Thanks to the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton, a lot more people know the ins-and-outs of the Aaron Burr biography. But is that portrayal of Burr's life even accurate? Who was Aaron Burr, really? Burr is primarily known for his deadly duel with Alexander Hamilton. Yeah, that was a pretty depressing moment in American history: the sitting vice president straight-up murdering a man. But that's just scratching the surface of Burr's bummer of a story. There's a lot to this man beyond the Aaron Burr duel, as the history buffs among you surely know. Be forewarned: you might need a drink after reading some of the most depressing and, in some cases, totally bizarre facts about Burr.
His Company Distributed Cholera-Contaminated Water To A Third of New York CityPhoto: Jacques Jouvenal / Public Domain
The Burr-founded Manhattan Company, now known as JPMorgan Chase, in an ongoing effort to profit off distributing drinking water throughout New York City, dug a well into contaminated groundwater and accidentally spread cholera to one-third of the city in 1832. Doh!
It wasn't just an innocent mistake, either. In 1810, a former director admitted the Manhattan Company knew the water they were putting out was quite literally crappy, full of NYC residents’s "own evacuations, as well as that of their Horses, Cows, Dogs, Cats, and other putrid liquids so plentifully dispensed." Thirsty yet?
He Became An Orphan At TwoPhoto: Artist Unknown / Public Domain
Burr’s life was pretty tragic from the start. His father died when he was just one year old, his mother the next year, making him an orphan at age two. Burr and his older sister then went on to live with their maternal grandparents, but grandpa and grandma were both dead within a year, too. The Curse of the Burr Kids ceased in 1759, when they went to live with their uncle.
He Used His Mother's Maiden Name To Dodge CreditorsPhoto: Artist Unknown / Public Domain
Upon returning to the US in 1812 after the whole Burr Conspiracy debacle, Burr pulled a real scumbag move and started using his mother’s maiden name, Edwards, to dodge his many creditors. He also used an alias to get on the ship that got him back home from the UK: Mr. Adolphus Arnot. Fortunately for Burr, the War of 1812 was raging, so he was soon able to stop living a lie and instead just fade into relative obscurity.
He Had to Sell Off His Possessions To Survive While Exiled In LondonPhoto: George S. Stuart / Photographed by Peter d'Aprix / CC BY SA 3.0
At perhaps the lowest point in his post-duel life, Burr had to sell off all of his stuff just to survive while exiled in London. His journal from the time is tragic: “Have left in cash 2 halfpence, which is much better than one penny, because they jingle, and thus one may refresh one’s self with the music.” Jesus Christ, Burr — that’s rough.
Addressing his daughter:
"Tried, on my way home, at several places, to pawn your picture-watch, which ought to be worth 50 guineas; but they would not give more than 3 pounds, which refused. As I approached my home, ruminated how to get dinner … for I had neither bread, butter, cheese, nor sugar."
At one point, he calculated how long he could live with no money left at all: "Without a penny, I can keep the animal machine a-going for eight days." Yikes.