Adolphus Arnot

24 Sep

The region in which Ohio University is located has a fascinating history.  From Adena earthworks to the development of the multi-racial community of Kilvert there is much to see and to know.  But the turning of September into October brings to mind a piece of history involving a fairly infamous* visitor to southeastern Ohio–Adolphus Arnot–or as he is better known, Aaron Burr.  Burr ended up having to use the pseudonym of Adolphus Arnot in 1812 because of a bit of trouble that he stirred up, in part, some 30 odd miles down the road at a place called Blennerhasset Island.

From Princeton to Valley Forge to the Vice Presidency to the Heights of Weehawken, New Jersey, Burr left his mark on the newly developing Republic.  But in 1805, after resigning from the Senate, he grew increasingly restless and began to engage in a series of conversations or “machinations,” as some would have it, around the subject of the fate of the west and the possibility of a second republic separate from the Atlantic states.  One of the individuals with whom Burr had a number of these conversations was an well-to-do Irish emigrant named Harmon Blennerhasset.  Blennerhasset lived in a fine mansion on an island in the Ohio River.  In September and October of 1805, he fatefully entertained Burr, both as a guest and as the purveyor of the idea of a new western empire.

In hindsight, it was not a good career move for either man.  Propelled by all the animus that Thomas Jefferson could muster, Burr ended up being tried for treason in 1807 with none other than Chief Justice John Marshall presiding.  He was acquitted, but was ever after haunted from pillar to post by his tarnished reputation and hunted by a cavalcade of creditors.  Hence the resort to pseudonyms.  Blennerhasset was forced to flee his island in 1806 and after being captured in 1807 was indicted in Richmond, Virginia for treason.  He remained in jail until the case against Burr collapsed.  Blennerhasset sold his island in 1807 and his grand house was destroyed by fire in 1811.

But the story did not end there.  In the 1970s, the state of West Virginia rebuilt the Blennerhasset mansion.  It is open to the public and well worth a visit.  If you want to catch the echoes of the conversations that Blennerhasset and Burr had some 205 years ago consider making your trip on one of the special event evenings on October 8 or 9 when the only light that will be shed will be candlelight.

*Woodrow Wilson said of Burr that he had “genius enough to have made him immortal, and unschooled passion enough to have made him infamous.”


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