Heroes of the American Revolution, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were fierce political rivals, Hamilton a Federalist and Burr a Jeffersonian Republican.
Burr was a known as a skilled marksman and had already fought in two duels before standing opposite Hamilton. Burr’s first opponent was John B. Church, who was Hamilton’s brother-in-law and business partner. With no injuries sustained between them, that duel ended with an apology from Church. Burr’s next duel was with swords against Samuel Bradhurst, another friend of Hamilton. It ended with Bradhurst wounded in the arm.
Hamilton had been the subject of 11 challenges of honor, which were all settled peaceably, and he served as a second in two other duels. Sadly, his 19-year-old son, Philip, had been killed in a duel three years before the fight with Burr. The night before his duel with Burr, Hamilton wrote a lengthy letter detailing personal objections to the duel, but then ended it with several justifications.
Hamilton owned a set of dueling pistols, but chose to use the set of Wogdons owned by Church, who had purchased them in London in the 1790s. The Wogdon dueling pistols featured 9-inch barrels of .544 caliber, spurs on the triggerguards, set triggers, brass forends and sights, characteristics considered unusual for dueling pistols that were typically configured less likely to be lethal. (Notably, Church added the brass forends to improve balance.)
Wogdon dueling pistols were esteemed as very accurate. They were once written about in a poem and became subject of the phrase, “going to Wogdon’s court.”
It has been argued who fired first, but Hamilton’s shot hit the branch of a cedar tree about 12 feet high and 4 feet to the side. Burr’s shot hit Hamilton’s right side, about 4 inches above the hip, striking the ribs, passing through his liver and lodging in his spine. Hamilton suffered 31 hours before his death at 2 p.m. on July 12, 1804.
The Wogdon pistols stayed in Church’s family, one even carried by Church’s grandson during the Civil War. In 1930, they were sold to Chase Manhattan Bank, which was founded by Burr. They are on public display in the lobby at the J.P. Morgan Chase Manhattan Bank in New York