Long After Alexander Hamilton's Death, His Son and Rival Aaron Burr Dueled in Divorce Court

Hulton Archive // Getty Images
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

On July 11, 1804, U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, the former Secretary of the Treasury, in an ill-fated duel. The incident ended their longstanding rivalry—but Hamilton's son appears to have had the last word against his father's nemesis during a divorce trial.

Alexander Hamilton Jr., the second son of Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, was an attorney. He’s remembered for serving as a general during the War of 1812 and as a U.S. attorney for east Florida, among other accomplishments [PDF]. Lesser-known, however, is the fact that Hamilton Jr. served as divorce lawyer for socialite Eliza Bowen Jumel, Burr’s second wife, in 1834, and formally accused Burr of adultery and other charges.

Burr’s first wife, Theodosia Bartow Prevost—the mother of his daughter Theodosia—died in 1794 from stomach cancer, leaving Burr without his best ally and confidante. A decade later, he fatally shot Hamilton, and his reputation was sullied even further with later charges of conspiracy and high misdemeanor. With his political and legal career ruined, Burr was in the market for a strategic marriage, which might be why he decided to marry Jumel, a rich widow, in 1833.

Like Hamilton (and unlike Burr), Jumel came from humble origins and had climbed her way to success in Manhattan. Born in either 1773 or 1775, she was raised in a brothel in Providence, Rhode Island, and later forged an acting career in New York. In 1804, she married Stephen Jumel, a wealthy French wine merchant. (It's been rumored that Jumel tricked him into the nuptials by pretending to suffer from a fatal illness.)

The two purchased and lived in a 1765 mansion that briefly served as George Washington’s headquarters during the American Revolution. But in 1832, the 70-year-old Stephen Jumel died, leaving his widow—now the wealthiest woman in America—with his fortune. A year later, Jumel married Burr, who was now in his late seventies and reportedly dependent on his friends for money.

While the marriage cemented Jumel's position among Manhattan's upper echelons, the couple ended up separating after just four months of marriage. Needing a whip-smart lawyer, Jumel enlisted Hamilton Jr. to file for divorce.

Jumel alleged that Burr had committed adultery "at divers times with divers females," and also that he’d squandered her fortune. Meanwhile, a servant named Mariah Johnson testified she had caught Burr red-handed, according to Nancy Isenberg’s 2007 biography Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr. (Isenberg argues that Johnson had been bribed, and Burr himself argued that having affairs with younger women was "according to the law of nature impossible," considering his old age.)

The divorce was long and drawn out, and seemingly punctuated with periods of fighting and reconciliation. Burr's health was deteriorating during this time, and according to one story, Jumel "had him brought to the house and that for weeks, he lay, night and day, on an old sofa that had been Napoleon's, before the fire in the great drawing-room," according to artist and writer William Henry Shelton. (Shelton served as curator of Jumel's estate, a historic landmark that's today known as the Morris-Jumel mansion, and wrote a comprehensive history of the house in 1916.)

That said, "this claim is more traditional than probable," Shelton added, "as it would be just in the period of the divorce trial, during which they were hurling correspondents at each other, and, on the part of Burr, in unfair proportion of four for one.”

After three long years, during which Burr suffered from several strokes, his divorce was finalized by Judge Philo T. Ruggles on September 14, 1836—the same date as Burr's death at the age of 80.

Jumel never remarried, and she died nearly 30 years later, in 1865, at the age of 90 or 92. It's said that her ghost haunts the Morris-Jumel mansion, which is named after both Jumel and its original builder, British military officer Roger Morris.

Hamilton Jr. died in his home in 1875, at the age of 89, following a long illness. But the ghosts of Burr and Hamilton's infamous feud seem to have died with him—two descendants of the pair are reportedly kayak and canoe buddies in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood.

[h/t Gothamist]

5 Facts About Edgar Allan Poe on His 210th Birthday

You’ve read Edgar Allan Poe’s terrifying stories. You can quote "The Raven." But how well do you know the writer’s quirky sense of humor and code-cracking abilities? Let’s take a look at a few  things you might not know about the acclaimed author, who was born 210 years ago today.

1. He was the original balloon boy.

You probably remember 2009’s infamous “Balloon Boy” hoax. Turns out the Heene family that perpetrated that fraud weren’t even being entirely original in their attempt at attention-grabbing. They were actually cribbing from Poe.

In 1844 Poe cooked up a similar aviation hoax in the pages of the New York Sun. The horror master cranked out a phony news item describing how a Mr. Monck Mason had flown a balloon flying machine called Victoria from England to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina in just 75 hours. According to Poe’s story, the balloon had also hauled seven passengers across the ocean.

No balloonist had ever crossed the Atlantic before, so this story quickly became a huge deal. Complete transatlantic travel in just three days? How exciting! Readers actually queued up outside the Sun’s headquarters to get their mitts on a copy of the day’s historic paper.

Poe’s report on the balloon was chock full of technical details. He devoted a whole paragraph to explaining how the balloon was filled with coal gas rather than “the more expensive and inconvenient hydrogen.” He listed the balloon’s equipment, which included “cordage, barometers, telescopes, barrels containing provision for a fortnight, water-casks, cloaks, carpet-bags, and various other indispensable matters, including a coffee-warmer, contrived for warming coffee by means of slack-lime, so as to dispense altogether with fire, if it should be judged prudent to do so.” He also included hundreds of words of excerpts from the passengers’ journals.

The only catch to Poe’s story was that it was entirely fictitious. The Sun’s editors quickly wised up to Poe’s hoax, and two days later they posted an understated retraction that noted, “We are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous.”

2. He dabbled in cryptography.

If you’ve read Poe’s story “The Gold-Bug,” you probably know that he had a working knowledge of cryptography. But you might not know that Poe was actually a pretty darn good cryptographer in his own right.

Poe’s first notable code-cracking began in 1839. He sent out a call for readers of his Philadelphia newspaper to send him encoded messages that he could decipher. Poe would then puzzle over the secret messages for hours. He published the results of his work in a wildly popular recurring feature. Poe also liked to toss his own codes out there to keep readers busy. Some of the codes were so difficult that Poe professed utter amazement when even a single reader would crack them.

Poe was so confident in his abilities as a cryptographer that he approached the Tyler administration in 1841 with an offer to work as a government code cracker. He modestly promised, “Nothing intelligible can be written which, with time, I cannot decipher.” Apparently there weren’t any openings for him, though.

3. The "Allan" came later.

It would sound odd to just say “Edgar Poe,” but the famous “Allan” wasn’t originally part of the writer’s name. Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809 to professional actors, but his early childhood was fairly rotten. When Poe was just two years old, his father abandoned the family—leaving the toddler's mother, Elizabeth, to raise Edgar and his two siblings. Not long after that, Elizabeth died of tuberculosis.

Poe actually had a little luck at that point. John and Frances Allan, a well-to-do Richmond family, took the boy in and provided for his education. Although the Allans never formally adopted Poe, he added their surname to his own name.

Like a lot of Poe’s fiction, his story with the Allans didn't have a particularly happy ending. Poe and John Allan grew increasingly distant during the boy’s teenage years, and after Poe left for the University of Virginia, he and Allan became estranged. (Apparently the root of these problems involved Poe’s tendency to gamble away whatever money Allan sent him to subsidize his studies.)

4. He had a nemesis.

Like a lot of writers, Poe had a rival. His was the poet, critic, and editor Rufus Griswold. Although Griswold had included Poe’s work in his 1842 anthology The Poets and Poetry of America, Poe held an extremely low opinion of Griswold’s intellect and literary integrity. Poe published an essay blasting Griswold’s selections for the anthology, and their rivalry began.

Things really heated up when Griswold succeeded Poe as the editor of Graham’s Magazine at a higher salary than Poe had been pulling in. Poe began publicly lambasting Griswold’s motivations; he even went so far as to claim that Griswold was something of a literary homer who puffed up New England poets.

Poe might have had a point about Griswold’s critical eye, but Griswold had the good fortune to outlive Poe. After Poe died, Griswold penned a mean-spirited obituary in which he stated that the writer’s death “will startle many, but few will be grieved by it” and generally portrayed Poe as an unhinged maniac.

Slamming a guy in his obituary is pretty low, but Griswold was just getting warmed up. He convinced Poe’s aunt, Maria Clemm, to make him Poe’s literary executor. Griswold then published a biography of Poe that made him out to be a drug-addled drunk, all while keeping the profits from a posthumous edition of Poe’s work.

5. His death was a mystery worth of his writing.

In 1849 Poe left New York for a visit to Richmond, but he never made it that far south. Instead, Poe turned up in front of a Baltimore bar deliriously raving and wearing clothes that didn’t fit. Passersby rushed Poe to the hospital, but he died a few days later without being able to explain what happened to him.

Poe’s rumored causes of death were “cerebral inflammation” and “congestion of the brain,” which were polite euphemisms for alcohol poisoning. Modern scholars don’t totally buy this explanation, though. The characterization of Poe as a raging drunk mostly comes from Griswold’s posthumous smear campaign, and his incoherent state of mind may have been the result of rabies or syphilis.

Some Poe fans subscribe to a more sinister theory about the writer’s death, though. They think he may have fallen victim to “cooping,” a sordid 19th century political practice. Gangs of political thugs would round up homeless or weak men and hold them captive in a safe place called a “coop” right before a major election. On election day—and there was an election in Baltimore on October 3, 1849, the day Poe was found—the gangs would then drug or beat the hostages before taking them around to vote at multiple polling places.

This story sounds like something straight out of Poe’s own writing, but it might actually be true. Poe’s crummy physical state and delirium would be consistent with a victim of cooping, and the ill-fitting clothes jibe with gangs’ practice of making their hostages change clothes so they could cast multiple votes. With no real evidence either way, though, Poe’s death remains one of literature’s most fascinating mysteries.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

The $13,000 Epiphany That Made Orville Redenbacher a National Popcorn King

iStock.com/NoDerog
iStock.com/NoDerog

Happy National Popcorn Day! While you’re no doubt celebrating with a bowl of freshly popped, liberally buttered popcorn, here’s something else to digest: Orville Redenbacher originally called his product Red-Bow.

In 1951, Redenbacher and his partner, a fellow Purdue grad named Charlie Bowman, purchased the George F. Chester and Son seed corn plant in Boone Township, Indiana. Though Redenbacher’s background was in agronomy and plant genetics, he had dabbled in popcorn, and was friendly with the Chester family.

Eventually, Carl Hartman was brought in to experiment. In 1969, when the trio had developed a seed they felt really confident in, they went to market. They dubbed the product “Red-Bow,” a nod to “Redenbacher” and “Bowman.”

The product was a hit regionally, but by 1970, Bowman and Redenbacher were ready for a national audience and hired a Chicago advertising agency to advise them on branding strategy. At their first meeting, Redenbacher talked about popcorn for three hours. “Come back next week and we’ll have something for you,” he was told afterward.

The following week, he turned to the agency and was told that “Orville Redenbacher’s” was the perfect name for the fledgling popcorn brand. “Golly, no,” he said. “Redenbacher is such a ... funny name.” That was the point, they told him, and they must have made a convincing case for it, because Orville Redenbacher is the brand we know today—and the man himself is still a well-known spokesman more than 20 years after his death.

Still, Redenbacher wasn’t sure that the $13,000 fee the agency had charged was money well spent. “I drove back to Indiana wryly thinking we had paid $13,000 for someone to come up with the same name my mother had come up with when I was born,” Redenbacher later wrote.

Hungry for more Redenbacher? Take a look at the inventor at work in the vintage commercial below.

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