“Your Obedient Servant, A. Burr”: A Bit of Broadway in the NU Archives

July 19, 2016

manuscript page

Letter from Aaron Burr to Alden Partridge, 1828. Click to view in our digital collections.

Fans of the hit musical Hamilton will be very interested in one of the latest items from Alden Partridge’s correspondence to be added to the Norwich University Archives digital collections.

As an active proponent of military education at the federal level, Alden Partridge had contact with many of our founding fathers. Today we are featuring a letter written by none other than Aaron Burr, the vice president under Thomas Jefferson who famously killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. The letter’s surprisingly personal content gives us a mysterious glimpse into Partridge’s relationship with one of the more controversial founders of our nation.

This letter was written in 1828, when Aaron Burr was living in New York again after a long period of controversy and exile, first in the western United States and then in France. We do not know how he became acquainted with Alden Partridge. Given Partridge’s known acquaintance with other luminaries like Thomas Jefferson, it is likely that they ran in similar circles in both Washington and New York at the height of Burr’s political career.

Regardless of how the two men knew each other, it is the content of this letter that presents the greatest mystery. In it, Burr describes a young woman of his acquaintance, aged 21, who is educated and free to choose her own husband, and pledges to keep Partridge’s response private. It seems for all the world like Aaron Burr is playing matchmaker to Alden Partridge. Partridge did not marry Ann Swasey until ten years after this, in 1837. This peculiarly intimate letter from Aaron Burr indicates that he may have been looking for a wife much earlier–or at least others were looking for him!

The letter is signed “Your Obedient Servant, A. Burr,” a reminder that the lyrics from Hamilton were inspired by actual letter-writing conventions of the time–“your obedient servant” was a common sign-off that is found throughout the Alden Partridge correspondence.

manuscript closeup

Signature of Aaron Burr’s letter to Alden Partridge, 1828

–Mary Margaret

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