by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
July 4, 2007
THE MAN WHO SHOT ALEXANDER HAMILTON
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- It's only coincidental that I'm writing about Aaron Burr in early July, when it was dawn on another early July day, 1804, that he shot and mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton in Weehawken, N. J.
Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury (see the $10 bill) and Burr was Vice President under Thomas Jefferson . (Interesting aside: they both had 73 votes in the Electoral College, so the House of Representatives was called upon to vote. It took 36 ballots to name Jefferson President and Burr the Vice President.)
This era in American history was rather glossed-over in the early years of my schooling. We hit the highlights featuring George Washington, the Constitutional Convention, branches of government and the function of each, but we didn't get into the Burr-Hamilton duel itself, nor any of the circumstances provoking it, ramifications from it or what happened to Aaron Burr.
Just yesterday, I learned that Aaron Burr stayed here on St. Simons Island. To me that was mind-boggling. This is a tiny little island with a strong history of Spanish invaders, Indian tribes, British occupation, Scottish Highlanders, missionary martyrs, battle sites and forts protecting American citizens from threats at sea.
Until we moved here 13 years ago, I never heard of Burr's presence on our island. Tourism has put us on the map and now we're growing into one of those places to retire, or to vacation in the years before retirement. It remains relatively unscathed by new construction, although that abounds. We widen the roads but the canopy of lush oak trees continue to offer the necessary shade.
But Aaron Burr? Riding his horse around Hampton Plantation - where my husband spends days on the spectacular golf course? Aaron Burr?
I almost feel I've gone full circle. Before we married, we worked on Broadway and Wall Street. Trinity Church was around the corner and Trinity Churchyard was a places to visit, walk, or take a lunch. We would spread our bag lunches on top of Alexander Hamilton's grave. The white marble made a perfect table (and there was no disrespect intended).
On Wall Street, history was all around us. President George Washington took his Oath of Office just down the street New York was America's first capital) and we saw his statue on the very spot where he spoke. Whenever we zipped down Pearl St. toward the subway, we passed ancient Fraunces Tavern, the place where Washington bid his final farewell to his troops, and the former home of most ogovernment offices when New York was America's capital.
It's no secret that I like a hands-on view of history, touching what "they" touched, looking through windows they looked through. The subjects of my awe are always persons I admire for their literary contributions or heroics. I cannot assimilate the knowledge that Aaron Burr enjoyed a rather lengthy stay here on this little island of Gerogia, right in the middle of his term as Vice President, after the July 11, 1804 duel.
Looking into it, I found he made friends with Major Pierce Butler, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina when Burr was Senator from New York. He imposed upon that friendship, one might say. Butler gave him carte blanche at his plantation at Hampton Point while things cooled down in his home state, where he was indicted for murder. He also faced indictment in New Jersey, where they found the duel held in that state questionable, at least. He was never tried, by the way, but found sanctuary on St. Simons Island, Ga., while "the heat was on."
He soon left for more rarefied climes, as it was generally understood that in the South, dueling to settle differences was at least tolerated. Following this self-imposed exile, he returned to his office and completed his term as Vice President.
Growing up with history all around me made historic events commonplace to me. Signs on some homes boasted "George Washington Slept Here." Some of them were true but most of the signs were placed by opportunists. Some were deliberately placed for humor; I remember one that said, "George Washington Slept Everywhere."
In his profile on a government's site, Burr's years of service in the Senate along with his party affiliation is listed. Aaron Burr ran on the "Anti-Administration; Republican" ticket. If what we read in our newspapers today is any indication, that political party is alive and still functioning.