Friday, January 8, 2010

A Piece of Burr's Conspiracy In The Ohio River

The Street of Knives, a novel by Cyril Harris, described Aaron Burr's pursuit of "...his dream of Mexico and empire, of gold and glory (otherwise known as the Burr conspiracy). Burr made his historic journey by flatboat down the Ohio and the Mississippi, appealing to the West to join him." [See review in the Ohio History website here].

An important stop on Burr's journey of 1806 was at Blennerhassett (formerly Backus) Island, near the town of Marietta, Ohio, where Burr proposed to "set up a depot, complete with barracks, ammunition storage and drill fields." The problem of Burr and his plans for setting up shop in Marietta became the problem of local store owner Dudley Woodbridge, as the "head of the town council." [See Mr. Woodbridge's testimony in the Trial of Aaron Burr].

The "elders" made it clear to Burr that Blennerhassett Island would be more suitable for his purposes than would Marietta. Burr felt that the "chilly wind blowing between us" was because it was felt that he (Burr) was "attainted with the smell of England...". Judge Meigs told Burr that "...we out here have got it into our heads that a trap of some sort is being set by certain ones for us to walk into... ."

Replica of the Blennerhassett house on the Island; upper left photo is the dining room in the house and upper right photo is a bedroom there. Can it be said that Aaron Burr ate and slept here? [Not really; the original house burned in 1811]

The wealthy Harman Blennerhassett was described by Dudley Woodbridge as having "every sort of sense but common sense." Just ask Margaret Blennerhassett, who was both the wife and the niece of Mr. Blennerhassett!

When Burr told the Blennerhassetts that it's understandable that they named their island after the god Bacchus, Mr. Blennerhassett explained by saying, "But you see, Your Excellency, the name isn't Bacchus, but Backus. He spelled the name out, and was at great pains to explain that Elijah Backus* of Norwich in Connecticut had once bought the place for two hundred and fifty pounds Virginia currency, and had later sold it for half as much again."

The Backus angle is especially of interest to me because I am a descendant of William Backus, the original immigrant, as is Dudley Woodbridge (Jr.) and Elijah Backus (who was related to Woodbridge). Aaron Burr's Edwards' ancestors intermarried with the Backus family. In addition, Burr's ancestress, Agnes Harris married 1st William Spencer (a brother of my Gerard Spencer) and 2nd William Edwards, Aaron Burr's ancestor. *Elijah Backus's daughter, Lucy, married Judge Nathaniel Pope and was the mother of Civil War General John Pope.

George Washington was also a former owner of the island which was part of Virginia (now West Virginia). When the conspiracy surfaced, Burr was prosecuted for treason in Richmond, Virginia, probably to the relief of the "elders" of Marietta, Ohio.

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