Founding Brothers

Dueling Brothers: The Duel of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr 11th Grade

On July 11th, 1804 Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were rowed across the Hudson River in separate boats; they were going to duel. Burr was accompanied by his loyal protégé, William Van Ness; Hamilton brought with him Dr. David Hosack and his devotee, Nathaniel Pendleton. They met at a narrow ledge located 20 feet above the water and measuring ten feet wide and forty feet long, a popular location for duels, as they were illegal at the time and this site provided isolation. Because of the legal issues, Pendleton, Hosack, and Van Ness were required to turn their backs to the proceedings so that, if ever brought to court, all could truthfully claim that they had seen nothing. This was called “language of deniability” and was a part of the code duello, which was the established etiquette duelers were expected to abide by.

These were two men, founders of the country, who were supposedly members of a group of people who “knew and trusted each other.” So what brought them to Weehawken? Ellis in Founding Brothers does not give the reader this answer straight away. Rather than starting at the beginning, he begins at the end: the day of the duel.

Ellis first describes Burr, making him out to be full of style and commanding in presence,...

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