BRANTLEY COUNTY HISTORICAL AND PRESERVATION SOCIETY,
Could Vice President Aaron Burr Have Made Trips As Far Into Interior Georgia as The Old Town of Waynesville? Sometimes it is fun just to guess at possibilities, and sometimes-ironical circumstances provide further insights into research on a particular subject. When this author, roaming the Mumford Estate near Waynesville, mentioned the theory about the "Lost Confederate Gold" to Lawyer Daniel Gibson, he replied that not only does this place relate to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, but also it ties in with Vice-President Aaron Burr.
Rushing from Waynesville to Woodbine on the same day, I mentioned to John P. Hedden, Jr., employee relations representative for Union Carbide's Agricultural Products Company, Inc., that I had been to Waynesville, plundering around the grounds of the once wealthy merchant Sylvester Mumford.He responded to my comment, without any knowledge of my having heard Burr's name mentioned earlier, that this location was near where Aaron Burr supposedly came ashore. I made a comment to my assistant, Rodney Taylor, A University of Georgia law student and former student who had volunteered to help me on this trek, that I found this remark unusual. Hearing Burr's name twice on the same day when he was not even the subject of my research created a questioning stimulation that had to be satisfied.
Of course, Burr now became the subject of research; and from what can be found and from what can be logically deducted, a strong possibility arises that U.S. Vice-President Aaron Burr, while in the office of the second most important position in the nation and while seeking a hiding place after killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, roamed the coastal and interior areas during his 1804 stay on St. Simons Island. He easily could have visited some inland settlements and estates before returning to Washington City to preside over the U.S. Senate.
Burr was a fugitive, but his killing Hamilton in a duel held a certain justifiable reasoning since dueling was not illegal, though morally questionable, to be sure. According to H. S. Parmet and M. B. Hecht in their Aaron Burr: Portrait of an Ambitious Man, after the duel, he immediately completed, by mid-August, plans which he had already initiated, to go to St. Simons, "an island off the coast of Georgia, one mile below the town of Darien."
Jonathan Daniels' "Ordeal of Ambition" handles the situation this way: "With Samuel Swartwout and a slave named Peter ('the most intelligent and best disposed black I have ever known'), Burr secretly embarked for Georgia. There on St. Simons Island at the Hampton Plantation of his friend, rich former Senator Pierce Butler, he found refuge..." As Georgia Historian Bernice McCullar, author of "Georgia" puts it, Burr was "fleeing the ghost of Alexander Hamilton" when he arrived on the Georgia island.
"Major Pierce Butler," she relates, "had fought in the British army and remained in America after the war." He had married a South Carolina heiress, Miss Polly Middleton, and acquired two Georgia Coastal plantations, which he ran like a general storming after the troops. In fact, he was so strict that none of his slaves could associate with any of the others. He also required anyone who visited his plantations to give his or her name at the gate. With this tight security, Burr should have felt safe..
Actually, Butler's invitation to visit the island fitted the escapee's plans nicely. Not only was the Hamilton affair a bother, but also Burr needed to get away from a lady by the name of Celeste; however, the real reason, aside from being near his daughter, who was also in the South, was the nearness of the Floridas. No real purpose is given why the Vice-President wanted to spend "five or six weeks on this hazardous and arduous undertaking."
Daniels underscores that from this St. Simons point Burr could "make any forays into Florida he wished to make. He traveled under the name 'Roswell King." After his Florida odyssey, he planned to meet his South Carolina son-in-law "at any healthy point."
With this proof that Aaron Burr traveled under the pseudonym "Roswell King" after his duel with Alexander Hamilton, it is fascinating to note that in articles about old Waynesville, the first county seat of Wayne, a "Roswell King" is listed as a draftsman. "A draftsman was Roswell King, who was a kinsman of Henry Clay King, founder of the Waynesville Presbyterian Church; Henry Lord Page King, owner of a plantation near the old county seat on the north side of the Satilla River; and Thomas Butler King, who owned lands at Waynesville and the Retreat Plantation on Sea Island," wrote Mr. Carr McLemore for Jesup's "Press-Sentinel" on November 29, 1980.
Ms. McCullar, locating the plantations on Butler's Point just below Darien and on St. Simons, says that Burr was welcomed in Georgia; he had been to Savannah to visit a niece prior to this trip; but, supposedly, the coastal trip was his first. He wrote his daughter, Theodosia, about how kind the Georgians were and how they sent him wine, vegetables and fruits. Becoming jovial, he remarked how he "sipped his wine and fished for trout."
Parmet and Hecht reveal that not only is the trout abundant, but also an exotic form of honey that abounded in the woods is found here. Burr participated in all the sports, "but had not;, as yet, succeeded in providing crocodile meat for his table. He offered a reward for one, 'which I mean to eat, dressed in soup, fricassee, and steaks. Oh! How you long to partake of this repast,' he teased Mrs. (Theodosia) Alston." Of course, he would have a task finding crocodiles in Georgia.
When he corresponded with his daughter or any of his family, "he retained his incognito, cautioned the Alstons to enclose their letters to Mr. Roswell King." The plantation, which was idyllic and ideally staffed, suited Burr perfectly.He enjoyed having at his command a housekeeper, cook, chambermaid, footman, fisherman, and barge man; he relished the availability of products from the barnyard, dairy and orchard. His greatest delight, however, together with the royal treatment, was the neighboring plantation owner, John Couper, who presented him an assortment of French wines and a twelve-month supply of orange shrubs. An added attraction was the visiting young mademoiselle from France.
These days in Georgia passed much to Aaron Burr's liking. He visited other islands in the area. One of them, called "Hamilton's Bluff," which could be Gascoign Bluff, had been settled 50 years before by General James Oglethorpe, say the two authors. Here, with nothing but the remains of elegance, the marked man hunted and fished.
When he decided to travel to the Floridas, he was hindered by one of the worst hurricanes in the islands' history. Called the "September 7 Hurricane of 1804,: the storm was considered one of the most furious ever to strike the Golden Isles. Much damage and great many fatalities were recorded. Burr, however, overcame this tempest and completed his planned trip to the Floridas and on to Savannah before returning to Washington.
Later, Aaron Burr would return to Georgia, this time as a chained prisoner charged with treason. Taken to Richmond to stand trial, the ambitious politician was acquitted, even though his former friend, Thomas Jefferson, felt that Burr, who wanted to be President, tried to set up an independent nation in the West, says Ms. McCullar.
Vice-President Burr gave no such unhappy report as did Fanny Kemble, the English actress and wife of Butler's grandson. She denounced slavery; he, evidently, overlooked it. Although no definite proof has this researcher found to substantiate that Aaron Burr visited Waynesville and the surrounding area, he feels that strong possibility exists.