Historic Hamilton Duel Pistols Coming to D.C.

The flintlock pistols used in the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in 1804 will be on display beginning May 25.

The pistols will be on display in Washington D.C. at the Postal Museum beginning May 25.
The pistols will be on display in Washington D.C. at the Postal Museum beginning May 25.photo from smithsonianmag.com

Once upon a time in America, the Vice President of the United States shot and killed the former Secretary of the Treasury in a duel on a field in Weehawken, New Jersey.

Now, the two flintlock pistols used in the historic face-off are coming to the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

As crazy as it sounds, this really happened. On the morning of July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton and sitting Vice President Aaron Burr left Manhattan on separate boats and crossed the Hudson River to a popular dueling ground in Jersey. Even though dueling was illegal in both states, Jersey didn't prosecute violators as aggressively.

Dueling was always a complicated affair with lots of rules and weird etiquette. Apparently it was common for the two men involved to fire shots into the ground, thus displaying courage, and then he duel could come to an end without anyone actually dying.

First-hand accounts says Hamilton fired the first shot, which went above Burr’s head. In response, Burr shot Hamilton in the lower abdomen above his right hip.

The shot badly wounded Hamilton, as the lead ball ricocheted off his rib, fracturing it, and causing damage to his liver and diaphragm before lodging in his spine.

There is a bunch about the feud between the two that lead up to the duel and about the varying accounts of the duel itself, and you can read about all that here, or see the popular musical, Hamilton, which chronicles his tragic story.

One thing is for sure, Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers, died of his injuries the next day.

A depiction of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
A depiction of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.photo from wikipedia commons

In an even stranger twist, three years earlier Hamilton's eldest son, Phillip, was killed in a duel on the same field when he went up against George Eacker, a vocal supporter of Aaron Burr. Phillip was struck above his right hip and died 14 hours later.

The pistols from the Hamilton v. Burr duel will be featured as part of a new exhibition at the D.C. museum on May 25 in coincidence with a performance of Hamilton at the Kennedy Center, according to this post on smithsonianmag.com.

The guns will be the crux of the exhibit and will be depicted aimed at one another as they were in July 1804.

Other historic artifacts on display include a letter from Hamilton written at Valley Forge and a two-volume encyclopedia Hamilton carried with him through his soldiering years, along with other items from the statesman’s life.

“Hamilton and Burr’s pistols bring an emotional close to this segment and transition the exhibition to Hamilton’s legacy, which Piazza says has been as controversial and ever-changing as his reputation in life. This final section is dedicated to a number of commemorative postage stamps, an honorary bust, and specially minted coins, shedding light on periods of Hamiltonian appreciation from the Reconstruction Era up to the present day.

“The large exhibition will be up through next March, but Hamilton and Burr’s pistols, on loan from JPMorgan Chase & Co., will only be on view through June 24. So in order to get the full Hamilton experience, you’d best be quick on the draw.”