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|The Aaron Burr/Madeline Price romance on Half-Way Hill|
John F.H. Claiborne, the 19th Century historian and extraordinary storyteller, wrote about a romance between Vice-President Aaron Burr and Madeline Price in his 1880 book on the early history of Mississippi.
Burr came to Natchez in 1807 on a journey that remains partially shrouded in mystery even until this day.
The subject of many biographies, Burr is presently the topic of a book being written by historian David O. Stewart, who spent time in Natchez researching late last year.
At the time of his visit to Natchez, some believed Burr was planning a coup or land grab against the Spanish or the American governments in the Southwest. Alarm enveloped the region even before Burr arrived with nine boats and a number of men.
President Thomas Jefferson, under whom Burr had served as vice-president until 1805, had previously issued a directive to Acting Mississippi Territory Gov. Cowles Mead in late December 1806 to detain Burr. Rumors were circulating and there was genuine concern and fear that armed men with bad intentions were on the way.
Wrote the historian Claiborne in 1880: "At this day, when we know how feeble the force was with which Colonel Burr descended the river, the alarm that pervaded the country seems unaccountable and even ludicrous. But (Natchez) was then a remote settlement, and had been the scene of frequent insurrections and political changes....and scarcely (had) any communication with other portions of the United States, a thoroughly isolated people, but true to every American instinct and tradition."
When Burr was taken into custody, he surrendered his sword to Mead, an event that was the highlight of the acting governor's career. He told everybody about it. Any subject brought up afterward somehow related to the Burr affair for Mead, for whom the town of Meadville is named. When during a conversation years later Mead was asked the price of corn, he answered, "Corn is worth 50 cents a bushel now, but it was worth a dollar the year I captured Aaron Burr!"
Considered a brilliant trial lawyer, Burr was placed under security bond while awaiting legal proceedings during one of the coldest Januarys on record. While here, he spent close to three weeks in the home of his old friend, Col. Benijah Osmun, a New Jersey native who knew Burr from their service during the Revolutionary War. Osmun lived at Windy Hill Manor located down a pathway about a mile from Half-Way Hill, a landmark on the Liberty Road. Atop that hill lived the widow Mrs. Price and her beautiful daughter, Madeline. Their home, said Claiborne, was a modest "vine-covered cottage," adding that Mr. Price had been murdered while traveling to Natchez from Virginia by the outlaw Joseph Thompson Hare.
During his days in Natchez, according to historian Claiborne, Burr, a widower, courted Madeline Price and wrote that Madeline "must still be remembered by a few of our older citizens as a miracle of beauty." Burr was 50, and Madeline was quite young although Claiborne does not reveal her age. But he says that for the next few days the two courted and apparently fell in love.
Despite the fact that a territorial Grand Jury refused to indict Burr on treason or any other charge, the governor refused to release him of his $5,000 security bond. The U.S. government was planning to try Burr in Virginia. Burr feared that he would be put in the hands of the military, led by Gen. James Wilkinson, an alleged participant in the conspiracy who by now was Burr's arch enemy. Burr decided to flee.
Wrote Claiborne: "At length, after canvassing his situation with Colonel Osmun, and six other confidential friends, Colonel Burr determined to forfeit his bond. One stormy night in February, 1807, he set forth mounted on the favorite horse of his host. Urgent as was the necessity for expedition, Colonel Burr halted till daylight at the widow's cottage, imploring the beautiful Madeline to be the companion of his flight. He promised marriage, fortune, high position, and even hinted at imperial honors....The maiden gave him his heart; she had listened to his witchery night and night, and loved him with all the fervor of a Southern nature."
But she refused to go with him, deciding that the courtship was too brief, her future with him too uncertain, and the thought of taking flight too risky. She promised him her hand, however, and also promised to await his return. According to Claiborne, she was true to her word -- remaining faithful despite being "wooed by many a lover," including the eligible young men from "the large plantations on Second creek and St. Catherine's."
In the meantime, though exonerated in a Virginia court, Burr fell on even harder times and eventually moved to Europe. Claiborne says that from across the ocean Burr "wrote Madeline, and, in a few formal words, released her from her promise." Later, said Claiborne, Madeline traveled to Havana and met a man he identified only as "Mr. K., an English gentleman, the head of the largest commercial house in Havana," who eventually convinced her to marry him. Her mother long dead, Madeline left Natchez with her husband never to return.
The story of the Burr-Madeline romance is contained in a footnote in Claiborne's 1880 book, which includes this passage: "The vine-covered cottage, its trellises and borders, have crumbled into dust. The courtly lover and the innocent maiden are long dead. But the old hill still lifts its aged brow, wrinkled all over with traditions."
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