With all of the praise surrounding Lin-Manuel Miranda’s extraordinary musical, “Hamilton,” it is not surprising that the man who killed him, the villain Aaron Burr, has also enjoyed something of a revival. If you even half paid attention in American history, then you probably know that Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, his shot ending Hamilton’s brilliant career. Burr and Hamilton rowed across the Hudson River to Weehawken, New Jersey, where on July 11, 1804 the fatal encounter took place.
Burr, however, later in his life would also ferry across the East River, not to satisfy his aggrieved sense of honor, but to court a comely young Greenpoint woman, even though Burr was old enough to be her grandfather. In 1837, Burr, in his mid-70s, but still devilishly handsome, had a well-earned reputation in New York as a thorough rogue. He had been charged, but not convicted, with treason against America. He had also skipped out of the country, failing to repay huge debts he owed and only later quietly slipped back into the country. Nevertheless, Burr was still a dashing figure, much admired by women. Burr had lynx-like eyes that women found hard to resist and suave, aristocratic manners ladies adored.
Burr had heard tales about the great beauty of a young woman who lived on Pottery Hill, which once stood around what today is Franklin and Green Street. Although almost 50 years older than the young woman, Burr began to make regular nocturnal Greenpoint trips to court her. Unbeknownst to the local beauty, Burr had a well-deserved reputation as a womanizer and frequent patron of prostitutes. He left broken hearts (and numerous offspring) scattered over two continents.
Burr most certainly did not mention his biggest secret- he was engaged to another woman who vied with Burr for having a notorious reputation, but she was not just any woman: she was America’s richest woman, Madame Jumel, a perfect match for Burr with her own history equally rich in scandal. This story was recalled by Greenpointers in 1890 and published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Born in a brothel in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1775, as Betsy Bowen, Jumel was the daughter of a prostitute and followed in her mother’s footsteps. Eventually, she married one of New York’s richest merchants and inherited a fortune when he died. Rumors quickly reached her ears of the nocturnal visits of her fiancé to Pottery Hill in Greenpoint. Madame Jumel smelled a rat and decided she would discover Aaron’s cunning exploits for herself.
One night, Jumel secretly followed Burr to Greenpoint. She concealed herself in a bush on Pottery Hill and observed the tender meeting between Burr and her rival. Burr held the young Greenpoint beauty’s hand and whispered into the young lady’s ear. Quickly, jealousy so raged within Jumel’s heart that she could no longer control herself. She burst forth, confronting Burr and the young lady with a torrent of abuse. A look of helpless terror suddenly appeared on Burr’s face. His fair young companion was dumbfounded and beat a hasty retreat. Madame Jumel administered some caustic words of contempt to the routed Burr and then peremptorily commanded him to escort her back to Manhattan.
If Burr was one thing, though, he was a smooth talker. Somehow he managed to mend the broken romantic fences with Madame Jumel. They married, but the marriage only lasted a little over a year. There is no record of his ever having returned to Greenpoint.