Peter Taylor testifies at Burr trial

Before permanently settling on Wolf Creek, Peter Taylor was called to Richmond as a witness in the 1807 Burr conspiracy trial. This event traced its origins back to the founding of the country and the political rivalries that had developed among the trial participants. Matters were accelerated in 1804 when Aaron Burr, who was in his last year as vice president, killed his rival, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel. Even though dueling was widely practiced, his clash with Hamilton ended Burr’s political career. Thus, he sought fame and glory elsewhere.

During the winter of 1804-05, Burr communicated with General James Wilkinson, who may have favored separating the western states and territories from the Union. In 1805 Burr made a western trip, traveling from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia and then on to meet Wilkinson in Pittsburgh. Wilkinson was delayed, so Burr left him a letter and departed by boat down the Ohio River. In early May 1805, Burr reached Blennerhassett’s Island where he was entertained with a fine dinner followed by conversation. No one knows what was said at this meeting and one that transpired in 1806 when Burr returned to the island estate. A letter that Blennerhassett sent to Burr later in 1805, however, suggested their partnership. Blennerhassett assured the ex-vice president, “I should be honored in being associated with you, in any contemplated enterprise you would permit me to participate in … Viewing the probability of a rupture with Spain, … I am disposed, in the confidential spirit of this letter, to offer you and my friends and my own services in any contemplated measures in which you may embark.”

After spending time in New Orleans, Burr made a return trip upriver in which he visited Wilkinson at St. Louis during the summer in 1805. It was at this meeting that Wilkinson later said he began to suspect Burr of treasonous intentions. Burr continued his efforts through the winter of 1805-06. In the summer of 1806, Burr began another journey across the mountains. In western Pennsylvania he expressed his views to the influential Colonel George Morgan, who soon wrote a letter to President Jefferson informing him of Burr’s supposed treasonous intentions. In August 1806 Burr was again in the Blennerhassett’s Island area purchasing boats and supplies and recruiting soldiers for his western expedition.

By the end of 1806, events happened quickly. In November Jefferson issued a proclamation declaring that Burr had launched “a military expedition against the dominions of Spain” and ordered the “searching out and bringing to condign punishment all persons engaged or concerned in such enterprise.” After visiting the island, John Graham, Jefferson’s agent, determined that Blennerhassett was a conspirator. Graham convinced the governor of Ohio to order the state militia to seize the boats being assembled at Marietta. In early December Blennerhassett made a hasty flight from the island. The next day the militia occupied the estate and the drunken soldiers inflicted much damage on the property. Burr was arrested in present-day Alabama and escorted by military guard on a one-thousand mile horseback ride to Richmond.

The trial of Aaron Burr began shortly after noon on May 22, 1807, at the Hall of the Virginia House of Delegates in Richmond. John Marshall, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and Jefferson’s political enemy, presided. The testimony of the witnesses began on August 17. General William Eaton came first to the stand, Commodore Truxton second, and Peter Taylor third.

Taylor explained that although Burr had been to the island three times during 1805-06, they had never met until Taylor was sent to Lexington by Mrs. Blennerhassett in October 1806 with a message for Burr. He warned Burr, “that it was not safe for him to come up our way … that I heard several declare that they had rather shoot him.” Taylor explained that Blennerhassett said, “I will tell you what, Peter, we are going to take Mexico, one of the finest and richest places in the whole world. Colonel Burr would be the king of Mexico and Mrs. Alston, daughter of Colonel Burr, was to be the queen of Mexico whenever Colonel Burr died.” As to plans for Taylor, Blennerhassett said, “he did not want me to fight; he wanted me to go and live with Mrs. Blennerhassett and the children, either at Natchez or some other place, while he went on the expedition.” Evidently Peter’s first wife was living in 1806, as he mentioned her in his recollections of that year. The most stirring part of his testimony is his description of the hasty departure of the Blennerhassett party on December 9-10. Blennerhassett and Burr’s men were afraid that the Wood County militia was coming. Taylor remembered that when they held a council at the end of the pier, he had advised, “Best stick together.” He testified that Blennerhassett and Burr’s men followed his advice and “went off in great haste.”

Thus, it transpired that against the exciting backdrop of the Ohio militia stirring to action in Washington County and threats of the Wood County militia coming from the east, Peter Taylor returned to the West Branch of Wolf Creek where he established his permanent residence.

Phillip L. Crane, a Waterford resident and Marietta history teacher for 32 years, will share stories of historical events in the Lower Muskingum Valley.