Memoirs of Aaron Burr, Volume 1.
Matthew L. Davis
Part 2 out of 9
accordingly. With the most enthusiastic feelings, and under the
influence of such opinions, Burr, in company with his friend Matthias
Ogden, left Elizabethtown, in July, 1775, for Cambridge, with the
intention of tendering their services in defence of American liberty.
He had now entered his twentieth year, but, in appearance, was a mere
It has been seen that, whatever were Burr's pursuits or studies, his
habits were those of intense application. He had already imbibed a
military ardour equalled by few--surpassed by none. Panting for glory
on the battle-field, information and improvement as a soldier were now
the objects that absorbed all his thoughts. On his joining the army,
however, he was sadly disappointed in his expectations. The whole was
a scene of idleness, confusion, and dissipation. From the want of
camp-police, the health of the men was impaired, and many sickened and
died. Of the officers, some were ignorant of their duty, while others
were fearful of enforcing a rigid discipline, lest it should give
offence to those who were unaccustomed to restraint. Deep
mortification and disappointment preyed upon the mind of young Burr.
The following original letters are found among the papers of Colonel
Burr, and, as casting some light upon the history of those times, are
deemed of sufficient interest (and not inapplicable) to be inserted in
this work. The patriotic reply of General Montgomery is above all
ROGER SHERMAN TO GENERAL DAVID WOOSTER.
Philadelphia, June 23d, 1775.
The Congress, having determined it necessary to keep up an army for
the defence of America at the charge of the United Colonies, have
appointed the following general officers:--George Washington, Esq.,
commander-in-chief. Major-generals Ward, Lee, Schuyler, and Putnam.
Brigadier-generals Pomeroy, Montgomery, yourself, Heath, Spencer,
Thomas, Sullivan (of New-Hampshire), and one Green, of Rhode-Island.
I am sensible that, according to your former rank, you were entitled
to the place of a major-general; and as one was to be appointed in
Connecticut, I heartily recommended you to the Congress. I informed
them of the arrangement made by our assembly, which I thought would be
satisfactory to have them continue in the same order. But, as General
Putnam's fame was spread abroad, and especially his successful
enterprise at Noddle's Island, the account of which had just arrived,
it gave him a preference in the opinion of the delegates in general,
so that his appointment was unanimous among the colonies; but, from
your known abilities and firm attachment to the American cause, we
were very desirous of your continuance in the army, and hope you will
accept of the appointment made by the Congress.
I think the pay of a brigadier is about one hundred and twenty-five
dollars per month. I suppose a commission is sent to you by General
Washington. We received intelligence yesterday of an engagement at
Charlestown, but have not had the particulars. All the Connecticut
troops are now taken into the continental army. I hope proper care
will be taken to secure the colony against any sudden invasion, which
must be at their own expense.
I have nothing further that I am at liberty to acquaint you with of
the doings of the Congress but what have been made public. I would not
have any thing published in the papers that I write, lest something
may inadvertently escape me which ought not to be published. I should
be glad if you would write to me every convenient opportunity, and
inform me of such occurrences, and other matters, as you may think
proper and useful for me to be acquainted with. The general officers
were elected in the Congress, not by nomination, but by ballot.
I am, with great esteem,
Your humble servant,
DAVID WOOSTER, Esq.
JAMES DUANE, OF NEW-YORK, TO GENERAL MONTGOMERY.
Philadelphia, July 21st, 1775.
I am directed by the Congress to acquaint you of an arrangement in the
Massachusetts department, and the reason which led to it, lest, by
misunderstanding it, you might think yourself neglected.
When brigadiers-general were to be appointed, it was agreed that the
first in nomination should be one of the Massachusetts generals. The
gentlemen from that province recommended General Pomeroy, who was
accordingly fixed upon; but, before his commission arrived at the
camp, he had retired from the army. Under these circumstances the
Congress thought it just to fill up the commission designed for Mr.
Pomeroy with the name of General Thomas as first brigadier. You,
consequently, hold the rank to which you were elected.
I sincerely hope this may not give you any displeasure, as I am
confident no disrespect was intended.
Be pleased to accept my sincere wishes for your honour and happiness,
and particularly in the discharge of the important trust which you
I am, with regard,
Dear sir, your most obedient servant,
GENERAL MONTGOMERY'S ANSWER.
I have been honoured with your letter of the 21st inst. My
acknowledgments are due for the attention shown me by the Congress.
I submit, with great cheerfullness, to any regulation they, in their
prudence, shall judge expedient. Laying aside the punctilio of the
_soldier_, I shall endeavour to discharge my duty to society,
considering myself only as the _citizen_, reduced to the melancholy
necessity of taking up arms for the public safety.
I am, &c., R. M.
The preceding is endorsed, in the handwriting of General Montgomery,
on the back of Mr. Duane's letter.
The laxity of the discipline which pervaded the camp at Cambridge, the
inexperience of the officers, and the contests and petty squabbles
about rank, all tended to excite great jealousy and discontent in the
army. As yet, Burr was attached to no particular corps. He mingled
indiscriminately with conflicting factions, until, disgusted with the
scene which he daily witnessed, he was violently attacked with a
nervous fever, by which he was confined to his bed.
One day he heard Ogden and some young men of the army conversing, in
an apartment adjoining that in which he was lying, on the subject of
an expedition. He called Ogden to his bedside, and inquired what was
the nature of the expedition of which they were speaking. Ogden
informed him that Colonel Arnold, with a detachment of ten or twelve
hundred men, was about to proceed through the wilderness for the
purpose of attacking Quebec. Burr instantly raised himself up in the
bed, and declared that he would accompany them; and, so pertinacious
was he on this point, that he immediately, although much enfeebled,
commenced dressing himself. Ogden expostulated, and spoke of his
debilitated state--referred to the hardships and privations that he
must necessarily endure on such a march, &c. But all was unavailing.
Young Burr was determined, and was immoveable. He forthwith selected
four or five hale, hearty fellows, to whom he proposed that they
should form a mess, and unite their destiny on the expedition through
the wilderness. To this arrangement they cheerfully acceded. His
friend Ogden, and others of his acquaintance, were conveyed in
carriages from Cambridge to Newburyport, distant about sixty miles;
but Burr, with his new associates in arms, on the 14th of September,
1775, shouldered their muskets, took their knapsacks upon their backs,
and marched to the place of embarcation.
FROM J. BELLAMY.
Litchfield, August 17th, 1775.
MY DEAREST SOLDIER,
I was infinitely surprised to hear from you in the army. I can hardly
tell you what sensations I did not feel at the time. Shall not attempt
to describe them, though they deprived me of a night's sleep. But that
was not spent altogether unhappily. My busybody, _Fancy_, led me a
most romantic chase; in which, you may be sure, I visited your tent;
beheld you (unnoticed) musing on your present circumstances,
apparently agitated by every emotion which would naturally fill the
heart of one who has come to the resolution to risk his life for his
country's freedom. You will excuse my mentioning, that from a deep,
absent meditation, partly expressed by half-pronounced soliloquies, I
beheld you start up, clap your hand upon your sword, and look so
fiercely, that it almost frightened me. The scene, on your discovering
me, immediately changed to something more tender; but I won't waste
If you should happen to find Dr. James Cogswell, who is in Colonel
Spencer's regiment, please to give my best love to him, and tell him
he is a lazy scoundrel.
It rains, my boy, excessively. Does it not drop through your tent?
Write often to
To A. BURR.
As soon as the guardian and relatives of young Burr heard of his
determination to accompany Arnold in his expedition against Quebec,
they not only remonstrated, but they induced others, who were friendly
to him, to adopt a similar course. While he remained at Cambridge, he
received numerous letters on the subject. The two following are
FROM DR. JAMES COGSWELL.
Camp in Roxbury, 9th September, 1775.
I am extremely sorry to hear that you are determined on the new
expedition to Quebec. I am sorry on my own account, as I promised
myself much satisfaction and pleasure in your company: but I am not
altogether selfish; I am right-justified sorry on yours. The
expedition in which you are engaged is a very arduous one; and those
who are engaged in it must unavoidably undergo great hardships. Your
constitution (if I am not much mistaken) is very delicate, and not
formed for the fatigues of the camp. The expedition, I am sensible, is
a glorious one, and nothing but a persuasion of my inability to endure
the hardships of it would have deterred me from engaging in it. If
this excuse was sufficient for me, I am persuaded it is for you, and
ought to influence you to abandon all thoughts of undertaking it. I
have no friend so dear to me (and I love my friends) but that I am
willing to sacrifice for the good of the grand--the important cause,
in which we are engaged; but, to think of a friend's sacrificing
himself, without any valuable end being answered by it, is painful
beyond expression. _You will die; I know you will die in the
undertaking; it is impossible for you to endure the fatigue._ I am so
exercised about your going, that I should come and see you if I had
not got the Scriptural excuse,--a wife, and cannot come.
My dear friend, you must not go: I cannot bear the thoughts of it.
'Tis little less melancholy than following you to your grave.
Your affectionate friend,
FROM PETER COLT.
Watertown, 11th September, 1775.
I cannot retire to rest till I have written you a few lines, to excuse
my casting so many discouragements in the way of your journey to
Quebec. At first I did not think it so hazardous; but, upon inquiring
of those who had more knowledge of the country, thought it too
fatiguing an undertaking for one of your years; and I find it
altogether against the sentiments of your friends. I think you might
be fairly excused, without the risk of being reported as timid, as the
hopes of your family depend in a great degree upon you. I should have
rejoiced to see you relinquish this expedition; but, as you are
determined to pursue it, must beg you not to let any thing we have
said to you depress your spirits, or damp your resolution, as it may
otherwise have a fatal effect. We have held up the dark side of the
picture, in order to deter you from going. You must now think only on
the bright side, and make the least of every disagreeable circumstance
attending your march. Let no difficulty discourage you. The enterprise
is glorious, and, if it succeeds, will redound to the honour of those
who have planned and executed it.
May God give you health and strength equal to the fatigue of the
march, and preserve you safe from every danger you may encounter. Make
Quebec a safe retreat to the forces. I hope to have a particular
description of Canada from you when you return.
Don't turn Catholic for the sake of the girls. Again I beg you to
forget what I have said to discourage you. It proceeded from love to
you, and not a desire of rendering you ridiculous. Adieu, my dear
A day or two after Burr's arrival at Newburyport, he was called upon
by a messenger from his guardian, Timothy Edwards, with instructions
to bring the young fugitive back. A letter from his uncle (T. Edwards)
was delivered to him at the same time. Having read the letter, and
heard the messenger's communication, he coolly addressed him, and
asked, "How do you expect to take me back, if I should refuse to go?
If you were to make any forcible attempt upon me, I would have you
hung up in ten minutes." After a short pause the messenger presented a
second letter from his guardian, and with it a small remittance in
gold. It was couched in the most affectionate and tender language,
importuning him to return; and depicting, in the darkest colours, the
sufferings he must endure if he survived the attempt to reach Quebec.
It affected young Burr very sensibly, insomuch that he shed tears. But
his destiny was fixed. He wrote, however, a respectful letter to his
uncle, explanatory of his reasons for accompanying the army, and
expressive of his gratitude for the kindness he had experienced.
On or about the 20th of September, 1775, the troops under the command
of Arnold embarked at Newburyport. This detachment was to penetrate
Canada about ninety or one hundred miles below Montreal, proceeding by
the Kennebec river, and thence through the wilderness between the St.
Lawrence and the settled parts of Maine. In this route, precipitous
mountains, deep and almost impenetrable swamps and morasses, were to
be passed. Arnold, in a letter to General Washington, dated _Fort
Weston_, September 25th, 1775, says: "I design Chaudiere Pond as a
general rendezvous, and from thence proceed in a body. I believe, from
the best information I can procure, we shall be able to perform the
journey in twenty days; the distance from this being about one hundred
and eighty miles."
During the march through the wilderness, no regard whatever was paid
to order or discipline. Every man was left to take care of himself,
and make the best of his way through the woods. The sufferings of this
detachment from wet, and cold, and hunger, were excessive. From the
latter, however, Burr suffered less than any of his companions. His
abstemious habits in regard to eating seemed peculiarly calculated for
such an expedition. Both Burr and Ogden had been accustomed, in small
boats, to aquatic excursions round Staten Island and in its vicinity.
They were skilful helmsmen, and in this particular, in passing the
rapids, were frequently useful. Notwithstanding this qualification,
however, Burr, with some soldiers in a boat, was carried over a fall
of nearly twenty feet. One man was drowned, and much of the baggage
lost. The weather was cold, and it was with great difficulty that he
reached the shore.
"Arnold, who, at the head of the two first divisions, still prosecuted
his march, was thirty-two days traversing a hideous wilderness,
without seeing a house or any thing human. The troops were under the
necessity of hauling their bateaux up rapid streams; of taking them
upon their shoulders, with all their provisions, across
carrying-places; and of traversing, and frequently repassing, for the
purpose of bringing their baggage, deep morasses, thick woods, and
high mountains. These impediments, notwithstanding the zealous and
wonderfully persevering exertions of his men, so protracted his march,
that, though he had expected certainly to enter Canada about the
middle of October, he did not reach the first settlements on the
Chaudiere, which empties itself into the St. Lawrence near Quebec,
until the third of November.
"On the high grounds which separate the waters of the Kennebec from
those of the St. Lawrence, the scanty remnant of provisions was
divided among the companies, each of which was directed, without
attempting to preserve any connexion with another, to march with the
utmost possible celerity into the inhabited country. While those who
gained the front were yet thirty miles from the first poor and
scattered habitations which composed that frontier of Canada, their
last morsel of food was consumed. But, preceded by Arnold, who went
forward for the purpose of procuring for them something which might
satisfy the first demands of nature, the troops still persevered in
their labours, with a vigour unimpaired by the hardships they had
encountered, until they once more found themselves in regions
frequented by human beings." 
On the arrival of Arnold's detachment at Chaudiere Pond, Burr was
despatched with a verbal communication to General Montgomery. He
disguised himself as a young Catholic priest. In this order of men he
was willing to repose confidence. He knew that the French Catholics
were not satisfied with their situation under the provincial
government; but especially the priesthood. Feeling no apprehension for
his own safety from treachery, he proceeded to a learned and reverend
father of the church, to whom he communicated frankly who he was, and
what was his object. Burr was master of the Latin language, and had an
imperfect knowledge of the French. The priest was an educated man, so
that a conversation was held with but little difficulty. He
endeavoured to dissuade Burr from the enterprise. Spoke of it as
impossible to accomplish. He represented the distance as great, and
through an enemy's country. The boyish appearance of Burr induced the
reverend divine to consider him a mere child. Discovering, however,
the settled purpose of the young adventurer, the priest procured him a
confidential guide and a cabriolet (for the ground was now covered
with snow), and, thus prepared, he started on his journey. Without
interruption, he was conducted in perfect safety from one religious
family to another, until he arrived at Three Rivers. Here the guide
became alarmed in consequence of some rumours as to the arrival of
Arnold at the Chaudiere, and that he had despatched messengers to
Montgomery to announce to him the fact. Under strong apprehensions,
the guide refused to proceed any farther, and recommended to Burr to
remain a few days until these rumours subsided. To this he was
compelled to accede; and, for greater security, he was secreted three
days in a convent at that place. At the expiration of this period he
again set off, and reached Montgomery without further detention or
On his arrival at headquarters, he explained to the general the
character of the re-enforcement he was about to receive; the probable
number of effective men, and the time at which their arrival might be
anticipated. General Montgomery was so well pleased with the details
which had been given him, and the manner in which young Burr had
effected his journey after leaving Arnold, that he invited him (Burr)
to reside at headquarters, assuring him that he should receive an
appointment as one of his aids. At this time Montgomery was a
brigadier, and not entitled to aids, only in virtue of his being
commander-in-chief of the army. Previous to his death, however, he was
appointed a major-general, but the information did not reach him.
As soon as Burr had joined the family of the general, he entered upon
the duties of an aid; but no formal annunciation was made until the
army arrived before Quebec, when his appointment was announced in
general orders. Arnold arrived at Point Levi, opposite to Quebec, on
the 9th of November, 1775. He paraded for some days on the heights
near the town, and sent two flags to demand a surrender, but both were
fired upon as rebels with whom no communication was to be held. The
true reason, however, was, that Colonel M'Clean, the British
commandant, a vigilant and experienced officer, knowing the weakness
of his own garrison, deemed it impolitic, if not unsafe, to receive a
flag from Arnold.
The first plan for the attack upon the British works was essentially
different from that which was subsequently carried into execution.
Various reasons have been assigned for this change. Judge Marshall
says, "that while the general (Montgomery) was making the necessary
preparations for the assault, the garrison received intelligence of
his intention from a deserter. This circumstance induced him to change
the plan of his attack, which had been originally to attempt both the
upper and lower towns at the same time. The plan now resolved on was
to divide the army into four parts; and while two of them, consisting
of Canadians under Major Livingston, and a small party under Major
Brown, were to distract the attention of the garrison by making two
feints against the upper town of St. Johns and Cape Diamond, the other
two, led, the one by Montgomery in person, and the other by Arnold,
were to make real attacks on opposite sides of the lower town." 
Colonel Burr says, that a change of the plan of attack was produced,
in a great measure, through the advice and influence of Mr. Antill, a
resident in Canada, who had joined the army; and Mr. Price, a Montreal
merchant of property and respectability, who had also come out and
united his destiny with the cause of the colonies. Mr. Price, in
particular, was strongly impressed with the opinion, that if the
American troops could obtain possession of the lower town, the
merchants and other wealthy inhabitants would have sufficient
influence with the British commander-in-chief to induce him to
surrender rather than jeopard the destruction of all their property.
It was, as Colonel Burr thought, a most fatal delusion. But it is
believed that the opinion was honestly entertained.
The first plan of the attack was agreed upon in a council, at which
young Burr and his friend, Matthias Ogden, were present. The
arrangement was to pass over the highest walls at Cape Diamond. Here
there was a bastion. This was at a distance of about half a mile from
any succour; but being considered, in some measure, impregnable, the
least resistance might be anticipated in that quarter. Subsequent
events tended to prove the soundness of this opinion. In pursuance of
the second plan, Major Livingston, with a detachment under his
command, made a feint upon Cape Diamond; but, for about half an hour,
with all the noise and alarm that he and his men could create, he was
unable to attract the slightest notice from the enemy, so completely
unprepared were they at this point.
While the first was the favourite plan of attack, Burr requested
General Montgomery to give him the command of a small forlorn hope,
which request was granted, and forty men allotted to him. Ladders were
prepared, and these men kept in constant drill, until they could
ascend them (standing almost perpendicular), with their muskets and
accoutrements, with nearly the same facility that they could mount an
ordinary staircase. In the success of this plan of attack Burr had
entire confidence; but, when it was changed, he entertained strong
apprehensions of the result. He was in the habit, every night, of
visiting and reconnoitring the ground about Cape Diamond, until he
became perfectly familiarized with every inch adjacent to, or in the
vicinity of, the intended point of assault.
When the attack was about to be commenced, Captain Burr, and other
officers near General Montgomery, endeavoured to dissuade him from
leading in the advance; remarking that, as commander-in-chief, it was
not his place. But all argument was ineffectual and unavailing. The
attack was made on the morning of the 31st of December, 1775, before
daylight, in the midst of a violent snow-storm. The New-York troops
were commanded by General Montgomery, who advanced along the St.
Lawrence, by the way of Aunce de Mere, under Cape Diamond. The first
barrier to be surmounted was at the Pot Ash. In front of it was a
block-house and picket, in charge of some Canadians, who, after making
a single fire, fled in confusion. On advancing to force the barrier,
an accidental discharge of a piece of artillery from the British
battery, when the American front was within forty paces of it, killed
General Montgomery, Captain McPherson, one of his aids, Captain
Cheeseman, and every other person in front, except Captain Burr and a
French guide. General Montgomery was within a few feet of Captain
Burr; and Colonel Trumbull, in a superb painting recently executed by
him, descriptive of the assault upon Quebec, has drawn the general
falling in the arms of his surviving aid-de-camp. Lieutenant Colonel
Campbell, being the senior officer on the ground, assumed the command,
and ordered a retreat.
1. Marshall's Life of Washington
2. Marshall's Life of Washington, vol. i., p. 329.
To evince the high sense entertained by his country for the services
of General Montgomery, Congress directed a monument to be erected,
with an inscription sacred to his memory. They "_Resolved_, That, to
express the veneration of the United Colonies for their late general,
Richard Montgomery, and the deep sense they entertained of the many
signal and important services of that gallant officer, who, after a
series of successes, amid the most discouraging difficulties, fell, at
length, in a gallant attack upon Quebec, the capital of Canada, and to
transmit to future ages, as examples truly worthy of imitation, his
patriotism, conduct, boldness of enterprise, insuperable perseverance,
and contempt of danger and death, a monument be procured from Paris,
or other part of France, with an inscription sacred to his memory, and
expressive of his amiable character and heroic achievements; and that
the continental treasurer be directed to advance a sum, not exceeding
three hundred pounds sterling, to Dr. Benjamin Franklin, who is
desired to see this resolution properly executed, for defraying the
This resolve was carried into execution at Paris by that ingenious
artist, M. Caffieres, sculptor to Louis XVI., king of France, under
the direction of Dr. Benjamin Franklin. The monument is of white
marble, of the most beautiful simplicity and inexpressible elegance,
with emblematical devices, and the following truly classical
inscription, worthy of the modest but great mind of Franklin.
TO THE GLORY OF
MAJOR-GENERAL OF THE ARMIES OF THE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
SLAIN AT THE SIEGE OF QUEBEC,
THE THIRTY-FIRST OF DECEMBER, 1775,
AGED 38 YEARS.
This monument was erected in front of St. Paul's Church, in the city
of New-York, in the spring of 1789.
General Arnold temporarily became commander-in-chief of the American
army near Quebec, and was accordingly removed to headquarters. Young
Burr was now called upon to perform the duties of brigade major.
Arnold's plan was, by a close blockade, to starve out the enemy; but,
from the weakness of his force, he soon discovered that this was
impracticable; and he knew that, on the opening of the spring, he
could not retain his present position, but must retreat. He therefore
resolved to send in a flag of truce, and demand a surrender. He
informed Captain Burr that he was about to send him with a
communication to General Carlton, the British commander. Captain Burr
required that he should be made acquainted with its contents. Arnold
objected; whereupon Burr remarked that, if the general wished it, he
would resign; but that he could not consent to be the bearer of the
communication without possessing a knowledge of its character. At
length, it was exhibited to him. It was demanding a surrender of the
fortress, but in terms that Captain Burr considered unbecoming an
American officer, and he so stated to the general; adding, that the
bearer of such a message, if he were permitted to deliver it, would be
treated by the British with contumely and contempt; and therefore
declined the mission. Another officer was selected, and met the fate
Burr anticipated. Shortly after (April 1st, 1776), General Wooster
arrived from Montreal and took the command. He was succeeded by
General Thomas about the 1st of May; and, on the 5th of May, it was
determined in council to raise the blockade of Quebec, and that the
sick and wounded should be immediately removed, with the artillery and
stores, by boats, to Three Rivers, preparatory to a retreat.
Burr's perseverance and zeal during the march through the wilderness
with Arnold, his subsequent boldness in joining Montgomery, and his
intrepidity at the assault on Quebec, had acquired for him great
reputation in the army, and had drawn towards him the attention of
some of the most distinguished Whigs in the United Provinces. From
every quarter he received highly complimentary letters. From a few of
them extracts are made. Colonel Antill, a resident of Montreal, who
had joined the American army, thus addresses him, five days after the
fall of Montgomery:--
"La La Chine, 5th January, 1776.
"I have desired Mr. Price to deliver you my pistols, which you will
keep until I see you. They are relics from my father's family, and
therefore I cannot give them to you. The general (Wooster) has thought
proper to send me to the Congress, where I shall have an opportunity
of speaking of you as you deserve.
On the 4th of January, General Wooster writes from Montreal to General
"Give my love to Burr, and desire him to remain with Colonel Clinton
for the present.  Not only him, but all those brave officers who
have so nobly distinguished themselves. I shall ever remember with
gratitude and the highest degree of approbation, and shall not fail to
represent them accordingly.
From a college-chum of great merit, he received a letter, dated
"Philadelphia, January 24th, 1776.
"I am informed a gentleman is just setting off for Quebec, and snatch
the opportunity of at once condoling with you for the loss of your
brave general, and congratulating you on the credit you have gained in
that action. 'Tis said you behaved well--you behaved gallantly. I
never doubted but you would distinguish yourself, and your praise is
now in every man's mouth. It has been my theme of late. I will not say
I was perfectly disinterested in the encomiums I bestowed. You were a
son of Nassau Hall, and reflected honour on the place of _my_
education. You were my classmate and friend, and reflected honour on
me. I make no doubt but your promotion will be taken care of. The
gentlemen of the Congress speak highly of you.
"WILLIAM BRADFORD, Jun."
Judge Tappan Reeve writes--
"Stockbridge, January 27th, 1776.
"Amid the lamentations of a country for the loss of a brave,
enterprising general, your escape from such imminent danger, to which
you have been exposed, has afforded us the greatest satisfaction. The
news of the unfortunate attack upon Quebec arrived among us on the
13th of this month. I concealed it from your sister until the 18th,
when she found it out; but, in less than half an hour, I received
letters from Albany, acquainting me that you were in safety, and had
gained great honour by your intrepid conduct. It gave us a kind of
happiness that I should be very loath ever again to enjoy; for it
never can be the case until you have again been exposed to the like
danger, and have again escaped it, which I hope may never happen. To
know that you were in safety gave great pleasure. It was heightened by
hearing that your conduct was brave. Could you have been crowned with
success, it would have been complete.
"It was happy for us that we did not know that you were an
aid-de-camp, until we heard of your welfare; for we heard that
Montgomery and his aid-de-camps were killed, without knowing who his
"Your sister enjoys a middling state of health. She has many anxious
hours upon your account; but she tells me that, as she believes you
may serve your country in the business in which you are now employed,
she is contented that you should remain in the army. It must be an
exalted public spirit that could produce such an effect upon a sister
as affectionate as yours.
His friend, Jonathan Bellamy, writes, "Norwich, March 3d, 1776.
"MY VERY DEAR FRIEND,
"Be you yet alive? I have been infinitely distressed for you; but I
hope it is now as safe with you as glorious. Doctor Jim Cogswell has
left the army. A few days ago I received a letter from him. 'I doubt
not,' he says, 'you have most sensible pleasure in the applauses
bestowed on our friend Burr; when I hear of his gallant behaviour, I
feel exquisite delight.'
"Curse on this vile distance between us. I am restless to tell you
every thing; but uncertainty whether you would ever hear it bids me be
silent, till, in some future happy meeting, I may hold you to my
bosom, and impart to you every emotion of my heart.
Immediately after the repulse of the Americans at Quebec, his friend
Ogden returned to New-Jersey, but spent much of his time with the army
in the city of New-York. He writes to Burr, dated
New-York, 20th March, 1776.
Some weeks have elapsed since I saw Walker and Price. To-day I met
with Hopkins at this place. My first inquiry was for letters from you.
I mean not to upbraid you. This is the third time of my writing since
I left you. I shall continue it, with the hope of giving you some
small satisfaction. Miss Dayton is well, and will soon be mine. Barber
is appointed major in the third Jersey battalion, of which Dayton is
colonel, and Walton White lieutenant-colonel. Hancock was particular
in his inquiry after you, and was disappointed in not receiving a line
from you. I was kindly received on my arrival at Philadelphia. The
Congress have since appointed me lieutenant-colonel in the first
Jersey battalion, in the room of Lieutenant-colonel Winds, who has the
regiment in the stead of Lord Stirling, who is advanced to a
Colonel Allen, who hands you this, is much of a gentleman, and worthy
your attention. Melcher has hobbled himself. Inquire of Colonel Allen.
General Thompson commands. To-morrow my appointment will be announced
in general orders, whereupon I shall join my regiment, but shall
obtain leave of absence for a week or two. Elizabethtown swarms with
girls, among which is Miss Noel. I have not seen Miss Ricketts.
When I was in Philadelphia, Colonel Reed expressed a desire of serving
me. He said there was a vacancy in General Washington's family, and
doubted not his recommendation would procure it for me. I declined it,
hoping to get a more active office, but desired he would procure it
for you. If any thing offers at Quebec, accept it, as it will not
hinder your appointment here. Washington is expected in New-York, when
I shall have a better chance of bringing it about. The pay and rank
are equal to a full major. I shall write you by Price. Miss Dayton is
particular in her inquiries after you.
In the spring of 1776, the army moved from Montreal to the mouth of
the Sorel. Major Burr yet remained with it. While at Montreal, he
became disgusted with General Arnold, on account of his meanness and
other bad qualities. On the march through the wilderness, he was far
from being satisfied with the general. Burr thought he provided too
carefully for himself; and that he did not sufficiently share the
fatigues and privations of the march in common with the troops.
Immediately after arriving at the Sorel, he informed the general of
his desire to visit his friends, and to ascertain what was doing, as
he wished more active employment. General Arnold objected somewhat
petulantly. Burr remarked courteously, but firmly, "Sir, I have a boat
in readiness. I have employed four discharged soldiers to row me, and
I start to-morrow morning at six o'clock." He then designated the
point at which he should embark. Arnold forbade his departure,
whereupon Burr reiterated his determination.
The next morning, at the specified hour, he repaired to his boat, and
shortly after discovered the general approaching. "Why, Major Burr,"
says he, "you are not going?"--"I am, sir," replied the major. "But
you know, sir, it is contrary to my wish and against my orders."--"I
know, sir, that you have the _power_ of stopping me, but nothing short
of force shall do it." The general then changed his tone and manner,
and endeavoured to dissuade; but, after a few minutes' conversation,
Burr wished him great success, then embarked, and took his departure
On the Sorel an incident occurred which gave some alarm to the
voyagers. Burr had taken into his boat, as a kind of companion, a
young merchant. On the borders of the river they suddenly discovered a
large brick house, with wings, having loopholes to fire through, and
in view, at the door, stood an Indian warrior, in full costume. The
oarsmen were for attempting to retreat. Burr said it was too late, as
they were within the reach of the Indians' rifles. The passenger was
about to stop the men from rowing, when Burr threatened to shoot him
if he interfered. The inquiry was then made--"What are we to do?" The
major replied, "Row for the shore and land; I will go up to the house,
and we shall soon learn what they are." By this time several other
Indians had made their appearance. On reaching the shore, Burr took
his sword and proceeded to meet the red men. An explanation ensued,
and it was ascertained that they were friendly. The stores were landed
from the boat, and a merrimaking followed.
Major Burr continued his route to Albany. On his arrival, and while
there, he was notified verbally that it would be agreeable to the
commander-in-chief (General Washington) that he should visit New-York.
He forthwith proceeded down the river, and arrived in the city about
the 20th of May, 1776. He immediately reported himself to the
commander-in-chief, who invited him to join his family at headquarters
until he received a satisfactory appointment. The quarters of General
Washington were at that time in the house subsequently owned by
Colonel Burr, and known as Richmond Hill. This invitation was
accepted, and Major Burr occasionally rode out with the general, but
very soon became restless and dissatisfied. He wrote to John Hancock,
then president of Congress, and who had been an intimate friend of his
father, that he was disgusted, and inclined to retire from the
service. Governor Hancock objected, and asked him whether he would
accept the appointment of aid-de-camp to Major-general Putnam, then in
command in the city of New-York. Burr consented, and removed from the
headquarters of the commander-in-chief to those of Major-general
Putnam. About this period Burr received a letter from his friend, now
Lieutenant-colonel M. Ogden, who had proceeded to the north with his
regiment. He writes,
Fort George, 5th June, 1776.
I this evening experienced the greatest disappointment I have met with
since my memory. I yesterday saw Mr. Price; he informed me that you
were on your way, in company with the commissioners, who, I was this
day informed, were coming by the way of Skeenesborough. I altered my
course, and went that way, till I met them on the road. They informed
me you were coming by Lake George. I then turned about, very much
afraid you would pass me before I came into the lake road. But what
necessity for enumerating all these circumstances? I have missed you.
D--n the luck. I never so much desired, nor had occasion so much for
an interview. I have not received a single line from you since I left
Canada. Perhaps you have not written, or perhaps they have miscarried.
If they have miscarried, withered be the hand that held them back.
Tell me you omitted through carelessness, neglect, hurry of business,
or any thing, rather than want of friendship.
_General Washington desired me to inform you that he will provide for
you, and that he expects you will come to him immediately, and stay in
his family._ I should have acquainted you of this by letter, had I not
expected to have seen you. You will now want your horse. I have sold
him, and spent the money, and expect I shall not be able to refund it
until my return.
I am, if I ever was,
Before the preceding letter was received by Major Burr, he felt piqued
at what he supposed the coldness and neglect of his friend Ogden, and,
under the influence of such feelings, wrote the following:--
New-York, New-York, 18th Jane, 1776,
A correspondence, which I flattered myself in former times was
mutually agreeable, has of late somehow strangely found an end. You
may remember, when you left Canada, I engaged to answer your first
letter immediately, and to continue writing from that time, by every
opportunity, as usual. I concluded your letters must have miscarried,
and wrote you a line by Mr. Avery. I had no direct intelligence from
you, till a verbal message by Mr. Duggan, the beginning of May. A few
days after, I received a letter from _Colonel Ogden_ by _Colonel
Allen_. I should have answered it, but had determined to visit my
native colony, and expected, by personal interview, to answer purposes
which I scarce hoped the cold medium of ink and paper could effect.
That I unfortunately missed you on my way hither, I need not relate.
At Albany I first heard you had passed me. I was upon the point of
following you; but the character of troublesome fool struck me in so
disagreeable a light, that, in spite of myself, I continued my
There is in man a certain love of novelty; a fondness of variety
(useful, indeed, within proper limits), which influences more or less
in almost every act of life. New views, new laws, new _friends_, have
each their charm. Truly great must be the soul, and firm almost beyond
the weakness of humanity, that can withstand the smiles of fortune.
Success, promotion, the caresses of the great, and the flatteries of
the low, are sometimes fatal to the noblest minds. The volatile become
an easy prey. The fickle heart, tiptoe with joy, as from an eminence,
views with contempt its former joys, connexions, and pursuits. A new
taste contracted, seeks companions suited to itself. But pleasures
easiest tasted, though perhaps at first of higher glee, are soonest
past, and, the more they are relied upon, leave the severer sting
behind. One cloudy day despoils the glow-worm of all its glitter.
Should fortune ever frown upon you, Matt.; should those you now call
friends forsake you; should the clouds gather force on every side, and
threaten to burst upon you, think then upon the man who never betrayed
you; rely on the sincerity you never found to fail; and if my heart,
my life, or my fortune can assist you, it is yours.
I go to-morrow to Elizabethtown, where I shall see the best of
women--your wife. Whatever letters or commands she may have for you, I
shall be careful to forward by the safest hands.
In the beginning of July, 1776, Major Burr was appointed aid-de-camp
to General Putnam. At this time the headquarters of the general were
in the large brick house, yet standing, at the corner of Broadway and
the Battery. Burr continued occasionally to correspond with his
friends, but was much occupied with his military duties, and those
studies which were calculated to render him scientifically master of
his profession. During the short period that he remained in the family
of General Washington, he was treated with respect and attention; but
soon perceived, as he thought, an unwillingness to afford that
information, and those technical explanations of great historical
military movements, which an inquiring and enlightened mind, like
Burr's, sought with avidity and perseverance. He therefore became
apprehensive, if he remained with the commander-in-chief, that,
instead of becoming a scientific soldier, he should dwindle down into
a practical clerk--a species of drudgery to which his pecuniary
circumstances did not render it necessary for him to submit, and for
which neither his habits, his education, nor his temperament in any
degree qualified him. He therefore determined promptly on a change,
and was willing to enter the family of Major-general Putnam, because
he would there enjoy the opportunities for study, and the duties which
he would be required to perform would be strictly military. There is
no doubt the short residence of Major Burr with General Washington
laid the foundation for those prejudices which, at a future day,
ripened into hostile feelings on both sides.
Judge Paterson thus writes him:--
New-Brunswick, July 22d, 1776.
MY DEAR BURR,
I did myself the pleasure of writing you by my brother, who is in
General Sullivan's brigade, and who was in expectation of seeing you,
as he was destined for the Canada department. Indeed, from the
friendship which subsisted between us, I was in expectation of hearing
frequently from you, and, to tell the truth, was not a little
mortified that I was passed over in silence. Why, Burr, all this
negligence? I dare not call it forgetfullness, for I cannot bear the
thought of giving up my place in your esteem. I rejoice at your
return, and congratulate you on your promotion. I was attending the
convention at Burlington when you passed on to Philadelphia, and was
full of the pleasing hope of having an interview with you. The
Delaware, indeed, ran between us--a mighty obstacle, to be sure! I
inquired when you designed to return, that I might plant myself at
Bristol, and intercept you on your way. The inquiry was of no avail. I
have at times been violently tempted to write you a railing letter,
and for that purpose have more than once taken up the pen. But I can
hardly tell how, on such occasions, the Genius of Friendship would
rise up to view, and soften me down into all the tenderness of
affectionate sorrow--perhaps because I counted you as lost. I find I
must e'en forgive you--but, remember, you must behave better in
future. Do write me now and then. Your letters will give me unfeigned
pleasure, and, for your encouragement, I promise to be a faithful
correspondent. In the letter-way you used to be extremely careless;
you know I am, in that respect, of a different turn.
This will be handed you by Mr. Hugg and Mr. Leaming, members of our
convention, whom curiosity partly, and partly business, have impelled
to New-York. As men, they are genteel, sensible, and deserving. As
politicians, they are worthy of your regard, for they possess the
genuine spirit of whiggism. They have no acquaintance in York. They
are desirous of seeing the fortifications, and other things in the
military line. Pray take them by the hand; and be assured 'that any
kindness shown them will be acknowledged as an additional obligation
A. Burr replies to this letter:--
New-York, July 26th, 1776.
MY DEAR PATERSON,
I this day received your kind letter. It gave me a pleasure I seldom
experience. Can it be that you have still in memory the vagrant Burr?
Some fatality has ever attended our endeavours to meet. Why I have not
written to you I cannot tell. It has not been for want of friendship,
of inclination, or always of opportunity; but some unavoidable
accidents prevented so long, that I began to fear a letter from me
must be ushered in by some previous introduction, some anecdotes of
the writer, which might renew your remembrance, and authorize a
freedom of this nature. But your frank and kind epistle precludes
fulsome apologies, which; though sometimes necessary, I esteem, at
best, but a drug in letters.
I am exceedingly pleased with your friends, Messrs. Hugg and Learning,
but was unfortunate enough to be from home the day they came in town,
and had not the pleasure of seeing them till this afternoon. I felt
myself so nearly interested in the welfare of the province whose
constitution you are now framing, that I did not urge their stay with
the warmth my inclination prompted. If any other of our Jersey friends
should be coming this way, I should be happy in showing them every
civility in my power.
As to promises of writing, I shall make you none, my dear Bill, till
those already on hand, and of long standing, are discharged. I am no
epistolary politician or newsmonger; and as to sentiments, a variety
of novelties and follies has entirely dissipated them. This, however,
is only a new apology for an old misfortune. But why this to you, who
know me better than I know myself? This epistolary chat, though
agreeable, is by no means satisfactory. The sincerity of my
long-smothered affections is not to be thus expressed. I must contrive
to shake you by the hand. Perhaps I may, ere long, be sent to
Elizabethtown or Amboy on business, and will, undoubtedly, take
Brunswick in my way. I have, or had once, an agreeable female
acquaintance with Miss S. D., now Mrs. S., and with Miss S. was on
tolerable terms of intimacy. Could I but reconnoitre a while, and find
how the land lay, I might, perhaps, be able to graduate my compliments
with some propriety, from cold respects to affectionate regards. I
think I must leave you discretionary orders on this head, begging you
to make use of all the policy of war. There is no knowing of what
importance it may be to
1. James Clinton, afterwards general, brother of Governor George
From the year 1780 until the year 1795, Mrs. Margaret Coghlan made no
inconsiderable noise in the court and fashionable circles of Great
Britain and France. She was the theme of conversation among the lords,
and the dukes, and the M. P.'s. Having become the victim, in early
life, of licentious, dissolute, and extravagant conduct, alternately
she was revelling in wealth, and then sunken in poverty. At length, in
1793, she published her own memoirs. Mrs. Coghlan was the daughter of
Major Moncrieffe, of the British army. He was Lord Cornwallis's
brigade major. Her father had three wives. She was a daughter of the
first wife. His second wife was Miss L*********, of New-York, and his
third wife Miss J**, of New-York. Mrs. Coghlan is introduced here,
because her early history is intimately connected with the subject of
In July, 1776, she resided in Elizabethtown, New-Jersey. Her father
was with Lord Percy on Staten Island. In her memoirs, speaking of
herself, she says:--"Thus destitute of friends, I wrote to General
Putnam, who instantly answered my letter by a very kind invitation to
his house, assuring me that he respected my father, and was only his
enemy in the field of battle; but that, in private life, he himself,
or any part of his family, might always command his services. On the
next day he sent Colonel Webb, one of his aid-de-camps, to conduct me
to New-York. When I arrived in the Broadway (a street so called),
where General Putnam resided, I was received with great tenderness,
both by Mrs. Putnam and her daughters, and on the following day I was
introduced by them to General and Mrs. Washington, who likewise made
it their study to show me every mark of regard; but I seldom was
allowed to be alone, although sometimes, indeed, I found an
opportunity to escape to the gallery on the top of the house, where my
chief delight was to view, with a telescope, our fleet and army at
Staten Island. My amusements were few; the good Mrs. Putnam employed
me and her daughters constantly to spin flax for shirts for the
American soldiers; indolence, in America, being totally discouraged;
and I likewise worked some for General Putnam, who, though not an
accomplished _muscadin_, like our dilletantis of St. James's-street,
was certainly one of the best characters in the world; His heart being
composed of those noble materials which equally command respect and
admiration. * * * * * *
"Not long after this circumstance, a flag of truce arrived from Staten
Island, with letters from Major Moncrieffe, demanding me; for he now
considered me as a prisoner. General Washington would not acquiesce in
this demand, saying that I should remain a hostage for my father's
good behaviour. I must here observe, that when General Washington
refused to deliver me up, the noble-minded Putnam, as if it were by
instinct, laid his hand on his sword, and with a violent oath swore
that my father's request should be granted. The commander-in-chief,
whose influence governed Congress, soon prevailed on them to consider
me as a person whose situation required their strict attention; and
that I might not escape they ordered me to Kingsbridge, where, in
justice I must say, that I was treated with the utmost tenderness.
General Mifflin there commanded. His lady was a most accomplished,
beautiful woman; a Quaker," &c.
Mrs. Coghlan then bursts forth in expressions of rapture for a young
American officer, with whom she had become enamoured. She does not
name him; but that officer was Major Burr. "May these pages" (she
says) "one day meet the eye of him who subdued my virgin heart. * * *
* * To him I plighted my virgin vow. * * * * * * With this conqueror
of my soul, how happy should I now have been! What storms and tempests
should I have avoided" (at least I am pleased to think so) "if I had
been allowed to follow the bent of my inclinations. Ten thousand times
happier should I have been with him in the wildest desert of our
native country, the woods affording us our only shelter, and their
fruits our only repast, than under the canopy of costly state, with
all the refinements of courts, with the royal warrior" (the Duke of
York) "who would fain have proved himself the conqueror of France. _My
conqueror_ was engaged in another cause; he was ambitious to obtain
other laurels. He fought to liberate, not to enslave nations. He was a
colonel in the American army, and high in the estimation of his
country. _His_ victories were never accompanied with one gloomy,
relenting thought. They shone as bright as the cause which achieved
The letter from General Putnam of which Mrs. Coghlan speaks is found
among the papers of Colonel Burr, and is in the following words:--
New-York, July 26th, 1776.
I should have answered your letter sooner, but had it not in my power
to write you any thing satisfactory.
The omission of my title, in Major Moncrieffe's letter, is a matter I
regard not in the least; nor does it in any way influence my conduct
in this affair; as you seem to imagine. Any political difference
alters him not to me in a private capacity. As an officer, he is my
enemy, and obliged to act as such, be his private sentiments what they
will. As a man, I owe him no enmity; but, far from it, will, with
pleasure, do any kind office in my power for him or any of his
I have, agreeably to your desire, waited on his excellency to
endeavour to obtain permission for you to go to Staten Island. He
informs me that Lieutenant-colonel Patterson, who came with the last
flag, said he was empowered to offer the exchange of ----- ----- for
Governor Skeene. As the Congress have reserved to themselves the right
of exchanging prisoners, the general has sent to know their pleasure,
and doubts not they will give their consent. I am desired to inform
you, that if this exchange is made, you will have liberty to pass out
with Governor Skeene; but that no flag will be sent solely for that
Major William Livingston was lately here, and informed me that you had
an inclination to live in this city, and that all the ladies of your
acquaintance having left town, and Mrs. Putnam and two daughters being
here, proposed your staying with them. If agreeable to you, be
assured, miss, you shall be sincerely welcome. You will here, I think,
be in a more probable way of accomplishing the end you wish--that of
seeing your father, and may depend upon every civility from,
Your obedient servant,
This letter is in the handwriting of Major Burr, and undoubtedly was
prepared by him for the signature of the general. Miss Moncrieffe was,
at this time, in her fourteenth year. She had travelled, and, for one
of her age, had mingled much in the world. She was accomplished, and
was considered handsome. Major Burr was attracted by her sprightliness
and vivacity, and she, according to her own confessions, penned nearly
twenty years afterward, had not only become violently in love with,
but had acknowledged the fact to him. Whether the foundation of her
future misfortunes was now laid, it is not necessary to inquire. Her
indiscretion was evident, while Major Burr's propensity for intrigue
was already well known.
Burr perceived immediately that she was an extraordinary young woman.
Eccentric and volatile, but endowed with talents, natural as well as
acquired, of a peculiar character. Residing in the family of General
Putnam with her, and enjoying the opportunity of a close and intimate
intercourse, at all times and on all occasions, he was enabled to
judge of her qualifications, and came to the conclusion,
notwithstanding her youth, that she was well calculated for a spy, and
thought it not improbable that she might be employed in that capacity
by the British. Major Burr suggested his suspicions to General Putnam,
and recommended that she be conveyed to her friends as soon as might
be convenient. She was, in consequence, soon after removed to
Kingsbridge, where General Mifflin commanded. This change of
situation, in the work which she has published, is ascribed to General
Washington, but it originated with Major Burr.
After a short residence at Kingsbridge, leave was granted for her
departure to Staten Island. She accordingly set off in a continental
barge, under the escort of an American officer, who was ordered to
accompany her to the British headquarters. As the boat approached the
English fleet, she was met by another, having on board a British
officer, and was notified that she could proceed no further, but that
the king's officer would take charge of the young lady, and convey her
in safety to her father, who was six or eight miles in the country
with Lord Percy. She says, in her memoirs, "I then entered the British
barge, and bidding an eternal farewell to my dear American friends,
_turned my back on liberty_."
Miss Moncrieffe, before she had reached her fourteenth year, was
probably the victim of seduction. The language of her memoirs, when
taken in connexion with her deportment soon after her marriage, leaves
but little room for doubt. Major Burr, while yet at college, had
acquired a reputation for gallantry. On this point he was excessively
vain, and regardless of all those ties which ought to control an
honourable mind. In his intercourse with females he was an
unprincipled flatterer, ever prepared to take advantage of their
weakness, their credulity, or their confidence. She that confided in
him was lost. In referring to this subject, no terms of condemnation
would be too strong to apply to Colonel Burr.
It is truly surprising how any individual could have become so eminent
as a soldier, as a statesman, and as a professional man, who devoted
so much time to the other sex as was devoted by Colonel Burr. For more
than half a century of his life they seemed to absorb his whole
thoughts. His intrigues were without number. His conduct most
licentious. The sacred bonds of friendship were unhesitatingly
violated when they operated as barriers to the indulgence of his
passions. For a long period of time he seemed to be gathering, and
carefully preserving, every line written to him by any female, whether
with or without reputation; and, when obtained, they were cast into
one common receptacle,--the profligate and corrupt, by the side of the
thoughtless and betrayed victim. All were held as trophies of
victory,--all esteemed alike valuable. How shocking to the man of
sensibility! How mortifying and heart-sickening to the intellectual,
the artless, the fallen fair!
Among these manuscripts were many the production of highly cultivated
minds. They were calculated to excite the sympathy of the brother--the
parent--the husband. They were, indeed, testimonials of the weakness
of the weaker sex, even where genius and learning would seem to be
towering above the arts of the seducer. Why they were thus carefully
preserved, is left to conjecture. Can it be true that Moore is
correct, when, in his life of Lord Byron, he says, "The allusions
which he (Byron) makes to instances of _successful passion_ in his
career, were not without their influence on the fancies of that sex,
whose weakness it is to be most easily won by those who come
recommended by the greatest number of triumphs over others? Some of
these productions had been penned more than sixty years. They were all
committed to the flames, however, immediately after the decease of
Colonel Burr. Of them, it is believed, "not a wreck remains."
The faithful biographer could not pass over in silence this strong and
revolting trait in the character of Colonel Burr. It will not again be
referred to. From details, the moralist and the good man must shrink
with disgust and abhorrence. In this particular, Burr appears to have
been unfeeling and heartless. And yet, by a fascinating power almost
peculiar to himself, he so managed as to retain the affection, in some
instances, the devotion, of his deluded victims. In every other
respect he was kind and charitable. No man would go farther to
alleviate the sufferings of another. No man was more benevolent. No
man would make greater sacrifices to promote the interest or the
happiness of a friend. How strange, how inconsistent, how conflicting
are these allusions! They are nevertheless strictly true.
Many of the letters to and from Colonel Burr contain hints and
opinions as to public men and measures. Thus far, they are links in
the chain of history, in relation to the times when they were written.
They serve, also, to illustrate the character and the principles of
the writers themselves. With these views they are occasionally
selected. Theodore Sedgwick is a name recorded in the annals of our
country with distinction. He writes to Burr:--
Sheffield, 7th August, 1776.
MY DEAR BURR,
If you remember, some months since, you and I mutually engaged to
correspond by letter. I told you then that you were not to expect any
thing either entertaining, or in any degree worth the trouble of
perusing. What can a reasonable being expect from an inhabitant of
such an obscure, remote, and dead place as Sheffield, to amuse,
instruct, or even to merit the attention of a young, gay,
enterprising, martial genius? I know you will expect nothing, and I
dare pledge my honour, therefore, that you will not, either now or in
future, in this respect, be disappointed.
You recollect, perhaps, that when I had the pleasure to see you here,
I informed you of a design to visit New-York and the southward. Soon
after my business called me to Boston, and, on my return, I was
obliged to go with the militia to Peekskill; from there I should have
visited the city and my friends, had not some foolish accidents
prevented. I now think, as soon as I can leave home, of making a tour;
but this, like other futurities, is wholly uncertain.
The insignificant figure I make, in my own opinion, in this day of
political and martial exertions, is an humbling consideration. To be
stoically indifferent to the great events that are now unfolding, is
altogether inconsistent, not only with my inclination, but even with
my natural constitution; and to pursue a line of conduct which
indicates such a disposition (I mean my continuance at home), is a
mystery for which I will endeavour to account. Remember, I do not
intend to libel the colony to which I belong.
Amid the confusion which was at once the cause and consequence of a
dissolution of government, men's minds as well as actions became
regardless of all legal restraint. All power reverted into the hands
of the people, who were determined that every one should be convinced
that _the people_ were the fountain of all honour. The first thing
they did was to withdraw all confidence from every one who had ever
any connexion with government. Lawyers were, almost universally,
represented as the pests of society. All persons who would pay court
to these extravagant and unreasonable prejudices became their idols.
Abilities were represented as dangerous, and learning as a crime, or
rather, the certain forerunner of all political extravagances. They
really demonstrated that they were possessed of creating power; _for,
by the word of their power, they created great men out of nothing_;
but I cannot say _that all was very well_.
Observing these violent symptoms, I could not pursue that which was
the only road to preferment; and I have never had an offer to go into
the army, except the one I accepted; while I have seen, in more than
one instance, men honoured with the command of a regiment for heading
mobs. Well: with this, I believe, I have troubled you long enough.
Pray, say you, what is it to me why you have not been in the army?
Why, nothing, my dear friend; but it is something to me. You know, my
dear Burr, I love you, or I should not submit such nonsense to your
perusal. If Mr. Swift still lives, give him my best compliments.
Pamela desires me to tell you she loves you. Answer this letter, and
Your sincere friend,
FROM COLONEL M. OGDEN.
Ticonderoga, July 26th, 1776.
I have been waiting with the greatest impatience to know what is doing
in York and Jersey. There are twenty different reports, that
contradict each other, relative to Howe and his fleet. It has once
been generally believed that a French fleet had arrived at New-York,
and blocked up the British army. Independence is well relished in this
part of the world. Generalship is now dealt out to the army by our
worthy and well-esteemed general, Gates, who is putting the most
disordered army that ever bore the name into a state of regularity and
defence. If our friends in Canada, commanded by Burgoyne, will wait a
few days, we shall give them a very proper reception.
The army are beginning to recruit fast, from the effects of a little
fresh meat, and some rum, when on fatigue. Ten days ago there were not
in our regiment eighty men fit for duty. We have now upwards of two
hundred and thirty; and, in a few days, they will be all as rugged as
New-Jersey is firm.
Colonel Winds is sent home on a fool's errand by the general, that he
may be out of the way of doing any more harm to the regiment. The
general assures me that I shall not be troubled with him again. I
suppose, by that, he has written to have him detained below. A short
history of this man will convince you that he ought to be nowhere but
on his farm. He, in the first place, is a professed enemy to
subordination, and has an utter aversion to discipline. He is
positive, and prefers his own opinion to even the general's, because
he was in the service last war. He is not possessed of one
qualification that distinguishes a gentleman, nor has he genius or
education. His whole study is to gain the applause of the private
soldiers, at the expense of every officer in the regiment. He is hated
by all his own officers except _two_, and despised by every gentleman
in the army.
We are in great want of brigadier-generals--three, at least. I mean
for the men that are now here. General Arnold will command the
water-craft on the lake in person. There are three brigades, commanded
by the colonels, Reed, Stark, and St. Clair. The last of these I
sincerely wish was appointed a brigadier by Congress. There is no
better man; the other two have full enough already.
Please to forward the enclosed, with the letter to Mr. Spencer. My
best respects to Generals Putnam, Greene, and Mifflin, and to Colonel
Trumbull. Compliments to Webb. I wait, with the greatest impatience,
some important news from New-York. Pray write particulars relative to
the conduct of the Jerseymen. Should any fall, mention their names.
I am yours sincerely,
TO T. EDWARDS.
New-York, 10th of August, 1776.
I have received your letters from Stockbridge, with my watch, for
which I thank you. Our six galleys which went up the North river
attacked the British ships. They behaved well, but were drove off with
the loss of three killed and twelve or thirteen wounded. A second
attack is proposed. Vessels and chevaux-de-frises are sunk in the
North river. The channel is said to be effectually stopped. We are
endeavouring the same in the East river. The British fleet have been
largely re-enforced at different times. They are now said to be
upwards of two hundred sail within the Narrows. They have drawn up
seven of their heaviest ships in a line, nearly two miles advanced of
By two Virginia gentlemen who went to England to take the gown, who
returned in a packet and landed on Staten Island, where they tarried
several days, and were permitted to cross to Elizabethtown on Thursday
last, we have some intelligence of the enemy. Clinton has arrived with
his shattered fleet and about 3600 men. By this it appears that he has
either fallen in with part of Dunmore's fleet, or picked up the
remainder of his own, which had been separated, and were not in the
action near Charlestown. Of the Hessians only 1300 or 1400 have
arrived. The remainder, about 9000, are daily expected. They were left
near the banks of Newfoundland. Those already here are not much
esteemed as soldiers.
The king's land-army is at present about 15 or 16,000 strong. They
expect very soon to exceed 25,000. They have taken on board all their
heavy cannon from Staten Island, and have called in several of their
outposts. Thirty transports have sailed under convoy of three
frigates. They are to come through the Sound, and thus invest us by
the North and East rivers. They are then to land on both sides of the
island, _join their forces, and draw a line across, which will hem us
in and totally cut off all communication, after which they will have
their own fun_.
These Virginia gentlemen lodged in a house with several king's
officers. They hold us in the utmost contempt. Talk of forcing all our
lines without firing a gun. The bayonet is their pride. They have
forgot Bunker's Hill.
FROM COLONEL M. OGDEN.
Ticonderoga, August 11th, 1776.
I yesterday received yours of July 29th and August 2d. The others I
made mention of in the letter to Mrs. Ogden that I sent to you
unsealed. In my last you had a very particular account of the numbers,
force, names, &c., of our navy on the lake. As to our leaving
Crownpoint for this place, the field-officers knew nothing of it till
it was concluded on by the generals, Schuyler, Gates, and Arnold.
General Arnold is taking a very active part, I mean in the command of
the fleet. He will sail himself in a few days. He says he will pay a
visit to St. Johns. I wish he may be as prudent as he is brave. Well,
now have at you for news. Last evening the flag of truce returned,
bringing a letter directed to _George Washington, Esq_., and a truly
ridiculous copy of a general order, which you will see at General
Washington's by the time you receive this. But there is one part of it
in which I think they, in some measure, accuse us justly. I mean that
of assassinating, as they term it with too much truth,
Brigadier-general Gordon. He was shot by the Whitcomb I mentioned in
my last, who had been sent there as a spy. The act, though villainous,
was brave, and a peculiar kind of bravery, that, I believe, Whitcomb
alone is possessed of. He shot Gordon near by their advanced sentinel;
and, notwithstanding a most diligent search was made, he avoided them
by mere dint of skulking.
I shall have the honour to command the New-Jersey redoubt, which I am
now building with the regiment alone. It is situated on the right of
the whole, by the water's edge. It is to mount two eighteen-pounders,
two twelve, and four nine-pounders. In this I expect to do honour to
New-Jersey. I yesterday received a letter from Colonel Dayton, dated
the 28th of July, at the German Flats. He informs me that he is to
take the command at Fort Stanwix.
Should there be any thing to be had in New-York in the clothing way,
should be glad if you will lay some aside, no matter what--either
small-clothes, shirts, stockings, or any thing of the kind. My best
compliments to General Putnam. If you will let Robert or Sawyer have
the perusal of this, they would learn the news of this army. Paper is
so scarce, that one letter must serve both, unless something
At this time Major-general Greene had the command on Long Island, but
his health was so bad that it became necessary for him to resign it.
The commander-in-chief ordered General Putnam to assume the command.
Major Burr was his aid-de-camp. The landing of the British had been
previously effected on the 22d of August, 1776, without opposition,
near Utrecht and Gravesend, on the southwest end of the island. The
American troops, less than 12,000, were encamped on the north of
Brooklyn heights. The British force, including Hessians, was more than
20,000 strong. The armies were separated by a range of hills, at that
time covered with wood, called the Heights of Gowannus. Major Burr
immediately commenced an inspection of the troops, and made to the
general a most unfavourable report, both as to their means of defence
and their discipline. The major proposed, however, several enterprises
for beating up the quarters of the enemy. To all which General Putnam
replied, that his orders were not to make any attack, but to act on
the defensive only.
On the 27th the action was fought. The loss of the Americans, in
killed, wounded, and prisoners, was about 1000. That of the British,
less than 350. The Americans were driven within the works which they
had thrown up. Major Burr, previous to the action, had expressed to
General Putnam the opinion that a battle ought not to be risked; and
that much was to be gained by placing the troops in a position where
the navy of the enemy would not be so serviceable to them.
On the 28th, the British advanced in column to within 500 or 600 yards
of the American works. General Robinson, who commanded a portion of
the enemy, represents, in his parliamentary examination, that they
approached much nearer. The American troops were formed in line to
receive them; but gave such indications of alarm, that Major Burr rode
to General Putnam, and informed him that he had no hope the men would
stand more than a single fire before they retreated. No attack,
however, was made. Burr continued to urge upon General Putnam and
Mifflin (the latter of whom came over on that day from New-York) the
necessity of a retreat. During the night of the 28th, General Mifflin
went the rounds, and observed the forwardness of the enemy's
batteries, and, on the morning of the 29th, pressed upon General
Washington an immediate retreat. A council was held, and the opinion
of Mifflin unanimously adopted. The embarcation of the troops was
committed to General McDOUGALL. He was at Brooklyn Ferry by eight
o'clock. In the early part of the night, the weather was very
unfavourable; but about eleven o'clock every thing was propitious. A
thick fog ensued, and continued until the whole army, 9000 in number,
with all the field artillery, ordnance, &c., were safely landed in
New-York. Major Burr was at Brooklyn. Here General McDOUGALL had an
opportunity of noticing his efficiency. His reputation for talents and
intrepidity had previously reached the ears of the general. From this
night, the 29th of August, 1776, until Major Burr retired from the
army, he possessed the entire confidence and esteem of General
McDOUGALL. Subsequent events, as will hereafter appear, tended to
strengthen and confirm the correctness of those prepossessions, thus
formed in the hour of peril, and in the midst of the most appalling
The situation of General Washington, after retreating from Long
Island, was very distressing. The defeat which the Americans had
experienced produced consternation and alarm in the ranks of a raw,
inexperienced, and undisciplined army. In addition to other
discouraging circumstances, within a few days after the retreat,
nearly one fourth of the troops were on the sick-list. Colonel Glover
says that the commander-in-chief divided his army, posting 12,000 at
Kingsbridge, 6500 at Harlem, and 4500 in the city of New-York.
On Sunday, the 15th of September, 1776, General Howe, as
commander-in-chief of the British forces, landed on Manhattan
(New-York) Island. General Washington had previously made the
necessary arrangements, and given orders for the troops to evacuate
the city and retire to Harlem, distant about seven miles. The descent
of the British created an alarm in the American ranks, and produced no
inconsiderable degree of confusion in the retreat. By some
unaccountable mismanagement, General Silliman's brigade was left in
New-York, and conducted by General Knox to a small fort then in the
suburbs, and known as Bunker's Hill. Major Burr having been
despatched, at his own request, with a few dragoons, by General
Putnam, to pick up the stragglers, discovered the error which had been
committed, and galloping up to the fort, inquired who commanded.
General Knox presented himself. Major Burr desired him to retreat
immediately, or the whole brigade would be cut off and sacrificed.
General Knox replied, that a retreat, thus in the face of the enemy,
was impracticable, and that he intended to defend the fort. Burr
remarked, that it was not bomb-proof; that it was destitute of water;
and that he could take it with a single howitzer; and then, addressing
himself to the men, said, that if they remained there, one half of
them would be killed or wounded, and the other half hung, like dogs,
before night; but, if they would place themselves under his command,
he would conduct them in safety to Harlem. Burr's character for
intrepidity and military skill was already so well established, that
they determined to follow him. In the retreat they had some
skirmishing, but met with very little loss in effecting their union
with the main body of the army. The following documents, furnished by
officers in Silliman's brigade, contain the details.
SAMUEL ROWLAND TO COMMODORE RICHARD V. MORRIS. Fairfield, (Conn.),
29th January, 1814.
In answer to the inquiries relating to the evacuation of New-York, in
1776, I can only observe, but few persons who were present, and
eyewitnesses of the event, are now living in this part of the country.
I find, however, the Rev. Doctor Ripley, a gentleman of eminent
respectability, and Messrs. Wakeman and Jennings, respectable citizens
of this town, now living, who belonged to the brigade of the late
General Silliman, the information of which gentlemen on any subject
can be relied on, and will be no otherwise than correct, however
prejudice or other cause might occasion a reluctance in disclosing the
information in their power to give; yet duty impelled their narrative,
and the neglecting an opportunity to give evidence of noble acts and
unrewarded worth they consider _ingratitude_. In preference to
communicating to you by way of letter concerning transactions of so
long standing as the year 1776, I desired the enclosed certificates,
which the gentlemen freely gave, in order to prevent any
misconstruction by passing through a second hand, by which you will
have more correct information than possibly in my power to give.
Very respectfully yours, &c.
_Certificate of the Rev. Hezekiah Ripley_.
On being inquired of by Samuel Rowland, Esq., of Fairfield town and
county, in the State of Connecticut, relative to my knowledge and
recollection respecting the merits of Colonel Aaron Burr as an officer
and soldier in the late revolutionary war between the United States
and Great Britain, can certify as follows:--
Hezekiah Ripley, of said Fairfield, doth certify, that on or about the
fifteenth day of September, 1776, I was the officiating chaplain of
the brigade then commanded by Gen. Gold S. Silliman. From
mismanagement of the commanding officer, that brigade was
unfortunately left in the city of New-York, and at the time before
mentioned. While the brigade was in front, and myself considerably in
the rear, I was met by the late General Putnam, deceased, who then
informed me of the landing of the enemy above us, and that I must make
my escape on the west side of the island. Whereupon I on foot crossed
the lots to the west side of the island, unmolested excepting by the
fire from the ships of the British, which at that time lay in the
North river. How the brigade escaped, I was not an eyewitness; but
well recollect, from the information I then had from General Chandler
(now deceased), then acting as a colonel in said brigade, that Mr.
Burr's exertions, bravery, and good conduct, was the principal means
of saving the whole of that brigade from falling into the hands of the
enemy, and whose conduct was then by all considered judicious and
But, however, I well recollect, before I had the information alluded
to from General Chandler, I had seen Mr. Burr, and inquired of him how
the brigade had made their escape, who then told me the particulars,
which were afterwards confirmed by all the officers; who were all of
opinion that, had it not been for him, they would not have effected
their retreat and escape.
As to my own opinion of the management of the troops on leaving
New-York, I then, and still suppose, as did General Chandler, that
Colonel Burr's merits there as a young officer ought, and did, claim
much attention, and whose official duties as an aid-de-camp on that
memorable day justly claimed the thanks of the army and his country.
_Certificate from Isaac Jennings and Andrew Wakeman_. Being requested
by Samuel Rowland, Esq., to give information relative to the
evacuation of New-York, in the year 1776, by the American army, we,
the subscribers, then acting, one in the capacity of a lieutenant, and
the other as a private, in the brigade commanded by the late General
Silliman, now deceased, do certify, That on the fifteenth day of
September (being on the Lord's day), the British landed on the east
side of the island, about four miles above the city. The American
troops retreated the same day to Harlem heights. By some
misapprehension of the orders, or from other causes unknown to us, our
brigade was left, and was taken by General Knox to Bunker's Hill, 
a small fort (so called) about a mile from town. The fort was scarcely
able to hold us all. We had but just got into the fort, when Aaron
Burr, then aid-de-camp to General Putnam, rode up and inquired who
commanded there. General Knox presented himself, and Burr (then called
Major Burr) asked the general what he did there? And why he did not
retreat with the army? The general replied, that it was impossible to
retreat, as the enemy were across the island, and that he meant to
defend that fort. Major Burr ridiculed the idea of defending the
place, being, as he said, without provisions, or water, or bomb-proof;
and that, with one mortar, or one howitzer, the enemy would take the
place in four hours, or in some very short time, and again urged
General Knox to retreat to Harlem heights; but General Knox said it
would be madness to attempt it. A smart debate ensued, the general
adhering to his opinion. Burr addressed himself to the men, and told
them that, if they remained there, they would before night be all
prisoners, and crammed into a dungeon, or hung like dogs. He engaged
to lead them off, and observed that it would be better that one half
should be killed in fighting, than all be sacrificed in that cowardly
manner. The men agreed to follow him, and he led them out; he and his
two attendants riding on the right flank. About four miles from town
we were fired upon by a party of the enemy. Burr galloped directly to
the spot the firing came from, hallooing to the men to follow him. It
proved to be only a guard of about a company of the enemy, who
immediately fled. Burr and his horsemen pursued and killed several of
them. While he was thus employed, the head of a column had taken a
wrong road. Burr came up and hurried us to the left, into a wood, and
rode along the column from front to rear, encouraging the men, and led
us out to the main army with very small loss.
The coolness, deliberation, and valour displayed by Major Burr in
effecting a safe retreat, without material loss, and his meritorious
services to the army on that day, rendered him an object of peculiar
respect from the troops, and the particular notice of the officers.
LETTER FROM NATHANIEL JUDSON TO COMMODORE R. V. MORRIS.
Albany, 10th February, 1814.
I have received your letter, with the preceding statement, respecting
our retreat from New-York Island, in September, 1776, and, in
compliance with your request, I have to reply, that the relation made
by Mr. Wakeman and Mr, Jennings corresponds with my recollection. I
was near Colonel Burr when he lead the dispute with General Knox, who
said it was madness to think of retreating, as we should meet the
whole British army. Colonel Burr did not address himself to the men,
but to the officers, who had most of them gathered around to hear what
passed, as we considered ourselves as lost. But Colonel Burr seemed so
confident that he could make good a retreat, and made it clear that we
were all lost if we stayed there, that we all agreed to trust to his
conduct and courage, though it did appear to us a most desperate
undertaking; and he did not disappoint us, for he effected a retreat
with the whole brigade; and I do not think we lost more than thirty
men. We had several brushes with small parties of the enemy. Colonel
Burr was foremost and most active where there was danger, and his
conduct, without considering his extreme youth, was afterwards a
constant subject of praise, and admiration, and gratitude. This affair
was much talked of in the army after the surrender of Fort Washington,
in which a garrison of about 2500 men was left under circumstances
very similar to ours; this fort having no bomb-proof. That garrison
surrendered, as is well known, the very same day our army retreated;
and of those 2500 men, not 500 survived the imprisonment they received
from the British. I have, since then, heard it repeated hundreds of
times by the officers and men of Silliman's brigade, that our fate
would have been the same had it not been for Colonel Burr. I was a
sergeant-major in Chandler's regiment of Silliman's brigade at the
time of the retreat.
I am your very obedient servant,
1. Adjacent to what is now Grand-street.
As early as the 10th of August, Burr, in a letter to his uncle
Edwards,  expressed apprehensions that the retreat of the American
army from Long Island might be cut off and then that the British
"would have their own fun." From that period until the retreat was
effected, on the night of the 27th, he continued to entertain the same
opinion as to the necessity of retreating. So, also, in relation to
the city of New-York. He thought no attempt should be made to hold it.
Subsequent events proved his good sense and foresight, as well as his
military genius. The city was abandoned on the 15th of September. Ten
days after he writes to his aunt Edwards, in reply to a desponding
letter he had received from her, his views of the recent movements of
the American army.
TO MRS. EDWARDS.
Kingsbridge, 26th September, 1776.
MY DEAR AUNT,
I fear, madam, you give yourself needless anxiety about the situation
of public affairs. It has been always held a maxim that our island and
seaport towns were at the discretion of the tyrant of Great Britain.
Reasons for the retreat from Long Island are well known. The
evacuation of New-York was a _necessary consequence_. The manner of
conducting these made present advantages but trifling to the enemy.
The loss to us is of still less importance; and, indeed, some happy
consequences resulting from the manoeuvres appear to me worthy of
We have hitherto opposed them with less than half their number, and
exposed to all their advantages of shipping. Our force is now more
united, theirs more divided. Our present situation renders their navy
of less service to them, and less formidable to us;--a circumstance of
vast importance, and to which I attribute all that has heretofore
appeared in their favour. Add to these, besides confirming our
internal union, the effect that every appearance of success on the
part of the enemy has upon our leading men. It arouses them from the
lethargy which began to prevail; convinces them that their measures
are unequal to their grand designs; that the present is the important
moment, and that every nerve must now be exerted.
This is not altogether fanciful. It has been actually the case. More
effectual measures than were ever before thought of are now taking for
levying a new army. A committee of Congress are on the spot with us to
know all our wants, and report them properly, that they may be
speedily provided for. I do not intend by this, my dear aunt, to
deceive you into an opinion that every thing is already entirely
secure; that we are now actually relieved from every degree of danger;
but to remove your apprehensions concerning the important events which
depend on our military exertions. I hope, madam, you will continue,
with your usual philosophy and resolution, prepared for the uncertain
events of war, not anticipating improbable calamities.
Various have been the reports concerning the barbarities committed by
the Hessians, most of them incredible and false. They are fonder of
plunder than blood, and are more the engines than the authors of
cruelty. But their behaviour has been in some instances savage, and
might excuse a fear, if reckoned among usual calamities; but these
should be viewed on a larger scale than that of common complaisance.
It should be remembered we are engaged in a civil war, and effecting
the most important revolution that ever took place. How little of the
horrors of either have we known! Fire or the sword have scarce left a
trace among us. We may be truly called a favoured people.
I have been not so engaged as common for a short time past, and have
liberty of remaining, for three or four days, about two miles from
camp, from whence I now write you, a little more at leisure; but I am
now within drumcall.
After the abandonment of Manhattan Island by the American army, and
some fighting in Westchester, General Washington crossed the North
river with a part of the troops, and retreated through New-Jersey. The
movements of Lord Cornwallis left no doubt that the object of the
British general was Philadelphia. He advanced rapidly from Brunswick
upon Princeton, hoping, by forced marches, to get in the rear of the
Americans. On the 8th of December, 1776, Washington crossed the
Delaware, secured the boats, and broke down the bridges. Great
apprehension and alarm for the safety of Philadelphia now existed.
Judge Marshall, in his Life of Washington, says,
"In consequence of this state of things, the general advised that
lines of defence should be drawn from the Schuylkill, about the
heights of Springatsbury, eastward to the Delaware, and General Putnam
was ordered to superintend them." Major Burr was now actively engaged
as the aid-de-camp of General Putnam, whose esteem and unbounded
confidence he continued to enjoy. He writes Colonel Ogden,
Princeton, 7th March, 1777.
I this evening received your letter of yesterday's date, by Stockton.
I knew not how to direct to you, nor where to send for the horse, or
should have done it sooner. I do not perfectly recollect the one you
mention, but should be glad of any on your recommendation. Both boots
and a saddle I want much, and shall be obliged to you to procure them
for me;--good leather would suit me as well as boots ready made. I
have not had a pair worth sixpence since those I had at Elizabethtown.
As to "expectations of promotion," I have not the least, either in the
line or the staff. You need not express any surprise at it, as I have
never made any application, and, as you know me, you know I never
shall. I should have been fond of a berth in a regiment, as we
proposed when I last saw you. But, as I am at present happy in the
esteem and entire confidence of my good old general, I shall be piqued
at no neglect, unless particularly pointed, or where silence would be
want of spirit. 'Tis true, indeed, my former equals, and even
inferiors in rank, have left me. Assurances from those in power I have
had unasked, and in abundance; but of these I shall never remind them.
We are not to judge of our own merit, and I am content to contribute
my mite in any station.
I shall probably be at Morris within ten days, on public business.
Write me whether I may expect you there. With sincere love to Mrs.
In the spring of 1777, a new army was to be raised. For political
reasons it was deemed expedient to select, where it could be done with
propriety, for the colonels of regiments, gentlemen supposed to have
an influence. Among those who were thus selected was Colonel Malcolm,
formerly a merchant in the city of New-York. He was highly
respectable, and universally esteemed, but was not a military man. In
June, 1777, Burr was appointed lieutenant-colonel of his regiment; but
he did not receive official notice of the fact until the 26th of July.
On the 14th of July, 1777, General Putnam's headquarters being then at
Peekskill, he issued the following order:--
_By the Honourable Major-general Putnam, To Major Aaron Burr,
Pursuant to orders received from his excellency General Washington,
you are forthwith to repair to Norwalk, Fairfield, and the places
adjacent on the Sound, transmit me without delay the intelligence you
shall from time to time receive of the movements of the enemy, or any
of their fleets. Request of the committees, or select-men of the
different towns, that they will be very punctual in reporting to the
commanding officer at this post whatever may in any respect relate to
the movements of the army, as both their safety and the welfare of the
country may be promoted by their diligence in this particular.
On your return, which will be through Litchfield, you will leave
orders for all detachments of any regiments of General Nixon's brigade
to take the most direct route to Albany, provided they be farther than
thirty miles from this place, as much will be saved, and fatigue
avoided by the observance of this.
Having settled a line of intelligence from the different towns on the
coast, and left the necessary directions for the detachments of
Brigadier-general Nixon's brigade, you will return with all convenient
speed to this place.
Given under my hand, at headquarters, Peekskill, 14th day of July,
This was the last order that Major Burr ever received as the
aid-de-camp of his "good old general." On his return to camp he
received, in the usual form, a letter from General Washington,
announcing to him his appointment as lieutenant-colonel in the
Continental Army, to which he replied,
Peekskill, 21st July, 1777.
I was this morning favoured with your excellency's letter of the 29th
ult., and my appointment to Colonel Malcolm's regiment. Am truly
sensible of the honour done me, and shall be studious that my
deportment in that station be such as will ensure your future esteem.
I am nevertheless, Sir, constrained to observe, that the late date of
my appointment subjects me to the command of many who were younger in
the service, and junior officers the last campaign.
With submission, and if there is no impropriety in requesting what so
nearly concerns me, I would beg to know whether it was any misconduct
in me, or any extraordinary merit or services in them, which entitled
the gentlemen lately put over me to that preference? Or, if a uniform
diligence and attention to duty has marked my conduct since the
formation of the army, whether I may not expect to be restored to that
rank of which I have been deprived, rather, I flatter myself, by
accident than design? I would wish equally to avoid the character of
turbulent or passive, and am unhappy to have troubled your excellency
with a matter which concerns only myself. But, as a decent regard to
rank is both proper and necessary, I hope it will be excused in one
who regards his honour next to the welfare of his country.
I am not yet acquainted with the state of the regiment or the prospect
of filling it; but shall immediately repair to rendezvous and receive
Colonel Malcolm's directions.
I have the honour to be, with great respect,
Your excellency's obedient servant,
Colonel Malcolm's regiment was at this time stationed at Ramapo, or
the Clove, in Orange county, New-York, whither Lieutenant-colonel Burr
proceeded. On presenting himself, the colonel was greatly surprised.
The youthful appearance of Burr led him to apprehend that he would be
wanting in judgment and discretion; but a very short acquaintance
removed these impressions. Malcolm retired with his family about
twenty miles distant, leaving Burr in command, kindly remarking--"You
shall have all the honour of disciplining and fighting the regiment,
while I will be its father;" and he kept his word, for it is believed
that he never commanded it in battle during the whole war, although it
was frequently engaged. This duty devolved upon Colonel Burr.
In September, 1777, the British came out of the city of New-York, on
the west side of the Hudson river, about 2000 strong, for the purpose
of plundering and devastating the adjacent country, and capturing the
public stores. Colonel Burr was with his regiment, distant about
thirty miles, when he heard of the enemy, and yet he was in their
camp, and captured or destroyed their picket-guards before the next
morning. For two days and nights he never slept. His regular force did
not exceed three hundred men; but, by surprising the British
sentinels, he struck consternation into their ranks, and they fled
with precipitation, leaving behind them their plunder and a part of
their stores. The following letters afford ample details:--
Statement of Judge George Gardner, dated Newburgh, 20th December,
In September, 1777, the regiment called Malcolm's regiment lay at
Suffren's, in the Clove, under the command of Lieutenant-colonel Burr.
Intelligence having been received that the enemy were in Hackensack in
great force, and advancing into the country, Colonel Burr immediately
marched with the effective men, except a guard to take care of the
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