Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Second Marriage of Aaron Burr
By James Parton (18221891)
[Born in Canterbury, England, 1822. Died in Newburyport, Mass., 1891. The Life and Times of Aaron Burr. 1864.]
STEPHEN JUMEL, one of those efficient, invincible Frenchmen, who redeem the character of their nation, emigrated at an early age to St. Domingo, where he worked his way to the ownership of a share in a coffee plantation. Warned by a faithful slave, he escaped from his house on the eve of the great massacre, and saw, from a wood to which he had fled, his buildings burned and his plantation laid waste. For many days, fed by his negro friend, he wandered up and down the lonely sea-shore, signalling every ship that passed the island. At length, a boat put off from a vessel and took him on board. At St. Helena, the first port made by the ship, he stopped, and engaging at once in some little speculations, gained some money, which he spent in procuring a passage to New York. To that city he had sent from St. Domingo a quantity of coffee, the proceeds of which he found awaiting his orders on arriving. Provided thus with a small capital, he embarked in trade, prospered, became the owner of a dozen ships, controlled the market for some descriptions of goods, and retired about the year 1812 with what was then considered a great fortune. A man of sense, he had married a daughter of New England, a woman as remarkable for energy and talent as himself.
After Napoleons downfall and the pacification of Europe, the family went to Paris, where they resided in splendor for many years, and where Madame Jumel, by her wit and tact, achieved a distinguished position in the court society of the place. Of the court itself she was a favored frequenter.
In the year 1822, M. Jumel lost a considerable part of his fortune, and madame returned alone to New York, bringing with her a prodigious quantity of grand furniture and paintings. Retiring to a seat in the upper part of Manhattan Island, which she possessed in her own right, she began with native energy the task of restoring her husbands broken fortunes. She cultivated her farm; she looked vigilantly to the remains of the estate; she economized. In 1828, when M. Jumel returned to the United States, they were not as rich as in former days, but their estate was ample for all rational purposes and enjoyments. In 1832, M. Jumel, a man of magnificent proportions, very handsome, and perfectly preserved (a great waltzer at seventy), was thrown from a wagon and fatally injured. He died in a few days. Madame was then little past her prime.
There was talk of cholera in the city. Madame Jumel resolved upon taking a carriage tour in the country. Before setting out, she wished to take legal advice respecting some real estate, and as Colonel Burrs reputation in that department was preëminent, to his office in Reade street she drove. In other days he had known her well, and though many an eventful year had passed since he had seen her, he recognized her at once. He received her in his courtliest manner, complimented her with admirable tact, listened with soft deference to her statement. He was the ideal man of businessconfidential, self-possessed, politegiving his client the flattering impression that the faculties of his whole soul were concentrated upon the affair in hand. She was charmed, yet feared him. He took the papers, named the day when his opinion would be ready, and handed her to her carriage with winning grace. At seventy-eight years of age, he was still straight, active, agile, fascinating.
On the appointed day she sent to his office a relative, a student of law, to receive his opinion. This young gentleman, timid and inexperienced, had an immense opinion of Burrs talents; had heard all good and all evil of him; supposed him to be, at least, the acutest of possible men. He went. Burr behaved to him in a manner so exquisitely pleasing, that, to this hour, he has the liveliest recollection of the scene. No topic was introduced but such as were familiar and interesting to young men. His manners were such as this age of slangy familiarity cannot so much as imagine. The young gentleman went home to Madame Jumel only to extol and glorify him.
Madame and her party began their journey, revisiting Ballston, whither, in former times, she had been wont to go in a chariot drawn by eight horses; visiting Saratoga, then in the beginning of its celebrity, where, in exactly ten minutes after her arrival, the decisive lady bought a house and all it contained. Returning to New York to find that her mansion had been despoiled by robbers in her absence, she lived for a while in the city. Colonel Burr called upon the young gentleman who had been madames messenger, and, after their acquaintance had ripened, said to him, Come into my office; I can teach you more in a year than you can learn in ten in an ordinary way. The proposition being submitted to Madame Jumel, she, anxious for the young mans advancement, gladly and gratefully consented. He entered the office. Burr kept him close at his books. He did teach him more in a year than he could have learned in ten in an ordinary way. Burr lived then in Jersey City. His office (23 Nassau street) swarmed with applicants for aid, and he seemed now to have quite lost the power of refusing. In no other respects, bodily or mental, did he exhibit signs of decrepitude.
Some months passed on without his again meeting Madame Jumel. At the suggestion of the student, who felt exceedingly grateful to Burr for the solicitude with which he assisted his studies, Madame Jumel invited Colonel Burr to dinner. It was a grand banquet, at which he displayed all the charms of his manner, and shone to conspicuous advantage. On handing to dinner the giver of the feast, he said: I give you my hand, madame; my heart has long been yours. This was supposed to be merely a compliment, and was little remarked at the time. Colonel Burr called upon the lady; called frequently; became ever warmer in his attentions; proposed, at length, and was refused. He still plied his suit, however, and obtained at last, not the ladys consent, but an undecided No. Improving his advantage on the instant, he said, in a jocular manner, that he should bring out a clergyman to Fort Washington on a certain day, and there he would once more solicit her hand.
He was as good as his word. At the time appointed, he drove out in his gig to the ladys country residence, accompanied by Dr. Bogart, the very clergyman who, just fifty years before, had married him to the mother of his Theodosia. The lady was embarrassed, and still refused. But then the scandal! And, after all, why not? Her estate needed a vigilant guardian, and the old house was lonely. After much hesitation, she at length consented to be dressed, and to receive her visitors. And she was married. The ceremony was witnessed only by the members of Madame Jumels family, and by the eight servants of the household, who peered eagerly in at the doors and windows. The ceremony over, Mrs. Burr ordered supper. Some bins of M. Jumels wine-cellar, that had not been opened for half a century, were laid under contribution. The little party was a very merry one. The parson, in particular, it is remembered, was in the highest spirits, overflowing with humor and anecdote. Except for Colonel Burrs great age (which was not apparent), the match seemed not an unwise one. The lurking fear he had had of being a poor and homeless old man was put to rest. She had a companion who had been ever agreeable, and her estate a steward than whom no one living was supposed to be more competent.
As a remarkable circumstance connected with this marriage, it may be just mentioned that there was a woman in New York who had aspired to the hand of Colonel Burr, and who, when she heard of his union with another, wrung her hands and shed tears! A feeling of that nature can seldom, since the creation of man, have been excited by the marriage of a man on the verge of fourscore.
A few days after the wedding, the happy pair paid a visit to Connecticut, of which State a nephew of Colonel Burr was then governor. They were received with attention. At Hartford, Burr advised his wife to sell out her shares in the bridge over the Connecticut at that place, and invest the proceeds in real estate. She ordered them sold. The stock was in demand, and the shares brought several thousand dollars. The purchasers offered to pay her the money, but she said, No; pay it to my husband. To him, accordingly, it was paid, and he had it sewed up in his pocket, a prodigious bulk, and brought it to New York, and deposited it in his own bank, to his own credit.
Texas was then beginning to attract the tide of emigration which, a few years later, set so strongly thither. Burr had always taken a great interest in that country. Persons with whom he had been variously connected in life had a scheme on foot for settling a large colony of Germans on a tract of land in Texas. A brig had been chartered, and the project was in a state of forwardness, when the possession of a sum of money enabled Burr to buy shares in the enterprise. The greater part of the money which he had brought from Hartford was invested in this way. It proved a total loss. The time had not yet come for emigration to Texas. The Germans became discouraged and separated, and, to complete the failure of the scheme, the title of the lands in the confusion of the times proved defective. Meanwhile madame, who was a remarkably thrifty woman, with a talent for the management of property, wondered that her husband made no allusion to the subject of the investment; for the Texas speculation had not been mentioned to her. She caused him to be questioned on the subject. He begged to intimate to the ladys messenger that it was no affair of hers, and requested him to remind the lady that she now had a husband to manage her affairs, and one who would manage them.
Coolness between the husband and wife was the result of this colloquy. Then came remonstrances. Then estrangement. Burr got into the habit of remaining at his office in the city. Then, partial reconciliation. Full of schemes and speculations to the last, without retaining any of his former ability to operate successfully, he lost more money, and more, and more. The patience of the lady was exhausted. She filed a complaint accusing him of infidelity, and praying that he might have no more control or authority over her affairs. The accusation is now known to have been groundless; nor, indeed, at the time was it seriously believed. It was used merely as the most convenient legal mode of depriving him of control over her property. At first, he answered the complaint vigorously, but afterward, he allowed it to go by default, and proceedings were carried no further. A few short weeks of happiness, followed by a few months of alternate estrangement and reconciliation, and this union, that begun not inauspiciously, was, in effect, though never in law, dissolved. What is strangest of all is, that the lady, though she never saw her husband during the last two years of his life, cherished no ill-will toward him, and shed tears at his death. To this hour, Madame Jumel thinks and speaks of him with kindness, attributing what was wrong or unwise in his conduct to the infirmities of age.
Men of seventy-eight have been married before and since. But, probably, never has there been another instance of a man of that age winning a lady of fortune and distinction, grieving another by his marriage, and exciting suspicions of incontinence against himself by his attentions to a third!