Description

    Concluding his term as Vice President after his duel with Hamilton, Aaron Burr asks his correspondent to fact-find a story concerning an Iroquois prince adopted by Lafayette, to be published "under the authority of my name"

    Aaron Burr Autograph Letter (unsigned, and likely incomplete) as Vice President. Two pages, 7.75" x 9.5", Washington, December 30, 1804, to "My Dear John." In this letter with fine content, Aaron Burr asks his correspondent to settle his newspaper subscriptions in Albany and requests a fact-finding mission to obtain details on an incident involving an Oneida prince who had been adopted and educated by Lafayette in France, yet upon returning to America had become "very drunk & very filthy." Expected folds and creases, some of which have been repaired with glassine as shown, some minor marginal wear, light soiling, else very good.

    After killing Alexander Hamilton during their infamous duel earlier in July 1804, Burr kept his distance from New York and New Jersey for fear of arrest (the dual occurred in New Jersey but Hamilton died in New York). When he wrote this letter, he was in Washington finishing his final months as vice president and preparing for his journey to the west that would end in a trial for treason in 1806. In the letter, Burr (1756-1836) instructs his correspondent - possibly John Swartwout (1770-1823), one of Burr's confidants - to cancel his Albany newspaper subscriptions and settle the accounts from his tenure as a New York state assemblyman from 1798 to 1799: "Have the goodness to call on the editors of the Register & Gazette - of the title of the latter I am not certain; but the paper referred to is that which is printed at the White Corner house a little below the church - Stop the further transmissions of these papers & inquire if any & what demand is made - The Editor of the Register has no right to claim any thing - about [17]99 - his paper was engaged for one year & paid for, since which no order has been given nor payment made or demanded - the paper has been sometimes received but very irregularly untill [sic] the last four or five weeks during which time the [regular?] arrival of the paper has had me to infer that he may have considered me as a subscriber - in which you will be pleased to un decline[?] him - The other editor has a fair claim for pay[men]t till about Aug[us]t last, since which time I have not seen one of his papers - he has been paid for several Years." Abruptly changing the subject, Burr then asks one more favor of his correspondent concerning a meeting, sometime between 1788 and 1792, of his encounter with Peter Otesguette (d. 1792), an Oneida prince adopted and educated by the Marquis de Lafayette in France between 1784 and 1788. Despite his grooming and education, Otesgutte (also known as "French Peter") quickly descended into drunkenness upon his return to America in 1788. His fall, which ended in his death in Philadelphia in 1792, served as a popular example of the supposed futility of educating Indians, as they would always revert to their 'savage nature.' Burr writes: "Soon after the close of our Revolutionary War a young indian was shewn to Me in the streets of your City, very drunk & very filthy, as the Youth who had been educated in Paris under the direction of the Marquis La Fayette & had just then come out highly finished en petit Maitre Fran├žois - happening to relate this incident, some anecdote hunter has caught at it & is about to publish it under the authority of my name - I wish therefore that the facts may be truly stated - Have the goodness to collect & detail them to me - they are well known to your John Tayler [a prominent Albany merchant and Democratic politician] - add what you may have of his subsequent history, noting his name, his family &c."

    There are few contemporary observations concerning the fascinating story of Peter Otesguette. Whether Burr's account was ever published under "authority" is not known, though Burr would have done well to take this fallen Iroquois prince as an omen considering the troubles that lay before him.


    More Information:

    In regards to the recipient, other suspects besides John Swartwout include John Swartwout (1770-1823), one of Burr's confidants; John Bartow Prevost, (1766-1825), Burr's wife Theodosia Bartow's son from her first marriage; John Bartow, Jr. (1740-1816) Bartow, Theodosia Bartow's second cousin. Logic would dictate that the correspondent was in Albany. However it has not been determined if any of these people were in Albany at this time.

     

    In the first sentence of the letter, Burr references the "Register & Gazette" newspapers. A search of contemporary newspaper titles revealed only one city in the United States with newspapers with papers by these names were published in Albany, New York. Burr served in the New York State Assembly from 1798 to 1799.

     

    There are few known accounts of Peter Otisguette by contemporary observers. See John Linklaen, Travels in the Years 1791 and 1792 in Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont (1897) 69. Part of Linklaen's journal entry for 3 September 1791 mentioned ". a certain French Peter, son of an Indian woman and Frenchman, the Marquis de la fayette took him with him to Paris where he received education for 3 years. he [sic] speaks French & English very well & a little German, on coming home he married an Indian woman, has 2 children, & is 22 years old." Winslow C. Watson ed., Men and Times of the Revolution, or, Memoirs of Elkanah Watson . From 1777 to 1842. (1856) 274-275. Watson made especial observation of Otisguette's decline over the course of the treaty council: "A young Indian, named peter Otsequett[e], a Chief of the Oneidas, was also attending this Treaty ; he had just returned from France, having been in that country for several years, under the patronage of the Marquis Lafayette, by whom he was taken when a boy. He is probably the most polished and best educated Indian in North America. He speaks both French and English accurately; is familiar with music and many branches of polite and elegant literature; and in his manners is a well-bred Frenchman. He is, however, a striking instance of the moral impracticability of civilizing an Indian. Ten days ago I was introduced to him, a polite and well-informed gentleman, to-day I beheld him splashing through the mud, in the raid, on horseback, with a young squaw behind him, both comfortably drunk." Watson added in a footnote an account "by a gentleman, who knew Otsequett[e] near the close of his life, that he actually denigrated below the ordinary level of savages. His refined education in France, commencing when a boy, had divested him of those masculine virtues which are engrafted on the Indian character. Having lost these, he possessed no traits of high qualities to sustain him, and abandoning himself to the bottle, he ultimately became an abandoned vagabond."



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