Revenge is a dish best served cold — but it doesn’t always require bloodshed.
On the early morning of July 11th, 1804, two rivals met in the forest outside Weehawken, New Jersey. This bitter reunion was years in the making, as Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr finally said enough was enough and decided to settle their differences via a now-famous duel.
The former Secretary of the Treasury missed but the sitting Vice President of the United States did not. Hamilton was shot in the lower abdomen, mortally wounding him. He would die the next day.
Most Americans know this story — but they might not know about the sequel.
After he was shot, Hamilton was ferried into the nearby Greenwich Village and was paid final visits by his friends and family. Among them was his son, Alexander Hamilton Jr., a budding student of law.
This wasn’t the first death in the family as a result of dueling. Hamilton’s eldest son, Phillip, had fallen in a duel to George Eacker, a lackey of Aaron Burr, after Eacker singled out the Hamilton family at a Columbia College commencement ceremony. Eacker’s spite-filled speech contained damning phrases like, “the mistakes of the father are often visited upon the son” as he stared directly toward oldest Hamilton boy. Philip died defending his family’s honor on the same dueling grounds his father would lay upon just three years later.
(Photo by Billy Hatorne)
Alexander Hamilton Jr.’s father was killed just weeks before his graduation from Columbia College. According to the Saint Andrew’s Society, the death held him back and he didn’t graduate on time. But this wasn’t the only toll the deaths of Alexander Sr. and Phillip Hamilton would take on the family. Elizabeth, the matron of the Hamilton family, had to sell off their Harlem estate while Angelica, Alexander Jr.’s sister, suffered a mental breakdown from which she never recovered.
Stricken with sadness, he did what any good American lost in emotions would do — he joined the military. The young Hamilton sailed to Spain in 1811 and fought under Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, against Napoleon’s forces. There, he learned military strategy.
(Painting by Thomas Lawrence)
Meanwhile, Aaron Burr fled the country after he was charged with treason for his conspiring to fabricate a war between Spain and Mexico so he could found a new country consisting of the Spanish territory of Florida, the Louisiana Purchase, and the American Southwest. Now a political outcast, he first sought aid from Britain and, when he found no success there, he sided with Napoleon — coincidentally around the same time period Hamilton Jr. was fighting him.
Hamilton Jr. would later use his new-found military knowledge during the War of 1812 as an infantry captain. This gained the attention of his father’s old friend, General Morgan Lewis. Burr, on the other hand, found his political career destroyed and became penniless after his journey to find new roots.
After the war, Hamilton Jr. returned to a life as a lawyer — just as his father and older brother before him did — and would eventually take a seat as a New York state legislator. His prowess in the courtroom landed him the role of United States attorney for the newly formed Eastern Florida territory in 1822. There, he helped shape Florida into an American state.
Years passed and the Hamilton finally returned to New York City. There, he started selling real estate and became a leading name in Wall Street. He used his own money and what remained after his mother’s sale of their Harlem estate to buy his mother a new home on the East side.
Meanwhile, the poverty-stricken Burr took on a new surname of “Edwards” to avoid creditors and to hide from his treasonous past. This is when he married the newly widowed and then-richest woman in America, Eliza Jumel. It’s said that his intentions of preying on her were entirely monetary. Quickly, he tried to use her money to purchase land in Mexican Texas — which was made worthless when the immigration of US citizens was outlawed.
Only four months into the marriage, Burr committed adultery many times and mismanaged almost all of Jumel’s enormous fortune. She did what any reasonable person would do after such a situation: She filed for divorce in 1833.
It was unclear how it happened, exactly, but Alexander Hamilton Jr. came to Jumel’s aid as her attorney in the divorce proceedings. At this point, Hamilton Jr. had lived a long and fulfilling life. He had been the one of the country’s best lawyers, a fantastic military mind, and a New York real estate tycoon. By all logical conclusions, this case should have been leagues below his status — but he took it on anyways.
The divorce court dragged on for almost three years. Hamilton brought every misdeed done by Burr to light. During the trial, Burr suffered a debilitating stroke but, by the end, Burr had been stripped of everything. Eliza Jumel and Alexander Hamilton Jr. took what remained of his money, his health, and his legacy.
Just hours after the divorce was finalized, Burr passed away. He spent his last moments knowing that the son of the man he killed succeed in nearly everything he did, including taking everything away from him in return.