Former VP Aaron Burr Married Eliza Jumel On This Day in 1833
Throughout her adventurous and unconventional life, Eliza’s one regret was that she could not publicly announce that George Washington was her father. When Eliza was ten years old, her mother told her of Washington’s visit to Providence. They spent one night together at the home of Freelove Ballou, an aunt who later adopted Eliza. She was born nine months later. Her many attempts to reach her father gained her an invitation to Mount Vernon weeks before his death.
Eliza’s love of make-believe brought her to Manhattan’s John Street Theatre, where she played many leading roles. When the theatre was bought by a speculator and torn down, she “made a living how I could” – at the brothel of Manhattan madam Sally Marshall, whose ladies entertained senators and other prominent figures.
Eliza met the charismatic Aaron Burr when he became New York’s Attorney General. While standing outside Federal Hall after President Washington’s inauguration with her best friend Susannah Shippen, she caught a flash of dark eyes that sparkled and caught the sunlight like jewels. Susannah innocently introduced them, unaware of their instant attraction.
Deeply in love, Eliza wrote: “Colonel Aaron Burr appeared to me the perfection of manhood personified. Wherever he went he was petted and caressed by our sex. And yet, he never took advantage of his position.”
Eliza named her only son George Washington Bowen, believing Aaron was the father.
While Aaron climbed the political ladder on his way to the Vice Presidency, Eliza met wealthy wine merchant Stephen Jumel, a native Frenchman. Knowing Eliza’s heart belonged only to Aaron, he wooed her and trusted her to invest his capital in Manhattan real estate. With her shrewd negotiating skills and street smarts, they amassed an empire.
On Eliza and Stephen’s first trip to France together, the fallen and beaten Napoleon Bonaparte boarded Stephen’s brig the Eliza, seeking an American vessel to ensure his escape from the British. Stephen, in all seriousness, offered the Emperor a wine barrel to stow away in. The Emperor, haughtily put out when he realized Stephen wasn’t joking, accepted Eliza’s invitation to hide in their New York home, but never made it to the new world. However, he did give Eliza his yellow coach and other costly gifts, now on display in the Jumel Mansion. Stephen’s business connections afforded him and Eliza introduction to the upper echelons of Paris society. She met King Louis XVIII, but he shunned her begging to let Stephen join court circles.
One evening, Aaron showed up at her doorstep with a minister in tow, the same Reverend Bogart who’d married him to his first wife Theodosia fifty years before. He proposed to Eliza on bended knee: “I give you my hand, Madame; my heart has long been yours.”
Aaron received the final papers on September 14, 1836, and died later that day.
Eliza returned home to her family and lived another 29 years as Mrs. Burr, the name she’d always longed for.
The Morris-Jumel Mansion still stands in Harlem, New York City and is open to the public.
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