11 Surprisingly Depressing Facts About The Miserable Life of Aaron Burr

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.   

  • He Got Divorced And Died On The Same Day

    Talk about the final nail in the coffin: the same day Burr died on Staten Island in his cousin’s care, his divorce to Eliza Jumel was also finalized. Ouch. To make things worse, Burr was immobilized from a series of strokes in his final two years, so he was bedridden when he learned Jumel hired the son of his former rival and victim, Alexander Hamilton, to be her divorce attorney. Double ouch.

  • His Only Daughter Was Lost At Sea

    His Only Daughter Was Lost At Sea
    Photo: Artist Unknown / Public Domain

    Burr’s beloved daughter Theodosia Burr Alston, the only of his children to survive childhood, disappeared at sea at age 29, when the schooner Patriot mysteriously vanished without a trace. A whole trunk full of family manuscripts was on the ship, as well, meaning Burr lost a part of his family’s past and future all at once. No one knows what happened to the Patriot, but one of the many upsetting theories is pirates wrecked it and made and surviving passengers walk the plank. Arrrgh that’s depressing.

  • He Tried To Form His Own Nation, But Didn't Have The Support

    He Tried To Form His Own Nation, But Didn't Have The Support
    Photo: Charles C. Coffin / Public Domain

    Everyone knows about the deadly Hamilton-Burr duel. The lesser-known Act 2 of Burr’s sad saga was an attempt to form his own nation out West, and maybe even take over Mexico. Despite his best efforts, Burr just couldn’t cobble together enough support. His “army” was stocked with fewer than 100 men, and an attempt to get Britain to back his plan fell flat.

    Burr was eventually tried for treason, but narrowly managed a not guilty on what was essentially a Constitutional technicality. Regardless, Burr’s already less-than-stellar reputation was ruined.

  • He Accidentally Invented The Filibuster

    He Accidentally Invented The Filibuster
    Photo: Illustrator Unknown / Public Domain

    It’s depressing enough to be the guy who purposefully invented one of the most annoying and controversial “tactics” in American politics, the time-wasting filibuster, but to inadvertently bring it to life because of an offhand remark? That’s devastating.

    Burr did just that when, as Vice President, he suggested to the senate in 1805 they needed to clean up how they went about their business, singling out the so-called previous question motion as an example of an unnecessary rule. The motion enabled the majority to simply cut off a debate, if need be. The senate dropped the motion at Burr’s request, paving the way for the first-ever filibuster in 1837. Thanks a lot, Burr!

  • His Company Distributed Cholera-Contaminated Water To A Third of New York City

    His Company Distributed Cholera-Contaminated Water To A Third of New York City
    Photo: 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 Two

    He Became An Orphan At Two
    Photo: 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.