Alexander Hamilton Papers

William P. Van Ness’s Narrative of the Events of June 18, 1804

William P. Van Ness’s Narrative of the Events
of June 18, 18041

On the afternoon of the 17th June last I received a Note from Col: Burr requesting me to call on him the following morning which I did. Upon my arrival he observed that it had of late been frequently stated to him that Genl Hamilton had at different times and upon various occasions used language and expressed opinions highly injurious to his reputation—that he had for some time felt the necessity of calling on Genl Hamilton for some explanation of his conduct, but that the statements which had been made to him, did not appear sufficiently authentic to justify the measure. That a Newspaper had however very recently been put into his hands in which he perceived a letter signed Ch: D. Cooper2 containing information, which he thought demanded immediate investigation. Urged by these circumstances and justified by the opinion of his friends, he said, that he had determined to write Genl Hamilton a Note upon the subject which he requested me to deliver. I assented to his request, and on my return to the City which was at 11 o clock the same morning, I delivered to Genl Hamilton the Note3 which I received from Col: Burr for that purpose & of which the following is a Copy.

“Van Ness’s Narrative,” AD, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York; ADf, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York.

1The excerpt printed above is part of Van Ness’s complete narrative of the events and correspondence leading up to the duel.

Van Ness was a New York City lawyer and one of Aaron Burr’s most loyal supporters. Burr chose Van Ness to act as his representative in the negotiations preceding the duel and to be his second in the duel.

Van Ness’s narrative was printed with minor changes on July 17, 1804, in the [New York] Morning Chronicle, a Republican newspaper. In the newspaper the following statement preceded the narrative: “The gentleman who accompanied Col. Burr to the field in the late unfortunate contest, comes forward reluctantly with a statement on the subject, at a moment when any publication of the kind may expose his principal to judicial embarrassment, perhaps to very serious hazard.

“In the following narrative, he disclaims the most distant idea of injuring the memory of the deceased, for whom, while living, he entertained sentiments of high respect, and for whose melancholy exit he, as also his principal, feels particular regret. The task devolved on him by the duties of his situation shall be discharged with fidelity, but with every delicacy the circumstances of the case can claim.”

2The letter from Dr. Charles D. Cooper to Philip Schuyler, dated April 23, 1804, was printed in The Albany Register, April 24, 1804, and was enclosed in Burr to H, June 18, 1804.

Cooper was the son-in-law of John Tayler of Albany, who had been judge of Albany County.

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