committed to
jail, and ordered to appear next morning, when he read to
the court an affidavit which he had drawn up. An immense
crowd assembled, and Blannerhasset went into a history ot
his arrests and discharges in the Mississippi Territory, and
asserted that, being on his journey home, he had hastened
to surrender himself to Mr. Bibb, attorney for the United
States ; that when he arrived, he had been arrested upon
civil process ; that he had met Mr. Clay, to whom he had
communicated his wishes, and who had promised to see
him upon the subject next morning. Mr. Clay, as counsel,
assured the court that his client only wished to be sent on
to Richmond for trial, but that he desired that no unneces-
sary rigor should be observed, and that he might be for-
warded in as delicate a manner as possible. As a citizen,


Mr. Clay protested against the mode which had been pur-
sued by the Court, and said that he regarded the whole
proceedings as unprecedented and illegal. Blannerhasset,
made an appeal to the citizens of Lexington, which would
have been well received but for the high crimes with which
he was charged ; and the judge issued a warrant for his
commitment until the district judge could be applied to,
who ordered his delivery to the court at Richmond, whither
he was conveyed by Deputy Marshal Meade and a guard of
five men.

Some months previously, Colonel Alston, the son-in-
law of Burr, finding himself deeply implicated by the pro-
clamation of the President, to release himself from suspi-
cion had addressed a letter to Governor Pinckney of South
Carolina, in which he said that he had never heard, directly
or indirectly, of any meditated attack on New Orleans ; that
he knew well enough that there were men base enough to
connect him with Colonel Burr on mere suspicion, on the
ground'of their marriage relation, and concluding with the
words : " My residence is well known, and I shall never
shrink from investigation. Nay, more, presumption, where
I can not repel it by positive prooj ", shall be recorded as good
evidence, and the slightest suspicion which I can not satisfac-
torily explain shall be admitted as guilt."

Between Mrs. Blannerhasset and Mrs. Alston, the
greatest feminine regard had existed ; but a considerable
misunderstanding had prevailed in these troubled times
between their husbands, while Mrs. Blannerhasset, in a
letter to her husband expressed, her opinion that Colonel
Alston was altogether unworthy of such a wife. If Burr,
who was accused of being without heart, although pos-
sessed of immense intellectual powers, had one redeeming
feature in his character, it was in his love for his only

Online LibraryAaron BurrTrial of Aaron Burr for treason : printed from the report taken in short hand (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 64)