Aaron Burr Sr.

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Aaron Burr Sr.
Edward Ludlow Mooney, Aaron Burr Sr. (1716–1757), President (1748–57), Princeton University Art Museum
President of Princeton University
In office
Preceded by Jonathan Dickinson
Succeeded by Jonathan Edwards
Personal details
Born (1716-01-04)January 4, 1716
Fairfield, Connecticut Colony
Died September 24, 1757(1757-09-24) (aged 41)
Princeton, Province of New Jersey
Religion Christian (Calvinist)
Young Aaron Burr
Publication notice of a pamphlet "The Supreme Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maintained" by Burr (Boston: Edward E. Powars, 1791)

Aaron Burr Sr. (January 4, 1716–September 24, 1757) was a notable Presbyterian minister and college educator in colonial America. He was a founder of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and the father of the third United States Vice President, Aaron Burr (1756–1836), who dueled—and killed—Alexander Hamilton.

Early years[edit]

A native of Connecticut, Burr was born in 1716 in present-day Fairfield to Daniel and Elizabeth Burr; his father was a wealthy farmer. He was of English ancestry (his grandfather Jehu Burr had been born in Lavenham, Suffolk, England, in 1625, settled in the Connecticut Colony as a young man, and died there in 1692). Aaron Burr attended Yale College (now Yale University), where he obtained a B.A. in 1735. After graduation, he studied theology in New Haven and witnessed the First Great Awakening, a significant religious and spiritual movement of the 1730s and 1740s. He was personally acquainted with Jonathan Edwards and his wife Sarah, daughter of James Pierpont. (Pierpont is credited with founding Yale.) Edwards, a leader of the Great Awakening, was Burr's mentor.

On December 21, 1736, Burr a became minister of the Presbyterian Church of Newark, Newark, New Jersey. He also taught Greek and Latin to youth, and co-authored Introduction to the Latin Tongue.[1] After a few years, Burr rose to prominence in the Presbyterian circles of upper New Jersey and the New York City area.


On June 29, 1752, Burr married Esther Edwards, daughter of the New England Congregational great, Jonathan Edwards. They had a daughter, Sarah (called Sally), who became a wife of Tapping Reeve, and a son, Aaron.

College founder[edit]

In 1741–1758, a controversy over unorthodox piety fostered by the Great Awakening and how it affected traditional authority of church officers led to internal differences in the Presbyterian and Congregational churches. Presbyterians became divided between the so-called conservative Old Side and dissenting, pro-Awakening New Side congregationalists—between Old and New Lights.[2][3] The rift affected the faculty and student body at Yale that was at the time an incubator for both Presbyterian and Congregational clergy. In opposition to Thomas Clap, Yale's first president, Jonathan Edwards, Burr, and Jonathan Dickinson, all being on the pro-Awakening side, founded the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) at Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1746.[4] Dickinson was elected first president of the College, but died soon after in 1747. Burr, who taught at the College, then became the second president on November 9, 1748 after approval of the college charter by New Jersey governor Jonathan Belcher. During his tenure (1748–1757), the curriculum was settled, the student body increased from 8 in 1747 to 40-50 in 1751, and the first commencement was held. Among the first graduates was Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; five others became Presbyterian ministers.[4] Burr moved the College to its permanent home at Princeton, New Jersey, where he supervised the construction of Nassau Hall, Princeton's best-known structure and the largest building in colonial New Jersey when it was completed in 1756. In 1755, Burr was relieved of his pastoral duties in order to concentrate full-time on his work at Princeton. At age 32, he became the youngest person ever to serve as president of Princeton.[4]

In September 1756, when the French and Indian War was underway, Burr wrote a sermon in which he called to defend the "Priviledges [sic] of unadulterated Christianity; British Liberty and Property, in a delightful and fruitful Country"[5] foretelling future fusion of secular and religious rhetoric in the Revolutionary era.[6]

In the fall of 1757, Burr died in his first year in Princeton of fever after traveling to Massachusetts to Governor Belcher's funeral where he delivered a sermon; it was believed that his premature death had been brought on or aggravated by overwork. His remains were interred in the President's Lot at Princeton Cemetery. His widow died seven months later, orphaning their three-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.[7]:5



  1. ^ Ross, Robert, Aaron Burr, and Samuel Finley. The American Latin Grammar: Or, a Compleat Introduction to the Latin Tongue: Formed from the Most Approved Writings in This Kind ; As Those of Lilly, Ruddiman, Phillipps, Holmes, Bp. Wettenhall, Cheever, Clarke, Reed, &c. Springfield, Mass.: Printed by Edward Gray, 1793.
  2. ^ Trinterud, Leonard J. The Forming of an American Tradition: A Re-Examination of Colonial Presbyterianism. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1949.
  3. ^ D. G. Hart and John R. Muether. Turning Points in American Presbyterian History: Old Side versus New Side, 1741–1758.
  4. ^ a b c "The Presidents of Princeton University: Aaron Burr Sr., 1748-57". The Trustees of Princeton University. 
  5. ^ Burr, Aaron. The Watchman's Answer to the Question, What of the Night, & C: A Sermon Preached Before the Synod of New York, Convened at Newark in New Jersey, September 30, 1756. Boston: New-York, printed, 1757.
  6. ^ Mark A. Noll. Burr, Aaron, American National Biography Online. February 2000. Retrieved January 4, 2016.
  7. ^ Isenberg, Nancy (2007). Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr. New York: Viking Penguin. 

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Jonathan Dickinson
President of the College of New Jersey
Succeeded by
Jonathan Edwards