Famous Americans of Recent Times
James Parton

Part 8 out of 9

Commodore Vanderbilt is one of the New World's strong men. His career
is one which young men who aspire to lead in practical affairs may
study with profit.

[Footnote 1: This narrative of the business-life of Commodore
Vanderbilt was written immediately after I had heard him tell the
story himself. It was written at the request of Robert Bonner, Esq.,
and published by him in the New York Ledger of April 8, 1865. I should
add, that several of the facts given were related to me at various
times by members of Mr. Vanderbilt's family.]


New York does well to celebrate the anniversary of the day when the
British troops evacuated the city; for it was in truth the birthday of
all that we now mean by the City of New York. One hundred and
seventy-four years had elapsed since Hendrick Hudson landed upon the
shores of Manhattan; but the town could only boast a population of
twenty-three thousand. In ten years the population doubled; in twenty
years trebled. Washington Irving was a baby seven months old, at his
father's house in William Street, on Evacuation Day, the 25th of
November, 1783. On coming of age he found himself the inhabitant of a
city containing a population of seventy thousand. When he died, at the
age of seventy-five, more than a million of people inhabited the
congregation of cities which form the metropolis of America.

The beginnings of great things are always interesting to us.
New-Yorkers, at least, cannot read without emotion the plain,
matter-of-fact accounts in the old newspapers of the manner in which
the city of their pride changed masters. Journalism has altered its
modes of procedure since that memorable day. No array of headings in
large type called the attention of readers to the details of this
great event in the history of their town, and no editorial article in
extra leads commented upon it. The newspapers printed the merest
programme of the proceedings, with scarcely a comment of their own;
and, having done that, they felt that their duty was done, for no
subsequent issue contains an allusion to the subject. Perhaps the
reader will be gratified by a perusal of the account of the evacuation
as given in Rivington's Gazette of November 26, 1783.

New York, November 26:--Yesterday in the Morning the American Troops
marched from Haerlem, to the Bowery-Lane--They remained there until
about One o'Clock, when the British Troops left the Posts in the
Bowery, and the American Troops marched into and took Possession of
the City, in the following Order, _viz._

1. A Corps of Dragoons.

2. Advance Guard of Light Infantry.

3. A Corps of Artillery.

4. Battalion of Light Infantry.

5. Battalion of Massachusetts Troops.

6. Rear Guard.

After the Troops had taken Possession of the City, the GENERAL
[Washington] and GOVERNOR [George Clinton] made their Public Entry in
the following Manner:

1. Their Excellencies the General and Governor, with their Suites, on

2. The Lieutenant-Governor, and the Members of the Council, for the
Temporary Government of the Southern District, four a-breast.

3. Major General Knox, and the Officers of the Army, eight a-breast.

4. Citizens on Horseback, eight a-breast.

5. The Speaker of the Assembly, and Citizens, on Foot, eight a-breast.

Their Excellencies the Governor and Commander in Chief were escorted
by a Body of West-Chester Light Horse, under the command of Captain

The Procession proceeded down Queen Street [now Pearl], and through
the Broadway, to _Cape's_ Tavern.

The Governor gave a public Dinner at _Fraunces's_ Tavern; at which the
Commander in Chief and other General Officers were present.

After Dinner, the following Toasts were drank by the Company:

1. The United States of America.

2. His most Christian Majesty.

3. The United Netherlands.

4. The king of Sweden.

5. The American Army.

6. The Fleet and Armies of France, which have served in America.

7. The Memory of those Heroes who have fallen for our Freedom.

8. May our Country be grateful to her military children.

9. May Justice support what Courage has gained.

10. The Vindicators of the Rights of Mankind in every Quarter of the

11. May America be an Asylum to the persecuted of the Earth.

12. May a close Union of the States guard the Temple they have erected
to Liberty.

13. May the Remembrance of THIS DAY be a Lesson to Princes.

The arrangement and whole conduct of this march, with the tranquillity
which succeeded it, through the day and night, was admirable! and the
grateful citizens will ever feel the most affectionate impressions,
from that elegant and efficient disposition which prevailed through
the whole event.

Such was the journalism of that primitive day. The sedate Rivington,
for so many years the Tory organ, was in no humor, we may suppose, to
chronicle the minor events of the occasion, even if he had not
considered them beneath the dignity of his vocation. He says nothing
of the valiant matron in Chatham Row who, in the impatience of her
patriotism, hoisted the American flag over her door two hours before
the stipulated moment, noon, and defended it against a British provost
officer with her broomstick. Nor does he allude to the great scene at
the principal flag-staff, which the retiring garrison had plentifully
greased, and from which they had removed the blocks and halyards, in
order to retard the hoisting of the stars and stripes. He does not
tell us how a sailor-boy, with a line around his waist and a pocket
full of spikes, hammered his way to the top of the staff, and restored
the tackling by which the flag was flung to the breeze before the
barges containing the British rear-guard had reached the fleet. It was
a sad day for Mr. Rivington, and he may be excused for not dwelling
upon its incidents longer than stern duty demanded.

The whole State of New York had been waiting impatiently for the
evacuation of the City. Many hundreds of the old Whig inhabitants, who
had fled at the entrance of the English troops seven years before,
were eager to come again into possession of their homes and property,
and resume their former occupations. Many new enterprises waited only
for the departure of the troops to be entered upon. A large number of
young men were looking to New York as the scene of their future
career. Albany, which had served as the temporary capital of the
State, was full of lawyers, law-students, retired soldiers, merchants,
and mechanics, who were prepared to remove to New York as soon as
Rivington's Gazette should inform them that the British had really
left, and General Washington taken possession. As in these days
certain promises to pay are to be fulfilled six months after the
United States shall have acknowledged the independence of a certain
Confederacy, so at that time it was a custom for leases and other
compacts to be dated from "the day on which the British troops shall
leave New York." Among the young men in Albany who were intending to
repair to the city were two retired officers of distinction, Alexander
Hamilton, a student at law, and Aaron Burr, then in the second year of
his practice at the bar. James Kent and Edward Livingston were also
students of law in Albany at that time. The old Tory lawyers being all
exiled or silenced, there was a promising field in New York for young
advocates of talent, and these two young gentlemen had both contracted
marriages which necessitated speedy professional gains. Hamilton had
won the daughter of General Schuyler. Burr was married to the widow of
a British officer, whose fortune was a few hundred pounds and two fine
strapping boys fourteen and sixteen years of age.

And Burr was himself a father. Theodosia, "his only child," was born
at Albany in the spring of 1783. When the family removed to New York
in the following winter, and took up their abode in Maiden Lane,--"the
rent to commence when the troops leave the city,"--she was an engaging
infant of seven or eight months. We may infer something of the
circumstances and prospects of her father, when we know that he had
ventured upon a house of which the rent was two hundred pounds a year.
We find him removing, a year or two after, to a mansion at the corner
of Cedar and Nassau streets, the garden and grapery of which were
among the finest in the thickly settled portion of the city. Fifty
years after, he had still an office within a very few yards of the
same spot, though all trace of the garden of Theodosia's childhood had
long ago disappeared. She was a child of affluence. Not till she had
left her father's house did a shadow of misfortune darken its portals.
Abundance and elegance surrounded her from her infancy, and whatever
advantages in education and training wealth can produce for a child
she had in profusion. At the same time her father's vigilant stoicism
guarded her from the evils attendant upon a too easy acquisition of
things pleasant and desirable.

She was born into a happy home. Even if we had not the means of
knowing something of the character of her mother, we might still infer
that she must have possessed qualities singularly attractive to induce
a man in the position of Burr to undertake the charge of a family at
the outset of his career. She was neither handsome nor young, nor had
she even the advantage of good health. A scar disfigured her face.
Burr,--the brilliant and celebrated Burr,--heir of an honored name,
had linked his rising fortunes with an invalid and her boys. The event
most abundantly justified his choice, for in all the fair island of
Manhattan there was not a happier family than his, nor one in which
happiness was more securely founded in the diligent discharge of duty.
The twelve years of his married life were his brightest and best; and
among the last words he ever spoke were a pointed declaration that his
wife was the best woman and the finest lady he had ever known. It was
her cultivated mind that drew him to her. "It was a knowledge of your
mind," he once wrote her,

"which first inspired me with a respect for that of your
sex, and with some regret I confess, that the ideas you have
often heard me express in favor of female intellectual power
are founded in what I have imagined more than in what I have
seen, except in you."

In those days an educated woman was among the rarest of rarities. The
wives of many of our most renowned revolutionary leaders were
surprisingly illiterate. Except the noble wife of John Adams, whose
letters form so agreeable an oasis in the published correspondence of
the time, it would be difficult to mention the name of one lady of the
revolutionary period who could have been a companion to the _mind_ of
a man of culture. Mrs. Burr, on the contrary, was the equal of her
husband in literary discernment, and his superior in moral judgment.
Her remarks, in her letters to her husband, upon the popular authors
of the day, Chesterfield, Rousseau, Voltaire, and others, show that
she could correct as well as sympathize with her husband's taste. She
relished all of Chesterfield except the "indulgence," which Burr
thought essential. She had a weakness for Rousseau, but was not
deluded by his sentimentality. She enjoyed Gibbon without stumbling at
his fifteenth and sixteenth-chapters. The home of Theodosia presents
to us a pleasing scene of virtuous industry. The master of the house,
always an indomitable worker, was in the full tide of a successful
career at the bar. His two step-sons were employed in his office, and
one of them frequently accompanied him in his journeys to distant
courts as clerk or amanuensis. No father could have been more generous
or more thoughtful than he was for these fatherless youths, and they
appeared to have cherished for him the liveliest affection. Mrs. Burr
shared in the labors of the office during the absence of her lord. All
the affairs of this happy family moved in harmony, for love presided
at their board, inspired their exertions, and made them one. One
circumstance alone interrupted their felicity, and that was the
frequent absence of Burr from home on business at country courts; but
even these journeys served to call forth from all the family the
warmest effusions of affection.

"What language can express the joy, the gratitude of Theodosia!"
writes Mrs. Burr to her absent husband, in the fifth year of their

"Stage after stage without a line. Thy usual punctuality
gave room for every fear; various conjectures filled every
breast. One of our sons was to have departed to-day in quest
of the best of friends and fathers. This morning we waited
the stage with impatience. Shrouder went frequently before
it arrived; at length returned--_no letter_. We were struck
dumb with disappointment. Barton [eldest son] set out to
inquire who were the passengers; in a very few minutes
returned exulting--a packet worth the treasures of the
Universe. Joy brightened every face; all expressed their
past anxieties, their present happiness. To enjoy was the
first result. Each made choice of what they could best
relish. Porter, sweet wine, chocolate, and sweetmeats made
the most delightful repast that could be enjoyed without
thee. The servants were made to feel their lord was well;
are at this instant toasting his health and bounty. While
the boys are obeying thy dear commands, thy Theodosia flies
to speak her heartfelt joy--her Aaron safe--mistress of the
heart she adores, can she ask more? Has Heaven more to

What a pleasing picture of a happy family circle is this, and how
rarely are the perils of a second marriage so completely overcome! It
was in such a warm and pleasant nest as this that Theodosia Burr
passed the years of her childhood.

Charles Lamb used to say that babies had no right to our regard merely
_as_ babies, but that every child had a character of its own by which
it must stand or fall in the esteem of disinterested observers.
Theodosia was a beautiful and forward child, formed to be the pet and
pride of a household. "Your dear little Theo," wrote her mother in her
third year, "grows the most engaging child you ever saw. It is
impossible to see her with indifference." From her earliest years she
exhibited that singular fondness for her father which afterward became
the ruling passion of her life, and which was to undergo the severest
tests that filial affection has ever known. When she was but three
years of age her mother would write: "Your dear little daughter seeks
you twenty times a day; calls you to your meals, and will not suffer
your chair to be filled by any of the family." And again:

"Your dear little Theodosia cannot hear you spoken of
without an apparent melancholy; insomuch that her nurse is
obliged to exert her invention to divert her, and myself
avoid to mention you in her presence. She was one whole day
indifferent to everything but your name. Her attachment is
not of a common nature."

Here was an inviting opportunity for developing an engaging infant
into that monstrous thing, a spoiled child. She was an only daughter
in a family of which all the members but herself were adults, and the
head of which was among the busiest of men.

But Aaron Burr, amidst all the toils of his profession, and in spite
of the distractions of political strife, made the education of his
daughter the darling object of his existence. Hunters tell us that
pointers and hounds _inherit_ the instinct which renders them such
valuable allies in the pursuit of game; so that the offspring of a
trained dog acquires the arts of the chase with very little
instruction. Burr's father was one of the most zealous and skillful of
schoolmasters, and from him he appears to have derived that pedagogic
cast of character which led him, all his life, to take so much
interest in the training of _proteges_. There was never a time in his
whole career when he had not some youth upon his hands to whose
education he was devoted. His system of training, with many excellent
points, was radically defective. Its defects are sufficiently
indicated when we say that It was pagan, not Christian. Plato,
Socrates, Cato, and Cicero might have pronounced it good and
sufficient: St. John, St. Augustine, and all the Christian host would
have lamented it as fatally defective. But if Burr educated his child
as though she were a Roman girl, her mother was with her during the
first eleven years of her life, to supply, in some degree, what was
wanting in the instructions of her father.

Burr was a stoic. He cultivated hardness. Fortitude and fidelity were
his favorite virtues. The seal which he used in his correspondence
with his intimate friends, and with them only, was descriptive of his
character and prophetic of his destiny. It was a Rock, solitary in the
midst of a tempestuous ocean, and bore the inscription, "_Nee flatu
nee fluctu_"--neither by wind nor by wave. It was his principle to
steel himself against the inevitable evils of life. If we were asked
to select from his writings the sentence which contains most of his
characteristic way of thinking, it would be one which he wrote in his
twenty-fourth year to his future wife: "That mind is truly great which
can bear with equanimity the trifling and unavoidable vexations of
life, and be affected only by those which determine our substantial
bliss." He utterly despised all complaining, even of the greatest
calamities. He even experienced a kind of proud pleasure in enduring
the fierce obloquy of his later years. One day, near the close of his
life, when a friend had told him of some new scandal respecting his
moral conduct, he said: "That's right, my child, tell me what they
say. I like to know what the public say of me,--the _great_ public!"
Such words he would utter without the slightest bitterness, speaking
of the _great_ public as a humorous old grandfather might of a
wayward, foolish, good little child.

So, at the dawn of a career which promised nothing but glory and
prosperity, surrounded by all the appliances of ease and pleasure, he
was solicitous to teach his child to do and to endure. He would have
her accustomed to sleep alone, and to go about the house in the dark.
Her breakfast was of bread and milk. He was resolute in exacting the
less agreeable tasks, such as arithmetic. He insisted upon regularity
of hours. Upon going away upon a journey he would leave written orders
for her tutors, detailing the employments of each day; and, during his
absence, a chief topic of his letters was the lessons of the children.
_Children_,--for, that his Theodosia might have the advantage of a
companion in her studies, he adopted the little Natalie, a French
child, whom he reared to womanhood in his house. "The letters of our
dear children," he would write,

"are a feast. To hear that they are employed, that no time
is absolutely wasted, is the most flattering of anything
that could be told me of them. It insures their affection,
or is the best evidence of it. It insures in its
consequences everything I am ambitious of in them. Endeavor
to preserve regularity of hours; it conduces exceedingly to

And his wife would answer:

"I really believe, my dear, that few parents can boast of
children whose minds are so prone to virtue. I see the
reward of our assiduity with inexpressible delight, with a
gratitude few experience. My Aaron, they have grateful

Or thus: "Theo [seven years old] ciphers from five in the morning
until eight, and also the same hours in the evening. This prevents our
riding at those hours."

When Theodosia was ten years old, Mary Wollstonecraft's eloquent
little book, "A Vindication of the Eights of Woman," fell into Burr's
hands. He was so powerfully struck by it that he sat up nearly all
night reading it. He showed it to all his friends. "Is it owing to
ignorance or prejudice," he wrote, "that I have not yet met a single
person who had discovered, or would allow the merit of this work?" The
work, indeed, was fifty years in advance of the time; for it
anticipated all that is rational in the opinions respecting the
position and education of women which are now held by the ladies who
are stigmatized as the Strong-minded, as well as by John Mill, Herbert
Spencer, and other economists of the modern school. It demanded fair
play for the _understanding_ of women. It proclaimed the essential
equality of the sexes. It denounced the awful libertinism of that age,
and showed that the-weakness, the ignorance, the vanity, and the
seclusion of women prepared them to become the tool and minion of bad
men's lust. It criticised ably the educational system of Rousseau,
and, with still more severity, the popular works of bishops and
priests, who chiefly strove to inculcate an abject submission to man
as the rightful lord of the sex. It demonstrated that the sole
possibility of woman's elevation to the rank of man's equal and friend
was in the cultivation of her mind, and in the thoughtful discharge of
the duties of her lot. It is a really noble and brave little book,
undeserving of the oblivion into which it has fallen. No intelligent
woman, no wise parent with daughters to rear, could read it now
without pleasure and advantage.

"Meekness," she says,

"may excite tenderness, and gratify the arrogant pride of
man; but the lordly caresses of a protector will not gratify
a noble mind that pants and deserves to be _respected_.
Fondness is a poor substitute for friendship... A girl whose
spirits have not been damped by inactivity, or innocence
tainted by false shame, will always be a romp, and the doll
will never excite attention unless confinement allows her no
alternative Most of the women, in the circle of my
observation, who have acted like rational creatures, have
accidentally been allowed to run wild, as some of the
elegant formers of the fair sex would insinuate Men have
better tempers than women because they are occupied by
pursuits that interest the _head_ as well as the heart. I
never knew a weak or ignorant person who had a good temper
Why are girls to be told that they resemble angels, but to
sink them below women? They are told that they are only like
angels when they are young and beautiful; consequently it is
their persons, not their virtues, that procure them this
homage It is in vain to attempt to keep the heart pure
unless the head is furnished with ideas Would ye, O my
sisters, really possess modesty, ye must remember that the
possession of virtue, of any denomination, is incompatible
with ignorance and vanity! Ye must acquire that soberness of
mind which the exercise of duties and the pursuit of
knowledge alone inspire, or ye will still remain in a
doubtful, dependent situation, and only be, loved while ye
are fair! The downcast eye, the rosy blush, the retiring
grace, are all proper in their season; but modesty being the
child of reason cannot long exist with the sensibility that
is not tempered by reflection.... With what disgust have I
heard sensible women speak of the wearisome confinement
which they endured at school. Not allowed, perhaps, to step
out of one broad path in a superb garden, and obliged to
pace, with steady deportment, stupidly backward and forward,
holding up their heads and turning out their toes, with
shoulders braced back, instead of bounding forward, as
Nature directs to complete her own design, in the various
attitudes so conducive to health. The pure animal spirits,
which make both mind and body shoot out and unfold the
tender blossoms of hope, are turned sour and vented in vain
wishes or pert repinings, that contract the faculties and.
spoil the temper; else they mount to the brain, and,
sharpening the understanding before it gains proportionable
strength, produce that pitiful cunning which disgracefully
characterizes the female mind,--and, I fear, will ever
characterize it while women remain the slaves of power."

In the spirit of this book Theodosia's education was conducted. Her
mind had fair play. Her father took it for granted that she could
learn what a boy of the same age could learn, and gave her precisely
the advantages which he would have given a son. Besides the usual
accomplishments, French, music, dancing, and riding, she learned to
read Virgil, Horace, Terence, Lucian, Homer, in the original. She
appears to have read all of Terence and Lucian, a great part of
Horace, all the Iliad, and large portions of the Odyssey. "Cursed
effects," exclaimed her father once,

"of fashionable education, of which both sexes are the
advocates, and yours eminently the victims. If I could
foresee that Theo would become a mere fashionable woman,
with all the attendant frivolity and vacuity of mind,
adorned with whatever grace and allurement, I would
earnestly pray God to take her forthwith hence. But I yet
hope by her to convince the world what neither sex appears
to believe, that women have souls."

How faithfully, how skilfully he labored to kindle and nourish the
intelligence of his child his letters to her attest. He was never too
busy to spare a half-hour in answering her letters. In a country
court-room, in the Senate-chamber, he wrote her brief and sprightly
notes, correcting her spelling, complimenting her style, reproving her
indolence, praising her industry, commenting on her authors. Rigorous
taskmaster as he was, he had a strong sense of the value of just
commendation, and he continued to mingle praise very happily with
reproof. A few sentences from his letters to her will serve to show
his manner.

(In her tenth year.)--

"I rose up suddenly from the sofa, and rubbing my head,
'What book shall I buy for her?' said I to myself. 'She
reads so much and so rapidly that it is not easy to find
proper and amusing French books for her; and yet I am so
flattered with her progress in that language that I am
resolved she shall, at all events, be gratified. Indeed I
owe it to her.' So, after walking once or twice briskly
across the floor, I took my hat and sallied out, determined
not to return till I had purchased something. It was not my
first attempt. I went into one bookseller's shop after
another. I found plenty of fairy tales and such nonsense,
fit for the generality of children nine or ten years old.
'These,' said I, 'will never do. Her understanding begins to
be above such things'; but I could see nothing that I would
offer with pleasure to an _intelligent, well-informed_ girl
nine years old. I began to be discouraged. The hour of
dining was come. 'But I will search a little longer,' I
persevered. At last I found it. I found the very thing I
sought. It is contained in two volumes octavo, handsomely
bound, and with prints and registers. It is a work of fancy,
but replete with instruction and amusement. I must present
it with my own hand."

He advised her to keep a diary; and to give her an idea of what she
should record, he wrote for her such a journal of one day as he should
like to receive.

_Plan of the Journal_.--

"Learned 230 lines, which finished Horace. Heigh-ho for
Terence and the Greek Grammar to-morrow. Practised two hours
less thirty-five minutes, which I begged off. Hewlett
(dancing-master) did not come. Began Gibbon last evening. I
find he requires as much study and attention as Horace; so I
shall not rank the reading of _him_ among amusements. Skated
an hour; fell twenty times, and find the advantage of a hard
head. Ma better,--dined, with us at table, and is still
sitting up and free from pain."

She was remiss in keeping her journal; remiss, too, in writing to her
father, though he reminded her that he never let one of _her_ letters
remain unanswered a day. He reproved her sharply. "What!" said he,

"can neither affection nor civility induce you to devote to
me the small portion of time which I have required? Are
authority and compulsion then the only engines by which you
can be moved? For shame, Theo. Do not give me reason to
think so ill of you."

She reformed. In her twelfth year, her father wrote: "Io triumphe!
there is not a word misspelled either in your journal or letter, which
cannot be said of one you ever wrote before." And again:

"When you want punctuality in your letters, I am sure you
want it in everything; for you will constantly observe that
you have the most leisure when you do the most business.
Negligence of one's duty produces a self-dissatisfaction
which unfits the mind for everything, and _ennui_ and
peevishness are the never-failing consequence."

His letters abound in sound advice. There is scarcely a passage in
them which the most scrupulous and considerate parent could
disapprove. Theodosia heeded well his instructions. She became nearly
all that his heart or his pride desired.

During the later years of her childhood, her mother was grievously
afflicted with a cancer, which caused her death in 1794, before
Theodosia had completed her twelfth year. From that time, such was the
precocity of her character, that she became the mistress of her
father's house and the companion of his leisure hours. Continuing her
studies, however, we find her in her sixteenth year translating French
comedies, reading the Odyssey at the rate of two hundred lines a day,
and about to begin the Iliad. "The happiness of my life," writes her
father, "depends upon your exertions; for what else, for whom else, do
I live?" And, later, when all the world supposed that his whole soul
was absorbed in getting New York ready to vote for Jefferson and Burr,
he told her that the ideas of which _she_ was the subject that passed
daily through his mind would, if committed to writing, fill an octavo

Who so happy as Theodosia? Who so fortunate? The young ladies of New
York, at the close of the last century, might have been pardoned for
envying the lot of this favorite child of one who then seemed the
favorite child of fortune. Burr had been a Senator of the United
States as soon as he had attained the age demanded by the
Constitution. As a lawyer he was second in ability and success to no
man; in reputation, to none but Hamilton, whose services in the
Cabinet of General Washington had given him great celebrity. Aged
members of the New York bar remember that Burr alone was the
antagonist who could put Hamilton to his mettle. When other lawyers
were employed against him, Hamilton's manner was that of a man who
felt an easy superiority to the demands upon him; he took few notes;
he was playful and careless, relying much upon the powerful
declamation of his summing up. But when Burr was in the case,--Burr
the wary, the vigilant, who was never careless, never inattentive, who
came into court only after an absolutely exhaustive preparation of his
case, who held declamation in contempt, and knew how to quench its
effect by a stroke of polite satire, or the quiet citation of a
fact,--then Hamilton was obliged to have all his wits about him, and
he was observed to be restless, busy, and serious. There are now but
two or three venerable men among us who remember the keen encounters
of these two distinguished lawyers. The vividness of their
recollection of those scenes of sixty years ago shows what an
impression must have been made upon their youthful minds.

If Hamilton and Burr divided equally between them the honors of the
bar, Burr had the additional distinction of being a leader of the
rising Democratic Party; the party to which, at that day, the youth,
the genius, the sentiment, of the country were powerfully drawn; the
party which, by his masterly tactics, was about to place Mr. Jefferson
in the Presidential chair after ten years of ineffectual struggle.

All this enhanced the _eclat_ of Theodosia's position. As she rode
about the island on her pony, followed at a respectful distance, as
the custom then was, by one of her father's slaves mounted on a
coach-horse, doubtless many a fair damsel of the city repined at her
own homelier lot, while she dwelt upon the many advantages which
nature and circumstances had bestowed upon this gifted and happy

She was a beautiful girl. She inherited all her father's refined
beauty of countenance; also his shortness of stature; the dignity,
grace, and repose of his incomparable manner, too. She was a plump,
petite, and rosy girl; but there was that in her demeanor which became
the daughter of an affluent home, and a certain assured, indescribable
expression of face which seemed to say, Here is a maiden who to the
object of her affection could be faithful against an execrating
world,--faithful even unto death.

Burr maintained at that time two establishments, one in the city, the
other a mile and a half out of town on the banks of the Hudson.
Richmond Hill was the name of his country seat, where Theodosia
resided during the later years of her youth. It was a large, massive,
wooden edifice, with a lofty portico of Ionic columns, and stood on a
hill facing the river, in the midst of a lawn adorned with ancient
trees and trained shrubbery. The grounds, which extended to the
water's edge, comprised about a hundred and sixty acres. Those who now
visit the site of Burr's abode, at the corner of Charlton and Varick
streets, behold a wilderness of very ordinary houses covering a dead
level. The hill has been pared away, the ponds filled up, the river
pushed away a long distance from the ancient shore, and every one of
the venerable trees is gone. The city shows no spot less suggestive of
rural beauty. But Richmond Hill, in the days of Hamilton and Burr, was
the finest country residence on the island of Manhattan. The wife of
John Adams, who lived there in 1790, just before Burr bought it, and
who had recently travelled in the loveliest counties of England,
speaks of it as a situation not inferior in natural beauty to the most
delicious spot she ever saw. "The house," she says,

"is situated upon an eminence; at an agreeable distance
flows the noble Hudson, bearing upon its bosom the fruitful
productions of the adjacent country. On my right hand are
fields beautifully variegated with grass and grain, to a
great extent, like the valley of Honiton, in Devonshire.
Upon my left the city opens to view, intercepted here and
there by a rising ground and an ancient oak. In front,
beyond the Hudson, the Jersey shores present the exuberance
of a rich, well-cultivated soil. The venerable oaks and
broken ground, covered with wild shrubs, which surround me,
give a natural beauty to the spot, which is truly
enchanting. A lovely variety of birds serenade me morning
and evening, rejoicing in their liberty and security; for I
have, as much as possible, prohibited the grounds from
invasion, and sometimes almost wished for game-laws, when my
orders have not been sufficiently regarded. The partridge,
the woodcock, and the pigeon are too great temptations to
the sports-men to withstand."

Indeed the whole Island was enchanting in those early days. There were
pleasant gardens even in Wall Street, Cedar Street, Nassau Street; and
the Battery, the place of universal resort, was one of the most
delightful public grounds in the world,--as it will be again when the
Spoiler is thrust from the places of power, and the citizens of New
York come again into the ownership of their city. The banks of the
Hudson and of the East River were forest-crowned bluffs, lofty and
picturesque, and on every favorable site stood a cottage or a mansion
surrounded with pleasant grounds. The letters of Theodosia Burr
contain many passages expressive of her intense enjoyment of the
variety, the vivid verdure, the noble trees, the heights, the pretty
lakes, the enchanting prospects, the beautiful gardens, which her
daily rides brought to her view. She was a dear lover of her island
home. The city had not then laid waste the beauty of Manhattan. There
was only one bank in New York, the officers of which shut the bank at
one o'clock and went home to dinner, returned at three, and kept the
bank open till five. Much of the business life of the town partook of
this homely, comfortable, easy-going, rural spirit. There was a mail
twice a week to the North, and twice a week to the South, and many of
the old-fashioned people had time to live.

Not so the younger and newer portion of the population. We learn from
one of the letters of the ill-fated Blennerhassett, who arrived in New
York from Ireland in 1796, that the people were so busy there in
making new docks, filling in the swamps, and digging cellars for new
buildings, as to bring on an epidemic fever and ague that drove him
from the city to the Jersey shore. He mentions, also, that land in the
State doubled in value every two years, and that commercial
speculation was carried on with such avidity that it was more like
gambling than trade. It is he that relates the story of the
adventurer, who, on learning that the yellow-fever prevailed fearfully
in the West Indies, sent thither a cargo of coffins in nests, and,
that no room might be lost, filled the smallest with gingerbread. The
speculation, he assures us, was a capital hit; for the adventurer not
only sold his coffins very profitably, but loaded his vessel with
valuable woods, which yielded a great profit at New York. At that
time, also, the speculation in lots, corner lots, and lands near the
city, was prosecuted with all the recklessness which we have been in
the habit of supposing was peculiar to later times. New York was New
York even in the days of Burr and Hamilton.

As mistress of Richmond Hill, Theodosia entertained distinguished
company. Hamilton was her father's occasional guest. Burr preferred
the society of educated Frenchmen and Frenchwomen to any other, and he
entertained many distinguished exiles of the French Revolution.
Talleyrand, Volney, Jerome Bonaparte, and Louis Philippe were among
his guests. Colonel Stone mentions, in his Life of Brant, that
Theodosia, in her fourteenth year, in the absence of her father, gave
a dinner to that chieftain of the forest, which was attended by the
Bishop of New York, Dr. Hosack, Volney, and several other guests of
distinction, who greatly enjoyed the occasion. Burr was gratified to
hear with how much grace and good-nature his daughter acquitted
herself in the entertainment of her company. The chief himself was
exceedingly delighted, and spoke of the dinner with great animation
many years after.

We have one pleasant glimpse of Theodosia in these happy years, in a
trifling anecdote preserved by the biographer of Edward Livingston,
during whose mayoralty the present City Hall was begun. The mayor had
the pleasure, one bright day, of escorting the young lady on board a
French frigate lying in the harbor. "You must bring none of your
sparks on board, Theodosia," exclaimed the pun-loving magistrate; "for
they have a magazine here, and we shall all be blown up." Oblivion
here drops the curtain upon the gay party and the brilliant scene.

A suitor appeared for the hand of this fair and accomplished girl. It
was Joseph Alston of South Carolina, a gentleman of twenty-two,
possessor of large estates in rice plantations and slaves, and a man
of much spirit and talent. He valued his estates at two hundred
thousand pounds sterling. Their courtship was not a long one; for
though she, as became her sex, checked the impetuosity of his advances
and argued for delay, she was easily convinced by the reasons which he
adduced for haste. She reminded him that Aristotle was of opinion that
a man should not marry till he was thirty-six. "A fig for Aristotle,"
he replied; "let us regard the _ipse dixit_ of no man. It is only want
of fortune or want of discretion," he continued, "that could justify
such a postponement of married joys. But suppose," he added,

"(_merely for instance_,) a young man nearly two-and-twenty,
already of the _greatest_ discretion, with an ample fortune,
were to be passionately in love with a young lady almost
eighteen, equally discreet with himself, and who had a
'sincere friendship' for him, do you think it would be
necessary to make him wait till thirty? particularly where
the friends on both sides were pleased with the match."

She told him, also, that some of her friends who had visited
Charleston had described it as a city where the yellow-fever and the
"yells of whipped negroes, which assail your ears from every house,"
and the extreme heat, rendered life a mere purgatory. She had heard,
too, that in South Carolina the men were absorbed in hunting, gaming,
and racing; while the women, robbed of their society, had no pleasures
but to come together in large parties, sip tea, and look prim. The
ardent swain eloquently defended his native State:--

"What!" he exclaimed,

"is Charleston, the most delightfully situated city in
America, which, entirely open to the ocean, twice in every
twenty-four hours is cooled by the refreshing sea-breeze,
the Montpelier of the South, which annually affords an
asylum to the planter and the West Indian from every
disease, accused of heat and unhealthiness? But this is not
all, unfortunate citizens of Charleston; the scream, the
yell of the miserable unresisting African, bleeding under
the scourge of relentless power, affords music to your ears!
Ah! from what unfriendly cause does this arise? Has the God
of heaven, in anger, here changed the order of nature? In
every other region, without exception, in a similar degree
of latitude, the same sun which ripens the tamarind and the
anana, ameliorates the temper, and disposes it to gentleness
and kindness. In India and other countries, not very
different in climate from the southern parts of the United
States, the inhabitants are distinguished for a softness and
inoffensiveness of manners, degenerating almost to
effeminacy; it is here then, only, that we are exempt from
the general influence of climate: here only that, in spite
of it, we are cruel and ferocious! Poor Carolina!"

And with regard to the manners of the Carolinians he assured the young
lady that if there was one State in the Union which could justly claim
superiority to the rest, in social refinement and the art of elegant
living, it was South Carolina, where the division of the people into
the very poor and the very rich left to the latter class abundant
leisure for the pursuit of literature and the enjoyment of society.

"The possession of slaves," he owns,

"renders them proud, impatient of restraint, and gives them
a haughtiness of manner which, to those unaccustomed to
them, is disagreeable; but we find among them a high sense
of honor, a delicacy of sentiment, and a liberality of mind,
which we look for in vain in the more commercial citizens of
the Northern States. The genius of the Carolinian, like the
inhabitants of all southern countries, is quick, lively, and
acute; in steadiness and perseverance he is naturally
inferior to the native of the North; but this defect of
climate is often overcome by his ambition or necessity; and,
whenever this happens, he seldom fails to distinguish
himself. In his temper he is gay and fond of company, open,
generous, and unsuspicious; easily irritated, and quick to
resent even the appearance of insult; but his passion, like
the fire of the flint, is lighted up and extinguished in the
same moment."

Such discussions end only in one way. Theodosia yielded the points in
dispute. At Albany, on the 2d of February, 1801, while the country was
ringing with the names of Jefferson and Burr, and while the world
supposed that Burr was intriguing with all his might to defeat the
wishes of the people by securing his own election to the Presidency,
his daughter was married. The marriage was thus announced in the New
York _Commercial Advertiser_ of February 7:--

"MARRIED.---At Albany, on the 2d instant, by the Rev. Mr.
BURR, only child of AARON BURR, Esq."

They were married at Albany, because Colonel Burr, being a member of
the Legislature, was residing at the capital of the State. One week
the happy pair passed at Albany. Then to New York; whence, after a few
days' stay, they began their long journey southward. Rejoined at
Baltimore by Colonel Burr, they travelled in company to Washington,
where, on the 4th of March, Theodosia witnessed the inauguration of
Mr. Jefferson, and the induction of her father into the
Vice-Presidency. Father and child parted a day or two after the
ceremony. The only solid consolation, he said in his first letter to
her, that he had for the loss of her dear companionship, was a belief
that she would be happy, and the certainty that they should often
meet. And, on his return to New York, he told her that he had
approached his home as he would "the sepulchre of all his friends."
"Dreary, solitary, comfortless. It was no longer _home_." Hence his
various schemes of a second marriage, to which Theodosia urged him. He
soon had the comfort of hearing that the reception of his daughter in
South Carolina was as cordial and affectionate as his heart could have

Theodosia now enjoyed three as happy years as ever fell to the lot of
a young wife. Tenderly cherished by her husband, whom she devotedly
loved, caressed by society, surrounded by affectionate and admiring
relations, provided bountifully with all the means of enjoyment,
living in the summer in the mountains of Carolina, or at the home of
her childhood, Richmond Hill, passing the winters in gay and luxurious
Charleston, honored for her own sake, for her father's, and her
husband's, the years glided rapidly by, and she seemed destined to
remain to the last Fortune's favorite child. One summer she and her
husband visited Niagara, and penetrated the domain of the chieftain
Brant, who gave them royal entertainment. Once she had the great
happiness of receiving her father under her own roof, and of seeing
the honors paid by the people of the State to the Vice-President.
Again she spent a summer at Richmond Hill and Saratoga, leaving her
husband for the first time. She told him on this occasion that every
_woman_ must prefer the society of the North to that of the South,
whatever she might say. "If she denies it, she is set down in my mind
as insincere and weakly prejudiced." But, like a fond and loyal wife,
she wrote, "Where you are, there is my country, and in you are centred
all my wishes."

She was a mother too. That engaging and promising boy, Aaron Burr
Alston, the delight of his parents and of his grandfather, was born in
the second year of the marriage. This event seemed to complete her
happiness. For a time, it is true, she paid dearly for it by the loss
of her former robust and joyous health. But the boy was worth the
price. "If I can see without prejudice," wrote Colonel Burr, "there
never was a finer boy"; and the mother's letters are full of those
sweet, trifling anecdotes which mothers love to relate of their
offspring. Her father still urged her to improve her mind, for her own
and her son's sake, telling her that all she could learn would
necessarily find its way to the mind of the boy. "Pray take in hand,"
he writes, "some book which requires attention and study. You will, I
fear, lose the habit of study, which would be a greater misfortune
than to lose your head." He praised, too, the ease, good-sense, and
sprightliness of her letters, and said truly that her style, at its
best, was not inferior to that of Madame de Sevigne.

Life is frequently styled a checkered scene. But it was the peculiar
lot of Theodosia to experience during the first twenty-one years of
her life nothing but prosperity and happiness, and during the
remainder of her existence nothing but misfortune and sorrow. Never
had her father's position seemed so strong and enviable as during his
tenure of the office of Vice-President; but never had it been in
reality so hollow and precarious. Holding property valued at two
hundred thousand dollars, he was so deeply in debt that nothing but
the sacrifice of his landed estate could save him from bankruptcy. At
the age of thirty he had permitted himself to be drawn from a
lucrative and always increasing professional business to the
fascinating but most costly pursuit of political honors. And now; when
he stood at a distance of only one step from the highest place, he was
pursued by a clamorous host of creditors, and compelled to resort to a
hundred expedients to maintain the expensive establishments supposed
to be necessary to a Vice-President's dignity. His political position
was as hollow as his social eminence. Mr. Jefferson was firmly
resolved that Aaron Burr should not be his successor; and the great
families of New York, whom Burr had united to win the victory over
Federalism, were now united to bar the further advancement of a man
whom they chose to regard as an interloper and a parvenu. If Burr's
private life had been stainless, if his fortune had been secure, if he
had been in his heart a Republican and a Democrat, if he had been a
man earnest in the people's cause, if even his talents had been as
superior as they were supposed to be, such a combination of powerful
families and political influence might have retarded, but could not
have prevented, his advancement; for he was still in the prime of his
prime, and the people naturally side with a man who is the architect
of his own fortunes.

On the 1st of July, 1804, Burr sat in the library of Richmond Hill
writing to Theodosia. The day was unseasonably cold, and a fire blazed
upon the hearth. The lord of the mansion was chilly and serious. An
hour before he had taken the step which made the duel with Hamilton
inevitable, though eleven days were to elapse before the actual
encounter. He was tempted to prepare the mind of his child for the
event, but he forebore. Probably his mind had been wandering into the
past, and recalling his boyhood; for he quoted a line of poetry which
he had been wont to use in those early days. "Some very wise man has
said," he wrote,

"'Oh, fools, who think it solitude to be alone!'

"This is but poetry. Let us, therefore, drop the subject, lest it lead
to another, on which I have imposed silence on myself." Then he
proceeds, in his usual gay and agreeable manner, again urging her to
go on in the pursuit of knowledge. His last thoughts before going to
the field were with her and for her. His last request to her husband
was that he should do all that in him lay to encourage her to improve
her mind.

The bloody deed was done. The next news Theodosia received from her
father was that he was a fugitive from the sudden abhorrence of his
fellow-citizens; that an indictment for murder was hanging over his
head; that his career in New York was, in all probability, over
forever; and that he was destined to be for a time a wanderer on the
earth. Her happy days were at an end. She never blamed her father for
this, or for any act of his; on the contrary, she accepted without
questioning his own version of the facts, and his own view of the
morality of what he had done. He had formed her mind and tutored her
conscience. He _was_ her conscience. But though she censured him not,
her days and nights were embittered by anxiety from this time to the
last day of her life. A few months later her father, black with
hundreds of miles of travel in an open canoe, reached her abode in
South Carolina, and spent some weeks there before appearing for the
last time in the chair of the Senate; for, ruined as he was in fortune
and good name, indicted for murder in New York and New Jersey, he was
still Vice-President of the United States, and he was resolved to
reappear upon the public scene, and do the duty which the Constitution
assigned him.

The Mexican scheme followed. Theodosia and her husband were both
involved in it. Mr. Alston advanced money for the project, which was
never repaid, and which, in his will, he forgave. His entire loss, in
consequence of his connection with that affair, may be reckoned at
about fifty thousand dollars. Theodosia entirely and warmly approved
the dazzling scheme. The throne of Mexico, she thought, was an object
worthy of her father's talents, and one which would repay him for the
loss of a brief tenure of the Presidency, and be a sufficient triumph
over the men who were supposed to have thwarted him. Her boy,
too,--would he not be heir-presumptive to a throne?

The recent publication of the "Blennerhassett Papers" appears to
dispel all that remained of the mystery which the secretive Burr chose
to leave around the object of his scheme. We can now say with almost
absolute certainty that Burr's objects were the following: The throne
of Mexico for himself and his heirs; the seizure and organization of
Texas as preliminary to the grand design. The purchase of lands on the
Washita was for the three-fold purpose of veiling the real object,
providing a rendezvous, and having the means of tempting and rewarding
those of the adventurers who were not in the secret. We can also now
discover the designed distribution of honors and places: Aaron L,
Emperor; Joseph Alston, Head of the Nobility and Chief Minister; Aaron
Burr Alston, heir to the throne; Theodosia, Chief Lady of the Court
and Empire; Wilkinson, General-in-Chief of the Army; Blennerhassett,
Embassador to the Court of St. James; Commodore Truxton (perhaps),
Admiral of the Navy. There is not an atom of new _evidence_ which
warrants the supposition that Burr had any design to sever the Western
States from the Union. If he himself had ever contemplated such an
event, it is almost unquestionable that his followers were ignorant of

The scheme exploded. Theodosia and her husband had joined him at the
home of the Blennerhassetts, and they were near him when the
President's proclamation dashed the scheme to atoms, scattered the
band of adventurers, and sent Burr a prisoner to Richmond, charged
with high treason. Mr. Alston, in a public letter to the Governor of
South Carolina, solemnly declared that he was wholly ignorant of any
treasonable design on the part of his father-in-law, and repelled with
honest warmth the charge of his own complicity with a design so
manifestly absurd and hopeless as that of a dismemberment of the
Union. Theodosia, stunned with the unexpected blow, returned with her
husband to South Carolina, ignorant of her father's fate. He was
carried through that State on his way to the North, and there it was
that he made his well-known attempt to appeal to the civil authorities
and get deliverance from the guard of soldiers. From Richmond he wrote
her a hasty note, informing her of his arrest. She and her husband
joined him soon, and remained with him during his trial.

At Richmond, during the six months of the trial, Burr tasted the last
of the sweets of popularity. The party opposed to Mr. Jefferson made
his cause their own, and gathered round the fallen leader with
ostentatious sympathy and aid. Ladies sent him bouquets, wine, and
dainties for his table, and bestowed upon his daughter the most
affectionate and flattering attentions. Old friends from New York and
new friends from the West were there to cheer and help the prisoner.
Andrew Jackson was conspicuously his friend and defender, declaiming
in the streets upon the tyranny of the Administration and the perfidy
of Wilkinson, Burr's chief accuser. Washington Irving, then in the
dawn of his great renown, who had given the first efforts of his
youthful pen to Burr's newspaper, was present at the trial, full of
sympathy for a man whom he believed to be the victim of treachery and
political animosity. Doubtless he was not wanting in compassionate
homage to the young matron from South Carolina. Mr. Irving was then a
lawyer, and had been retained as one of Burr's counsel; not to render
service in the court-room, but in the expectation that his pen would
be employed in staying the torrent of public opinion that was setting
against his client. Whether or not he wrote in his behalf does not
appear. But his private letters, written at Richmond during the trial,
show plainly enough that, if his head was puzzled by the confused and
contradictory evidence, his heart and his imagination were on the side
of the prisoner.

Theodosia's presence at Richmond was of more value to her father than
the ablest of his counsel. Every one appears to have loved, admired,
and sympathized with her. "You can't think," wrote Mrs.
Blennerhassett, "with what joy and pride I read what Colonel Burr says
of his daughter. I never could love one of my own sex as I do her."
Blennerhassett himself was not less her friend. Luther Martin, Burr's
chief counsel, almost worshipped her. "I find," wrote Blennerhassett,

"that Luther Martin's idolatrous admiration of Mrs. Alston
is almost as excessive as my own, but far more beneficial to
his interest and injurious to his judgment, as it is the
medium of his blind attachment to her father, whose secrets
and views, past, present, or to come, he is and wishes to
remain ignorant of. Nor can he see a speck in the character
or conduct of Alston, for the best of all reasons with him,
namely, that Alston has such a wife."

It plainly appears, too, from the letters and journal of
Blennerhassett, that Alston did all in his power to promote the
acquittal and aid the fallen fortunes of Burr, and that he did so, not
because he believed in him, but because he loved his Theodosia.

Acquitted by the jury, but condemned at the bar of public opinion,
denounced by the press, abhorred by the Republican party, and still
pursued by his creditors, Burr, in the spring of 1805, lay concealed
at New York preparing for a secret flight to Europe. Again his devoted
child travelled northward to see him once more before he sailed. For
some weeks both were in the city, meeting only by night at the house
of some tried friend, but exchanging notes and letters from hour to
hour. One whole night they spent together, just before his departure.
To her he committed his papers, the accumulation of thirty busy years;
and it was she who was to collect the debts due him, and thus provide
for his maintenance in Europe.

Burr was gay and confident to the last, for he was strong in the
belief that the British Ministry would adopt his scheme and aid in
tearing Mexico from the grasp of Napoleon. Theodosia was sick and
sorrowful, but bore bravely up and won her father's commendation for
her fortitude. In one of the early days of June father and daughter
parted, to meet no more on earth.

The four years of Burr's fruitless exile were to Theodosia years of
misery. She could not collect the debts on which they had relied. The
embargo reduced the rice-planters to extreme embarrassment. Her
husband no longer sympathized with her in her yearning love for her
father, though loving her as tenderly as ever. Old friends in New York
cooled toward her. Her health was precarious. Months passed without
bringing a word from over the sea; and the letters that did reach her,
lively and jovial as they were, contained no good news. She saw her
father expelled from England, wandering aimless in Sweden and Germany,
almost a prisoner in Paris, reduced to live on potatoes and dry bread;
while his own countrymen showed no signs of relenting toward him. In
many a tender passage she praised his fortitude. "I witness," she
wrote, in a well-known letter,

"your extraordinary fortitude with new wonder at every new
misfortune. Often, after reflecting on this subject, you
appear to me so superior, so elevated above all other men; I
contemplate you with such a strange mixture of humility,
admiration, reverence, love, and pride, that very little
superstition would be necessary to make me worship you as a
superior being; such enthusiasm does your character excite
in me. When I afterward revert to myself, how insignificant
do my best qualities appear! My vanity would be greater if I
had not been placed so near you; and yet my pride is our
relationship. I had rather not live than not be the daughter
of such a man."

Mr. Madison was President then. In other days her father had been on
terms of peculiar intimacy with Madison and his beautiful and
accomplished wife. Burr, in his later years, used to say that it was
he who had brought about the match which made Mrs. Madison an inmate
of the Presidential mansion. With the members of Madison's Cabinet,
too, he had been socially and politically familiar. When Theodosia
perceived that her father had no longer a hope of success in his
Mexican project, she became anxious for his return to America. But
against this was the probability that the Administration would again
arrest him and bring him to trial for the third time. Theodosia
ventured to write to her old friend, Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the
Treasury, asking him to interpose on her father's behalf. A letter
still more interesting than this has recently come to light. It was
addressed by Theodosia to Mrs. Madison. The coldest heart cannot read
this eloquent and pathetic production without emotion. She writes:--

"MADAM,--You may perhaps be surprised at receiving a letter
from one with whom you have had so little intercourse for
the last few years. But your surprise will cease when you
recollect that my father, once your friend, is now in exile;
and that the President only can restore him to me and his

"Ever since the choice of the people was first declared in
favor of Mr. Madison, my heart, amid the universal joy, has
beat with the hope that I, too, should soon have reason to
rejoice. Convinced that Mr. Madison would neither feel nor
judge from the feelings or judgment of others, I had no
doubt of his hastening to relieve a man whose character he
had been enabled to appreciate during a confidential
intercourse of long continuance, and whom [he] must know
incapable of the designs attributed to him. My anxiety on
this subject, has, however, become too painful to be
alleviated by anticipations which no events have yet tended
to justify; and in this state of intolerable suspense I have
determined to address myself to you, and request that you
will, _in my name_, apply to the President for a removal of
the prosecution now existing against AARON BURR. I still
expect it from him as a man of feeling and candor, as one
acting for the world and for posterity.

"Statesmen, I am aware, deem it necessary that sentiments of
liberality, and even justice, should yield to considerations
of policy; but what policy can require the absence of my
father at present? Even had he contemplated the project for
which he stands arraigned, evidently to pursue it any
further would now be impossible. There is not left one
pretext of alarm even to calumny; for bereft of fortune, of
popular favor, and almost of friends, what could he
accomplish? And whatever may be the apprehensions or the
clamors of the ignorant and the interested, surely the
timid, illiberal system which would sacrifice a man to a
remote and unreasonable possibility that he might infringe
some law founded on an unjust, unwarrantable suspicion that
he would desire it, cannot be approved by Mr. Madison, and
must be unnecessary to a President so loved, so honored.
Why, then, is my father banished from a country for which he
has encountered wounds and dangers and fatigue for years?
Why is he driven from his friends, from an only child, to
pass an unlimited time in exile, and that, too, at an age
when others are reaping the harvest of past toils, or ought
at least to be providing seriously for the comfort of
ensuing years? I do not seek to soften you by this
recapitulation. I only wish to remind you of all the
injuries which are inflicted on one of the first characters
the United States ever produced.

"Perhaps it may be well to assure you there is no truth in a
report lately circulated, that my father intends returning
immediately. He never will return to conceal himself in a
country on which he has conferred distinction.

"To whatever fate Mr. Madison may doom this application, I
trust it will be treated with delicacy. Of this I am the
more desirous as Mr. Alston is ignorant of the step I have
taken in writing to you, which, perhaps, nothing could
excuse but the warmth of filial affection. If it be an
error, attribute it to the indiscreet zeal of a daughter
whose soul sinks at the gloomy prospect of a long and
indefinite separation from a father almost adored, and who
can leave unattempted nothing which offers the slightest
hope of procuring him redress. What, indeed, would I not
risk once more to see him, to hang upon him, to place my
child on his knee, and again spend my days in the happy
occupation of endeavoring to anticipate all his wishes.

"Let me entreat, my dear Madam, that you will have the
consideration and goodness to answer me as speedily as
possible; my heart is sore with doubt and patient waiting
for something definitive. No apologies are made for giving
you this trouble, which I am sure you will not deem irksome
to take for a daughter, an affectionate daughter, thus
situated. Inclose your letter for me to A.J. Frederic
Prevost, Esq., near New Rochelle, New York.

"That every happiness may attend you,

"Is the sincere wish of


This letter was probably not ineffectual. Certain it is that
government offered no serious obstacle to Burr's return, and
instituted no further proceedings against him. Probably, too,
Theodosia received some kind of assurance to this effect, for we find
her urging her father, not only to return, but to go boldly to New
York among his old friends, and resume there the practice of his
profession. The great danger to be apprehended was from his creditors,
who then had power to confine a debtor within limits, if not to throw
him into prison. "_If the worst comes to the worst_" wrote this fond
and devoted daughter, "_I will leave everything to suffer with you_."
The Italics are her own.

He came at length. He landed in Boston, and sent word of his arrival
to Theodosia. Rejoiced as she was, she replied vaguely, partly in
cipher, fearing lest her letter might be opened on the way, and the
secret of her father's arrival be prematurely disclosed. She told him
that her own health was tolerable; that her child, then a fine boy of
eleven, was well; that "his little soul warmed at the sound of his
grandfather's name"; and that his education, under a competent tutor,
was proceeding satisfactorily. She gave directions respecting her
father's hoped-for journey to South Carolina in the course of the
summer; and advised him, in case war should be declared with England,
to offer his services to the government. He reached New York in May,
1812, and soon had the pleasure of informing his daughter that his
reception had been more friendly than he could have expected, and that
in time his prospects were fair of a sufficiently lucrative practice.

Surely, now, after so many years of anxiety and sorrow,
Theodosia--still a young woman, not thirty years of age, still
enjoying her husband's love---might have reasonably expected a happy
life. Alas! there was no more happiness in store for her on this side
of the grave. The first letter which Burr received from his son-in-law
after his arrival in New York contained news which struck him to the

"A few miserable weeks since," writes Mr. Alston, "and in spite of all
the embarrassments, the troubles, and disappointments which have
fallen to our lot since we parted, I would have congratulated you on
your return in the language of happiness. With my wife on one side and
my boy on the other, I felt myself superior to depression. The present
was enjoyed, the future was anticipated with enthusiasm. One dreadful
blow has destroyed us; reduced us to the veriest, the most sublimated
wretchedness. That boy, on whom all rested,--our companion, our
friend,--he who was to have transmitted down the mingled blood of
Theodosia and myself,--he who was to have redeemed all your glory, and
shed new lustre upon our families,--that boy, at once our happiness
and our pride, is taken from us,--_is dead_. We saw him dead. My own
hand surrendered him to the grave; yet we are alive. But it is past. I
will not conceal from you that life is a burden, which, heavy as it
is, we shall both support, if not with dignity, at least with decency
and firmness. Theodosia has endured all that a human being could
endure; but her admirable mind will triumph. She supports herself in a
manner worthy of your daughter."

The mother's heart was almost broken.

"There is no more joy for me," she wrote.

"The world is a blank. I have lost my boy. My child is gone
forever. May Heaven, by other blessings, make you some
amends for the noble grandson you have lost! Alas! my dear
father, I do live, but how does it happen? Of what am I
formed that I live, and why? Of what service can I be in
this world, either to you or any one else, with a body
reduced to premature old age, and a mind enfeebled and
bewildered? Yet, since it is my lot to live, I will endeavor
to fulfil my part, and exert myself to my utmost, though
this life must henceforth be to me a bed of thorns.
Whichever way I turn, the same anguish still assails me. You
talk of consolation. Ah! you know not what you have lost. I
think Omnipotence could give me no equivalent for my boy;
no, none,--none."

She could not be comforted. Her health gave way. Her husband thought
that if anything could restore her to tranquillity and health it would
be the society of her father; and so, at the beginning of winter, it
was resolved that she should attempt the dangerous voyage. Her father
sent a medical friend from New York to attend her.

"Mr. Alston," wrote this gentleman,

"seemed rather hurt that you should conceive it necessary to
send a person here, as he or one of his brothers would
attend Mrs. Alston to New York. I told him you had some
opinion of my medical talents; that you had learned your
daughter was in a low state of health, and required unusual
attention, and medical attention on her voyage; that I had
torn myself from my family to perform this service for my

And again, a few days after:--

"I have engaged a passage to New York for your daughter in a
pilot-boat that has been out privateering, but has come in
here, and is refitting merely to get to New York. My only
fears are that Governor Alston may think the mode of
conveyance too undignified, and object to it; but Mrs.
Alston is fully bent on going. You must not be surprised, to
see her very low, feeble, and emaciated. Her complaint is an
almost incessant nervous fever."

The rest is known. The vessel sailed. Off Cape Hatteras, during a gale
that swept the coast from Maine to Georgia, the pilot-boat went down,
and not one escaped to tell the tale. The vessel was never heard of
more. So perished this noble, gifted, ill-starred lady.

The agonizing scenes that followed may be imagined. Father and husband
were kept long in suspense. Even when many weeks had elapsed without
bringing tidings of the vessel, there still remained a forlorn hope
that some of her passengers might have been rescued by an
outward-bound ship, and might return, after a year or two had gone by,
from some distant port. Burr, it is said, acquired a habit, when
walking upon the Battery, of looking wistfully down the harbor at the
arriving ships, as if still cherishing a faint, fond hope that his
Theo was coming to him from the other side of the world. When, years
after, the tale was brought to him that his daughter had been carried
off by pirates and might be still alive, he said: "No, no, no; if my
Theo had survived that storm, she would have found her way to me.
Nothing could have kept my Theo from her father."

It was these sad events, the loss of his daughter and her boy, that
severed Aaron Burr from the human race. Hope died within him. Ambition
died. He yielded to his doom, and walked among men, not melancholy,
but indifferent, reckless, and alone. With his daughter and his
grandson to live and strive for, he might have done something in his
later years to redeem his name and atone for his errors. Bereft of
these, he had not in his moral nature that which enables men who have
gone astray to repent and begin a better life.

Theodosia's death broke her husband's heart. Few letters are so
affecting as the one which he wrote to Burr when, at length, the
certainty of her loss could no longer be resisted.

"My boy--my wife--gone both! This, then, is the end of all
the hopes we had formed. You may well observe that you feel
severed from the human race. She was the last tie that bound
us to the species. What have we left? ... Yet, after all, he
is a poor actor who cannot sustain his little hour upon the
stage, be his part what it may. But the man who has been
deemed worthy of the heart of _Theodosia Burr_, and who has
felt what it was to be blessed with such a woman's, will
never forget his elevation."

He survived his wife four years. Among the papers of Theodosia was
found, after her death, a letter which she had written a few years
before she died, at a time when she supposed her end was near. Upon
the envelope was written,--"My husband. To be delivered after my
death. I wish this to be read _immediately_, and before my burial."
Her husband never saw it, for he never had the courage to look into
the trunk that contained her treasures. But after his death the trunk
was sent to Burr, who found and preserved this affecting composition.
We cannot conclude our narrative more fitly than by transcribing the
thoughts that burdened the heart of Theodosia in view of her departure
from the world. First, she gave directions respecting the disposal of
her jewelry and trinkets, giving to each of her friends some token of
her love. Then she besought her husband to provide at once for the
support of "Peggy," an aged servant of her father, formerly
housekeeper at Richmond Hill, to whom, in her father's absence, she
had contrived to pay a small pension. She then proceeded in these
affecting terms:--

"To you, my beloved, I leave our child; the child of my
bosom, who was once a part of myself, and from whom I shall
shortly be separated by the cold grave. You love him now;
henceforth love him for me also. And oh, my husband, attend
to this last prayer of a doting mother. Never, never listen
to what any other person tells you of him. Be yourself his
judge on all occasions. He has faults; see them, and correct
them yourself. Desist not an instant from your endeavors to
secure his confidence. It is a work which requires as much
uniformity of conduct as warmth of affection toward him. I
know, my beloved, that you can perceive what is right on
this subject as on every other. But recollect, these are the
last words I can ever utter. It will tranquillize my last
moments to have disburdened myself of them.

"I fear you will scarcely be able to read this scrawl, but I
feel hurried and agitated. Death is not welcome to me. I
confess it is ever dreaded. You have made me too fond of
life. Adieu, then, thou kind, thou tender husband. Adieu,
friend of my heart. May Heaven prosper you, and may we meet
hereafter. Adieu; perhaps we may never see each other again
in this world. You are away, I wished to hold you fast, and
prevented you from going this morning. But He who is wisdom
itself ordains events; we must submit to them. Least of all
should I murmur. I, on whom so many blessings have been
showered,--whose days have been numbered by bounties,--who
have had such a husband, such a child, and such a father. O
pardon me, my God, if I regret leaving these. I resign
myself. Adieu, once more, and for the last time, my beloved.
Speak of me often to our son. Let him love the memory of his
mother, and let him know how he was loved by her. Your wife,
your fond wife,


"Let my father see my son sometimes. Do not be unkind toward
him whom I have loved so much, I beseech you. Burn all my
papers except my father's letters, which I beg you to return
him. Adieu, my sweet boy. Love your father; be grateful and
affectionate to him while he lives; be the pride of his
meridian, the support of his departing days. Be all that he
wishes; for he made your mother happy. Oh! my heavenly
Father, bless them both. If it is permitted, I will hover
round you, and guard you, and intercede for you. I hope for
happiness in the next world, for I have not been bad in

"I had nearly forgotten to say that I charge you not to
allow me to be stripped and washed, as is usual. I am pure
enough thus to return to dust. Why, then, expose my person?
Pray see to this. If it does not appear contradictory or
silly, I beg to be kept as long as possible before I am
consigned to the earth."


We all feel some curiosity respecting men who have been eminent in
anything,--even in crime; and as this curiosity is natural and
universal, it seems proper that it should be gratified. JOHN JACOB
ASTOR, surpassed all the men of his generation in the accumulation of
wealth. He began life a poor, hungry German boy, and died worth twenty
millions of dollars. These facts are so remarkable, that there is no
one who does not feel a desire to know by which means the result was
produced, and whether the game was played fairly. We all wish, if not
to be rich, yet to have more money than we now possess. We have known
many kinds of men, but never one who felt that he had quite money
enough. The three richest men now living in the United States are
known to be as much interested in the increase of their possessions,
and try as hard to increase them, as ever they did.

This universal desire to accumulate property is right, and necessary
to the progress of the race. Like every other proper and virtuous
desire, it may become excessive, and then it is a vice. So long as a
man seeks property honestly, and values it as the means of
independence, as the means of educating and comforting his family, as
the means of securing a safe, dignified, and tranquil old age, as the
means of private charity and public beneficence, let him bend himself
heartily to his work, and enjoy the reward of his labors. It is a fine
and pleasant thing to prosper in business, and to have a store to fall
back upon in time of trouble.

The reader may learn from Astor's career how money is accumulated.
Whether he can learn from it how money ought to be employed when it is
obtained, he must judge for himself. In founding the Astor Library,
John Jacob Astor did at least one magnificent deed, for which
thousands unborn will honor his memory. That single act would atone
for many errors.

In the hall of the Astor Library, on the sides of two of the pillars
supporting its lofty roof of glass, are two little shelves, each
holding a single work, never taken down and seldom perused, but
nevertheless well worthy the attention of those who are curious in the
subject of which they treat, namely, the human face divine. They are
two marble busts, facing each other; one of the founder of the
Library, the other of its first President, Washington Irving. A finer
study in physiognomy than these two busts present can nowhere be
found; for never were two men more unlike than Astor and Irving, and
never were character and personal history more legibly recorded than
in these portraits in marble. The countenance of the author is round,
full, and handsome, the hair inclining to curl, and the chin to
double. It is the face of a happy and genial man, formed to shine at
the fireside and to beam from the head of a table. It is an open,
candid, liberal, hospitable countenance, indicating far more power to
please than to compel, but displaying in the position and carriage of
the head much of that dignity which we are accustomed to call Roman.
The face of the millionaire, on the contrary, is all strength; every
line in it tells of concentration and power. The hair is straight and
long; the forehead neither lofty nor ample, but powerfully developed
in the perceptive and executive organs; the eyes deeper set in the
head than those of Daniel Webster, and overhung with immense bushy
eyebrows; the nose large, long, and strongly arched, the veritable
nose of a man-compeller; the mouth, chin, and jaws all denoting
firmness and force; the chest, that seat and throne of physical power,
is broad and deep, and the back of the neck has something of the
muscular fulness which we observe in the prize-fighter and the bull;
the head behind the ears showing enough of propelling power, but
almost totally wanting in the passional propensities which waste the
force of the faculties, and divert the man from his principal object.
As the spectator stands midway between the two busts, at some distance
from both, Irving has the larger and the kinglier air, and the face of
Astor seems small and set. It is only when you get close to the bust
of Astor, observing the strength of each feature and its perfect
proportion to the rest,--force everywhere, superfluity nowhere,--that
you recognize the monarch of the counting-room; the brain which
nothing could confuse or disconcert; the purpose that nothing could
divert or defeat; the man who could with ease and pleasure grasp and
control the multitudinous concerns of a business that embraced the
habited and unhabited globe,--that employed ships in every sea, and
men in every clime, and brought in to the coffers of the merchant the
revenue of a king. That speechless bust tells us how it was that this
man, from suffering in his father's poverty-stricken house the
habitual pang of hunger, arrived at the greatest fortune, perhaps,
ever accumulated in a single lifetime; you perceive that whatever
thing this strong and compact man set himself to do, he would be
certain to achieve unless stopped by something as powerful as a law of

The monument of these two gifted men is the airy and graceful interior
of which their busts are the only ornament. Astor founded the Library,
but it was probably his regard for Irving that induced him to
appropriate part of his wealth for a purpose not in harmony with his
own humor. Irving is known to us all, as only wits and poets are ever
known. But of the singular being who possessed so remarkable a genius
for accumulation, of which this Library is one of the results, little
has been imparted to the public, and of that little the greater part
is fabulous.

A hundred years ago, in the poor little village of Waldorf, in the
duchy of Baden, lived a jovial, good-for-nothing butcher, named Jacob
Astor, who felt himself much more at home in the beer-house than at
the fireside of his own house in the principal street of the village.
At the best, the butcher of Waldorf must have been a poor man; for, at
that day, the inhabitants of a German village enjoyed the luxury of
fresh meat only on great days, such as those of confirmation, baptism,
weddings, and Christmas.

The village itself was remote and insignificant, and though situated
in the valley of the Rhine, the native home of the vine, a region of
proverbial fertility, the immediate vicinity of Waldorf was not a rich
or very populous country. The home of Jacob Astor, therefore, seldom
knew any medium between excessive abundance and extreme scarcity, and
he was not the man to make the superfluity of to-day provide for the
need of to-morrow; which was the more unfortunate as the periods of
abundance were few and far between, and the times of scarcity extended
over the greater part of the year. It was the custom then in Germany
for every farmer to provide a fatted pig, calf, or bullock, against
the time of harvest; and as that joyful season approached, the village
butcher went the round of the neighborhood, stopping a day or two at
each house to kill the animals and convert their flesh into bacon,
sausages, or salt beef. During this happy time, Jacob Astor, a merry
dog, always welcome where pleasure and hilarity were going forward,
had enough to drink, and his family had enough to eat. But the merry
time lasted only six weeks. Then set in the season of scarcity, which
was only relieved when there was a festival of the church, a wedding,
a christening, or a birthday in some family of the village rich enough
to provide an animal for Jacob's knife. The wife of this idle and
improvident butcher was such a wife as such men usually contrive to
pick up,--industrious, saving, and capable; the mainstay of his house.
Often she remonstrated with her wasteful and beer-loving husband; the
domestic sky was often overcast, and the children were glad to fly
from the noise and dust of the tempest.

This roistering village butcher and his worthy, much-enduring wife
were the parents of our millionaire. They had four sons: George Peter
Astor, born in 1752; Henry Astor, born in 1754; John Melchior Astor,
born in 1759; and John Jacob Astor, born July 17, 1763. Each of these
sons made haste to fly from the privations and contentions of their
home as soon as they were old enough; and, what is more remarkable,
each of them had a cast of character precisely the opposite of their
thriftless father. They were all saving, industrious, temperate, and
enterprising, and all of them became prosperous men at an early period
of their career. They were all duly instructed in their father's
trade; each in turn carried about the streets of Waldorf the basket of
meat, and accompanied the father in his harvest slaughtering tours.
Jovial Jacob, we are told, gloried in being a butcher, but three of
his sons, much to his disgust, manifested a repugnance to it, which
was one of the causes of their flight from the parental nest. The
eldest, who was the first to go, made his way to London, where an
uncle was established in business as a maker of musical instruments.
Astor and Broadwood was the name of the firm, a house that still
exists under the title of Broadwood and Co., one of the most noted
makers of pianos in England. In his uncle's manufactory George Astor
served an apprenticeship, and became at length a partner in the firm.
Henry Astor went next. He alone of his father's sons took to his
father's trade. It used to be thrown in his teeth, when he was a
thriving butcher in the city of New York, that he had come over to
America as a private in the Hessian army. This may only have been the
groundless taunt of an envious rival. It is certain, however, that he
was a butcher in New York when it was a British post during the
revolutionary war, and, remaining after the evacuation, made a large
fortune in his business. The third son, John Melchior Astor, found
employment in Germany, and arrived, at length, at the profitable post
of steward to a nobleman's estate.

Abandoned thus by his three brothers, John Jacob Astor had to endure
for some years a most cheerless and miserable lot. He lost his mother,
too, from whom he had derived all that was good in his character and
most of the happiness of his childhood. A step-mother replaced her,
"who loved not Jacob," nor John Jacob. The father, still devoted to
pleasure, quarrelled so bitterly with his new wife, that his son was
often glad to escape to the house of a schoolfellow (living in 1854),
where he would pass the night in a garret or outhouse, thankfully
accepting for his supper a crust of dry bread, and returning the next
morning to assist in the slaughter-house or carry out the meat. It was
not often that he had enough to eat; his clothes were of the poorest
description; and, as to money, he absolutely had none of it. The
unhappiness of his home and the misconduct of his father made him
ashamed to join in the sports of the village boys; and he passed much
of his leisure alone, brooding over the unhappiness of his lot. The
family increased, but not its income. It is recorded of him that he
tended his little sisters with care and fondness, and sought in all
ways to lessen the dislike and ill-humor of his step-mother.

It is not hardship, however, that enervates a lad. It is indulgence
and luxury that do that. He grew a stout, healthy, tough, and patient
boy, diligent and skilful in the discharge of his duty, often
supplying the place of his father absent in merry-making. If, in later
life, he overvalued money, it should not be forgotten that few men
have had a harder experience of the want of money at the age when
character is forming.

The bitterest lot has its alleviations. Sometimes a letter would reach
him from over the sea, telling of the good fortune of a brother in a
distant land. In his old age he used to boast that in his boyhood he
walked forty-five miles in one day for the sole purpose of getting a
letter that had arrived from England or America. The Astors have
always been noted for the strength of their family affection. Our
millionaire forgot much that he ought to have remembered, but he was
not remiss in fulfilling the obligations of kindred.

It appears, too, that he was fortunate in having a better schoolmaster
than could generally be found at that day in a village school of
Germany. Valentine Jeune was his name, a French Protestant, whose
parents had fled from their country during the reign of Louis XIV. He
was an active and sympathetic teacher, and bestowed unusual pains upon
the boy, partly because he pitied his unhappy situation, and partly
because of his aptitude to learn. Nevertheless, the school routine of
those days was extremely limited. To read and write, to cipher as far
as the Rule of Three, to learn the Catechism by heart, and to sing the
Church Hymns "so that the windows should rattle,"--these were the sole
accomplishments of even the best pupils of Valentine Jeune. Baden was
then under the rule of a Catholic family. It was a saying in Waldorf
that no man could be appointed a swineherd who was not a Catholic, and
that if a mayoralty were vacant the swineherd must have the place if
there were no other Catholic in the town. Hence it was that the line
which separated the Protestant minority from the Catholic majority was
sharply defined, and the Protestant children were the more thoroughly
indoctrinated. Rev. John Philip Steiner, the Protestant pastor of
Waldorf, a learned and faithful minister, was as punctilious in
requiring from the children the thorough learning of the Catechism as
a German sergeant was in exacting all the niceties of the parade.
Young Astor became, therefore, a very decided Protestant; he lived and
died a member of the Church in which he was born.

The great day in the life of a German child is that of his
confirmation, which usually occurs in his fourteenth year. The
ceremony, which was performed at Waldorf every two years, was a
festival at once solemn and joyous. The children, long prepared
beforehand by the joint labors of minister, schoolmaster, and parents,
walk in procession to the church, the girls in white, the boys in
their best clothes, and there, after the requisite examinations, the
rite is performed, and the Sacrament is administered. The day
concludes with festivity. Confirmation also is the point of division
between childhood and youth,--between absolute dependence and the
beginning of responsibility. After confirmation, the boys of a German
peasant take their place in life as apprentices or as servants; and
the girls, unless their services are required at home, are placed in
situations. Childhood ends, maturity begins, when the child has tasted
for the first time the bread and wine of the Communion. Whether a boy
then becomes an apprentice or a servant depends upon whether his
parents have been provident enough to save a sum of money sufficient
to pay the usual premium required by a master as compensation for his
trouble in teaching his trade. This premium varied at that day from
fifty dollars to two hundred, according to the difficulty and
respectability of the vocation. A carpenter or a blacksmith might be
satisfied with a premium of sixty or seventy dollars, while a
cabinet-maker would demand a hundred, and a musical instrument maker
or a clock-maker two hundred.

On Palm Sunday, 1777, when he was about fourteen years of age, John
Jacob Astor was confirmed. He then consulted his father upon his
future. Money to apprentice him there was none in the paternal
coffers. The trade of butcher he knew and disliked. Nor was he
inclined to accept as his destiny for life the condition of servant or
laborer. The father, who thought the occupation of butcher one of the
best in the world, and who needed the help of his son, particularly in
the approaching season of harvest, paid no heed to the entreaties of
the lad, who saw himself condemned without hope to a business which he
loathed, and to labor at it without reward.

A deep discontent settled upon him. The tidings of the good fortune of
his brothers inflamed his desire to seek his fortune in the world. The
news of the Revolutionary War, which drew all eyes upon America, and
in which the people of all lands sympathized with the struggling
colonies, had its effect upon him. He began to long for the "New
Land," as the Germans then styled America; and it is believed in
Waldorf that soon after the capture of Burgoyne had spread abroad a
confidence in the final success of the colonists, the youth formed the
secret determination to emigrate to America. Nevertheless, he had to
wait three miserable years longer, until the surrender of Cornwallis
made it certain that America was to be free, before he was able to
enter upon the gratification of his desire.

In getting to America, he displayed the same sagacity in adapting
means to ends that distinguished him during his business career in New
York. Money he had never had in his life, beyond a few silver coins of
the smallest denomination. His father had none to give him, even if he
had been inclined to do so. It was only when the lad was evidently
resolved to go that he gave a slow, reluctant consent to his
departure. Waldorf is nearly three hundred miles from the seaport in
Holland most convenient for his purpose. Despite the difficulties,
this penniless youth formed the resolution of going down the Rhine to
Holland, there taking ship for London, where he would join his
brother, and, while earning money for his passage to America, learn
the language of the country to which he was destined. It appears that
he dreaded more the difficulties of the English tongue than he did
those of the long and expensive journey; but he was resolved not to
sail for America until he had acquired the language, and saved a
little money beyond the expenses of the voyage. It appears, also, that
there prevailed in Baden the belief that Americans were exceedingly
selfish and inhospitable, and regarded the poor emigrant only in the
light of prey. John Jacob was determined not to land among such a
people without the means of understanding their tricks and paying his
way. In all ways, too, he endeavored to get a knowledge of the country
to which he was going.

With a small bundle of clothes hung over his shoulder upon a stick,
with a crown or two in his pocket, he said the last farewell to his
father and his friends, and set out on foot for the Rhine, a few miles
distant. Valentine Jeune, his old schoolmaster, said, as the lad was
lost to view: "I am not afraid of Jacob; he '11 get through the world.
He has a clear head and everything right behind the ears." He was then
a stout, strong lad of nearly seventeen, exceedingly well made, though
slightly undersized, and he had a clear, composed, intelligent look in
the eyes, which seemed to ratify the prediction of the schoolmaster.
He strode manfully out of town, with tears in his eyes and a sob in
his throat,--for he loved his father, his friends, and his native
village, though his lot there had been forlorn enough. While still in
sight of Waldorf, he sat down under a tree and thought of the future
before him and the friends he had left. He there, as he used to relate
in after-life, made three resolutions: to be honest, to be
industrious, and not to gamble,--excellent resolutions, as far as they
go. Having sat awhile under the tree, he took up his bundle and
resumed his journey with better heart.

It was by no means the intention of this sagacious youth to walk all
the way to the sea-coast. There was a much more convenient way at that
time of accomplishing the distance, even to a young man with only two
dollars in his pocket. The Black Forest is partly in Astor's native
Baden. The rafts of timber cut in the Black Forest, instead of
floating down the Rhine in the manner practised in America, used to be
rowed by sixty or eighty men each, who were paid high wages, as the
labor was severe.

Large numbers of stalwart emigrants availed themselves of this mode of
getting from the interior to the sea-coast, by which they earned their
subsistence on the way and about ten dollars in money. The tradition
in Waldorf is, that young Astor worked his passage down the Rhine, and
earned his passage-money to England as an oarsman on one of these
rafts. Hard as the labor was, the oarsmen had a merry time of it,
cheering their toil with jest and song by night and day. On the
fourteenth day after leaving home, our youth found himself at a Dutch
seaport, with a larger sum of money than he had ever before possessed.
He took passage for London, where he landed a few days after, in total
ignorance of the place and the language. His brother welcomed him with
German warmth, and assisted him to procure employment,--probably in
the flute and piano manufactory of Astor and Broadwood.

As the foregoing brief account of the early life of John Jacob Astor
differs essentially from any previously published in the United
States, it is proper that the reader should be informed of the sources
whence we have derived information so novel and unexpected. The
principal source is a small biography of Astor published in Germany
about ten years ago, written by a native of Baden, a Lutheran
clergyman, who gathered his material in Waldorf, where were then
living a few aged persons who remembered Astor when he was a sad and
solitary lad in his father's disorderly house. The statements of this
little book are confirmed by what some of the surviving friends and
descendants of Mr. Astor in New York remember of his own conversation
respecting his early days. He seldom spoke of his life in Germany,
though he remembered his native place with fondness, revisited it in
the time of his prosperity, pensioned his father, and forgot not
Waldorf in his will; but the little that he did say of his youthful
years accords with the curious narrative in the work to which we have
alluded. We believe the reader may rely on our story as being
essentially true.

Astor brought to London, according to our quaint Lutheran, "a pious,
true, and godly spirit, a clear understanding, a sound youthful
elbow-grease, and the wish to put it to good use." During the two
years of his residence in the British metropolis, he strove most
assiduously for three objects: 1. To save money; 2. To acquire the
English language; 3. To get information respecting America. Much to
his relief and gratification, he found the acquisition of the language
to be the least of his difficulties. Working in a shop with English
mechanics, and having few German friends, he was generally dependent
upon the language of the country for the communication of his desires;
and he was as much surprised as delighted to find how many points of
similarity there were between the two languages. In about six weeks,
he used to say, he could make himself understood a little in English,
and long before he left London he could speak it fluently. He never
learned to write English correctly in his life, nor could he ever
speak it without a decided German accent; but he could always express
his meaning with simplicity and force, both orally and in writing.
Trustworthy information respecting America, in the absence of maps,
gazetteers, and books of travel, was more difficult to procure. The
ordinary Englishman of that day regarded America with horror or
contempt as perverse and rebellious colonies, making a great to-do
about a paltry tax, and giving "the best of kings" a world of trouble
for nothing. He probably heard little of the thundering eloquence with
which Fox, Pitt, Burke, and Sheridan were nightly defending the
American cause in the House of Commons, and assailing the infatuation
of the Government in prosecuting a hopeless war. As often, however, as
our youth met with any one who had been in America, he plied him with
questions, and occasionally he heard from his brother in New York.
Henry Astor was already established, as a butcher on his own account,
wheeling home in a wheelbarrow from Bull's Head his slender purchases
of sheep and calves. But the great difficulty of John Jacob in London
was the accumulation of money. Having no trade, his wages were
necessarily small. Though he rose with the lark, and was at work as
early as five in the morning,--though he labored with all his might,
and saved every farthing that he could spare,--it was two years before
he had saved enough for his purpose. In September, 1783, he possessed
a good suit of Sunday clothes, in the English style, and about fifteen
English guineas,--the total result of two years of unremitting toil
and most pinching economy; and here again charity requires the remark
that if Astor the millionaire carried the virtue of economy to an
extreme, it was Astor the struggling youth in a strange land who
learned the value of money.

In that month of September, 1783, the news reached London that Dr.
Franklin and his associates in Paris, after two years of negotiation,
had signed the definitive treaty which completed the independence of
the United States. Franklin had been in the habit of predicting that
as soon as America had become an independent nation, the best blood in
Europe, and some of the finest fortunes, would hasten to seek a career
or an asylum in the New World. Perhaps he would have hardly recognized
the emigration of this poor German youth as part of the fulfilment of
his prophecy. Nevertheless, the news of the conclusion of the treaty
had no sooner reached England than young Astor, then twenty years old,
began to prepare for his departure for the "New Land," and in November
he embarked for Baltimore. He paid five of his guineas for a passage
in the steerage, which entitled him to sailors' fare of salt beef and
biscuit. He invested part of his remaining capital in seven flutes,
and carried the rest, about five pounds sterling, in the form of

America gave a cold welcome to the young emigrant. The winter of
1783-4 was one of the celebrated severe winters on both sides of the
ocean. November gales and December storms wreaked all their fury upon
the ship, retarding its progress so long that January arrived before
she had reached Chesapeake Bay. Floating ice filled the bay as far as
the eye could reach, and a January storm drove the ship among the
masses with such force, that she was in danger of being broken to
pieces. It was on one of those days of peril and consternation, that
young Astor appeared on deck in his best clothes, and on being asked
the reason of this strange proceeding, said that if he escaped with
life he should save his best clothes, and if he lost it his clothes
would be of no further use to him. Tradition further reports that he,
a steerage passenger, ventured one day to come upon the quarter-deck,
when the captain roughly ordered him forward. Tradition adds that that
very captain, twenty years after, commanded a ship owned by the
steerage passenger. When the ship was within a day's sail of her port
the wind died away, the cold increased, and the next morning beheld
the vessel hard and fast in a sea of ice. For two whole months she
remained immovable. Provisions gave out. The passengers were only
relieved when the ice extended to the shore, and became strong enough
to afford communication with other ships and with the coasts of the
bay. Some of the passengers made their way to the shore, and travelled
by land to their homes; but this resource was not within the means of
our young adventurer, and he was obliged to stick to the ship.

Fortune is an obsequious jade, that favors the strong and turns her
back upon the weak. This exasperating delay of two months was the
means of putting young Astor upon the shortest and easiest road to
fortune that the continent of America then afforded to a poor man.
Among his fellow-passengers there was one German, with whom he made
acquaintance on the voyage, and with whom he continually associated
during the detention of the winter. They told each other their past
history, their present plans, their future hopes. The stranger
informed young Astor that he too had emigrated to America, a few years
before, without friends or money; that he had soon managed to get into
the business of buying furs of the Indians, and of the boatmen coming
to New York from the river settlements; that at length he had embarked
all his capital in skins, and had taken them himself to England in a
returning transport, where he had sold them to great advantage, and
had invested the proceeds in toys and trinkets, with which to continue
his trade in the wilderness. He strongly advised Astor to follow his
example. He told him the prices of the various skins in America, and
the prices they commanded in London. With German friendliness he
imparted to him the secrets of the craft: told him where to buy, how
to pack, transport, and preserve the skins; the names of the principal
dealers in New York, Montreal, and London; and the season of the year
when the skins were most abundant. All this was interesting to the
young man; but he asked his friend how it was possible to begin such a
business without capital. The stranger told him that no great capital
was required for a beginning. With a basket of toys, or even of cakes,
he said, a man could buy valuable skins on the wharves and in the
markets of New York, which could be sold with some profit to New York
furriers. But the grand object was to establish a connection with a
house in London, where furs brought four or five times their value in
America. In short, John Jacob Astor determined to lose no time after
reaching New York, in trying his hand at this profitable traffic.

The ice broke up in March. The ship made its way to Baltimore, and the
two friends travelled together to New York. The detention in the ice
and the journey to New York almost exhausted Astor's purse. He arrived
in this city, where now his estate is valued at forty millions, with
little more than his seven German flutes, and a long German head full
of available knowledge and quiet determination. He went straight to
the humble abode of his brother Henry, a kindly, generous, jovial
soul, who gave him a truly fraternal welcome, and received with
hospitable warmth the companion of his voyage.

Henry Astor's prosperity had been temporarily checked by the
evacuation of New York, which had occurred five months before, and
which had deprived the tradesmen of the city of their best customers.
It was not only the British army that had left the city in November,
1783, but a host of British officials and old Tory families as well;
while the new-comers were Whigs, whom seven years of war had
impoverished, and young adventurers who had still their career to
make. During the Revolution, Henry Astor had speculated occasionally
in cattle captured from the farmers of Westchester, which were sold at
auction at Bull's Head, and he had advanced from a wheelbarrow to the
ownership of a horse. An advertisement informs us that, about the time
of his brother's arrival, this horse was stolen, with saddle and
bridle, and that the owner offered three guineas reward for the
recovery of the property; but that "for the thief, horse, saddle, and
bridle, ten guineas would be paid." A month after, we find him
becoming a citizen of the United States, and soon he began to share in
the returning prosperity of the city.

In the mean time, however, he could do little for his new-found
brother. During the first evening of his brother's stay at his house
the question was discussed, What should the young man do in his new
country? The charms of the fur business were duly portrayed by the
friend of the youth, who also expressed his preference for it. It was
agreed, at length, that the best plan would be for the young man to
seek employment with some one already in the business, in order to
learn the modes of proceeding, as well as to acquire a knowledge of
the country, The young stranger anxiously inquired how much premium
would be demanded by a furrier for teaching the business to a novice,
and he was at once astonished and relieved to learn that no such thing
was known in America, and that he might expect his board and small
wages even from the start. So, the next day, the brothers and their
friend proceeded together to the store of Robert Bowne, an aged and
benevolent Quaker, long established in the business of buying, curing,
and exporting peltries. It chanced that he needed a hand. Pleased with
the appearance and demeanor of the young man, he employed him (as
tradition reports) at two dollars a week and his board. Astor took up
his abode in his master's house, and was soon at work. We can tell the
reader with certainty what was the nature of the youth's first day's
work in his adopted country; for, in his old age, he was often heard
to say that the first thing he did for Mr. Bowne was to beat furs;
which, indeed, was his principal employment during the whole of the
following summer,--furs requiring to be frequently beaten to keep the
moths from destroying them.

Perhaps among our readers there are some who have formed the
resolution to get on in the world and become rich. We advise such to
observe how young Astor proceeded. We are far from desiring to hold up
this able man as a model for the young; yet it must be owned that in
the art of prospering in business he has had no equal in America; and
in _that_ his example may be useful. Now, observe the secret. It was
not plodding merely, though no man ever labored more steadily than he.
Mr. Bowne, discovering what a prize he had, raised his wages at the
end of the first month. Nor was it _merely_ his strict observance of
the rules of temperance and morality, though that is essential to any
worthy success. The great secret of Astor's early, rapid, and uniform
success in business appears to have been, that he acted always upon
the maxim that KNOWLEDGE IS POWER! He labored unceasingly at Mr.
Bowne's to _learn the business_. He put all his soul into the work of
getting a knowledge of furs, fur-bearing animals, fur-dealers,
fur-markets, fur-gathering Indians, fur-abounding countries. In those
days a considerable number of bear skins and beaver skins were brought
directly to Bowne's store by the Indians and countrymen of the
vicinity, who had shot or trapped the animals. These men Astor
questioned; and neglected no other opportunity of procuring the
information he desired. It used to be observed of Astor that he
absolutely loved a fine skin. In later days he would have a superior
fur hung up in his counting-room as other men hang pictures; and this,
apparently, for the mere pleasure of feeling, showing, and admiring
it. He would pass his hand fondly over it, extolling its charms with
an approach to enthusiasm; not, however, forgetting to mention that in
Canton it would bring him in five hundred dollars. So heartily did he
throw himself into his business.

Growing rapidly in the confidence of his employer, he was soon
intrusted with more important duties than the beating of furs. He was
employed in buying them from the Indians and hunters who brought them
to the city. Soon, too, he took the place of his employer in the
annual journey to Montreal, then the chief fur mart of the country.
With a pack upon his back, he struck into the wilderness above Albany,
and walked to Lake George, which he ascended in a canoe, and having
thus reached Champlain he embarked again, and sailed to the head of
that lake. Returning with his furs, he employed the Indians in
transporting them to the Hudson, and brought them to the city in a
sloop. He was formed by nature for a life like this. His frame was
capable of great endurance, and he had the knack of getting the best
of a bargain. The Indian is a great bargainer. The time was gone by
when a nail or a little red paint would induce him to part with
valuable peltries. It required skill and address on the part of the
trader, both in selecting the articles likely to tempt the vanity or
the cupidity of the red man, and in conducting the tedious negotiation
which usually preceded an exchange of commodities. It was in this kind
of traffic, doubtless, that our young German acquired that
unconquerable propensity for making hard bargains, which was so marked
a feature in his character as a merchant. He could never rise superior
to this early-acquired habit. He never knew what it was to exchange
places with the opposite party, and survey a transaction from _his_
point of view. He exulted not in compensating liberal service
liberally. In all transactions he kept in view the simple object of
giving the least and getting the most.

Meanwhile his brother Henry was flourishing. He married the beautiful
daughter of a brother butcher, and the young wife, according to the
fashion of the time, disdained not to assist her husband even in the
slaughter-house as well as in the market-place. Colonel Devoe, in his
well-known Market Book, informs us that Henry Astor was exceedingly
proud of his pretty wife, often bringing her home presents of gay
dresses and ribbons, and speaking of her as "de pink of de Bowery."
The butchers of that day complained bitterly of him, because he used
to ride out of town fifteen or twenty miles, and buy up the droves of
cattle coming to the city, which he would drive in and sell at an
advanced price to the less enterprising butchers. He gained a fortune
by his business, which would have been thought immense, if the
colossal wealth of his brother had not reduced all other estates to
comparative insignificance. It was he who bought, for eight hundred
dollars, the acre of ground on part of which the old Bowery Theatre
now stands.

John Jacob Astor remained not long in the employment of Robert Bowne.
It was a peculiarity of the business of a furrier at that day, that,
while it admitted of unlimited extension, it could be begun on the
smallest scale, with a very insignificant capital. Every farmer's boy
in the vicinity of New York had occasionally a skin to sell, and bears
abounded in the Catskill Mountains. Indeed the time had not long gone
by when beaver skins formed part of the currency of the-city. All
Northern and Western New York was still a fur-yielding country. Even
Long Island furnished its quota. So that, while the fur business was
one that rewarded the enterprise of great and wealthy companies,


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