Aaron Burr, Sir

“1776, New York City”

In reality, we will have to go back a little further than 1776 to understand Hamilton, his education, and the relationship he would eventually have with Aaron Burr.

1772, New York City.

Young Alexander Hamilton had just arrived in New York. He had recently taken a three-week voyage from St. Croix to Boston, then traveled to New York. There is a chance that Hamilton might have stayed in Boston if Kortright and Company, the parent company of Hamilton’s former employer, now sponsor Kortright and Cruger, were not located in New York City.

Hamilton’s subscription fund was paid to him via sugar barrels sent from St. Croix. He was able to pocket a percentage of the proceeds that came from each of the nine vessels that regularly shuttled between New York and his old home.[1] Alexander Hamilton, future Manumission Society founder, had his education paid for through the labor of enslaved people.

When he got to New York, Hamilton knew next to no one. Edward Stevens, son of merchant Thomas Stevens who had taken Hamilton in after his cousin died, was also studying in New York at the time. Anyone else Hamilton hoped to connect with, he would have to do so himself. Of course, he did not leave home empty-handed; he traveled with introductory letters written by Hugh Knox.[2]

Alexander Hamilton did as Alexander Hamilton would always do; he never let anything hold him back. He took it upon himself to make connections with anyone he possibly could. One of the people he would meet was none other than Hercules Mulligan.

“Brrah, brrah! I am Hercules Mulligan”

Hercules Mulligan was born in Coleraine, Ireland, on September 25, 1740, to Hugh and Sarah Mulligan. He immigrated to New York City with his family at the age of six. He attended King’s College, now Columbia University, and clerked for his father’s accounting business after graduating.[3]

Mulligan was one of the first colonists to join the Sons of Liberty when he did so in 1765. On January 19, 1770, he was among the Sons of Liberty that clashed with British soldiers in the Battle of Golden Hill, six weeks before the Boston Massacre.[4] In 1773, the up-and-coming Revolutionary took in and temporarily housed the young upstart Alexander Hamilton. Mulligan was one of the only tradesmen Hamilton ever befriended.[5]

Hercules Mulligan would be a significant influence and mentor to Hamilton. Mulligan once wrote of his friend that “Mr. H. used in the evenings to sit with my family and brother’s family and write doggerel rhymes for their amusement; he was always amiable and cheerful and extremely attentive to his books.”[6]

“Sir, I heard your name at Princeton, I was seeking an accelerated course of study”

Thanks to Hugh Knox, Hamilton ended up studying at Elizabethtown Academy in New Jersey. This is probably where he originally heard of a recent alumn, Aaron Burr.

Alexander Hamilton was mainly a self-taught person, also known as an autodictate. Like Benjamin Franklin, Hamilton spent most of his time buried in his books, learning anything he could. Hamilton was doing well for a self-taught person. However, he needed to be a bit more well-rounded to get into Princeton, then known as the College of New Jersey.

In the 1770s, there were only nine colleges, most of which were located in the upper colonies, giving Hamilton plenty of options. Hercules Mulligan wrote that Hamilton “preferred Princeton to King’s College because it was more republican.”[7] Princeton was known to be a nesting house for Presbyterian and Whig sentiment, and it preached religious freedom, which might have drawn Hamilton to it.[8] Even the school’s president, John Witherspoon, confessed that “the spirit of liberty” ran “high and strong” at Princeton, “[9] Under Witherspoon’s watchful eye, Princeton’s alumni amassed, a U.S. president, a vice president, twenty-one senators, twenty-nine congressmen, and twelve state governors.

It is also important to note that William Livingston and Elias Boudinot, upper-class gentlemen to whom Hamilton had been introduced through Knox’s introductory letters, sat on Princeton’s board of trustees.[10] Hamilton got the opportunity to meet with John Witherspoon. Witherspoon examined Hamilton and was impressed by his intellect.[11]

Hamilton appears as if he was a shoo-in at Princeton. However, Hamilton informed Witherspoon that he wanted to enter the college and advance “with as much rapidity as his exertions would enable him to do. Dr. Witherspoon listened with great attention to so unusual a proposition from so young a person and replied that he had not the sole power to determine that but that he would submit the request to the trustees who would decide.”[12] Two weeks later, Hamilton received a letter from President Witherspoon “stating that the request could not be complied with because it was contrary to the usage of the college and expressing his regret because he was convinced that the young gentleman would do honor to any seminary at which he should be educated.”[13] Hamilton most likely did not appreciate the school’s decision.

“You punched the bursar?”

No, he, in fact, did not punch the bursar.

“I wanted to do what you did, graduate in two, then join the revolution”

Aaron Burr had attempted to enter college at the age of eleven. When he was denied, he spent two years studying before applying to the junior class at the age of thirteen. The school compromised with him, and he was admitted as a sophomore. Burr graduated from Princeton in 1772 at the age of sixteen.[14]

Although it is possible that Alexander Hamilton knew of Aaron Burr’s story, it is also likely that he knew the story of why Witherspoon most likely denied him. Hamilton’s request was not denied because the school believed Burr could accomplish such a feat while failing to believe in Hamilton. Instead, Witherspoon and others had only recently had a ringside seat to a young Virginian who had entered the school as a sophomore, completed his bachelor’s degree in two years, and subsequently suffered from a state of nervous exhaustion. This student’s name was James Madison.

Aaron Burr, Sir



New York City.

      Pardon me. Are you Aaron Burr, sir?

      That depends. Who’s asking?

      Oh, well, sure, sir.
      I’m Alexander Hamilton, I’m at your service, sir.
      I have been looking for you

      I’m getting nervous

      I heard your name at Princeton. I was seeking an accelerated course of study when I got sort of out of sorts with a buddy of yours. I may have punched him. It’s a blur, sir. He handles the financials?

      You punched the bursar.

      I wanted to do what you did.
      Graduate in two, then join the revolution. He looked at me like I was stupid, I’m not stupid.
      So how’d you do it? How’d you graduate so fast?

      It was my parents’ dying wish before they passed

      You’re an orphan. Of course! I’m an orphan
      God, I wish there was a war!
      Then we could prove that we’re worth more
      Than anyone bargained for…

      Can I buy you a drink?

      That would be nice

      While we’re talking, let me offer you some free advice.
      Talk less.


      Smile more.


      Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.

      You can’t be serious.

      You wanna get ahead?


      Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead.

      Yo yo yo yo yo!
      What time is it?

      Show time!

      Like I said…


      Show time! Show time! Yo!
      I’m John Laurens in the place to be!
      Two pints o’ Sam Adams, but I’m workin’ on three, uh!
      Those redcoats don’t want it with me!
      Cuz I will pop chick-a pop these cops till I’m free!

      Oui oui, mon ami, je m’appelle Lafayette!
      The Lancelot of the revolutionary set!
      I came from afar just to say “Bonsoir!”
      Tell the King “Casse toi!” Who’s the best?
      C’est moi!

      Brrrah brraaah!
      I am Hercules Mulligan
      Up in it, lovin’ it, yes I heard ya mother said “Come again?”
      Lock up ya daughters and horses, of course
      It’s hard to have intercourse over four sets of corsets…

      No more sex, pour me another brew, son!
      Let’s raise a couple more…

      To the revolution!

      Well, if it ain’t the prodigy of Princeton college!

      Aaron Burr!

      Give us a verse, drop some knowledge!

      Good luck with that: you’re takin’ a stand.
      You spit. I’m ‘a sit. We’ll see where we land.


      Burr, the revolution’s imminent. What do you stall for?

      If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?

      [1] Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (New York, New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 41.
      [2] Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 41.
      [3] Bleyer, Bill. George Washington’s Long Island Spy Ring: A History and Tour Guide. Arcadia Publishing.
      [4] Paul R. Misencik, The Original American Spies: Seven Covert Agents of the Revolutionary War (McFarland & Company, 2013), 93-95.
      [5] Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 41.
      [6] The William and Mary Quarterly, April 1947.
      [7] Broadus Mitchell, Alexander Hamilton, Youth To Maturity 1755-1788, Second Printing edition (New York, New York: Macmillan, 1957), 50.
      [8] Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 46.
      [9] Ketcham, James Madison, 38.
      [10] Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 46.
      [11] Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 47.
      [12] The William and Mary Quarterly, April 1947.
      [13] The William and Mary Quarterly, April 1947.
      [14] Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 48.

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