On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols introduces Esther Edwards Burr: daughter of Jonathan Edwards, wife to a Princeton President, and mother of a US vice president.
Esther Edwards Burr
Esther Edwards Burr was the third of eleven children born to Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. She was born on February 13, 1732, in Northampton, Mass. She lived through the Great Awakening as an eight- to ten-year-old, and it’s fascinating how that event formed and shaped her. In 1752, she was married after a whirlwind courtship to Aaron Burr Sr.
Aaron Burr was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Newark, N.J., and president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in Newark. He went to Massachusetts with the goal of proposing to and marrying Esther Edwards. After five days, she said yes to his proposal, and he returned to Newark. Two weeks later, she came to Newark, accompanied by her mother. When she got to Newark, she and Burr got married.
In 1752, she had a visit from a friend named Sarah Prince. Sarah was the daughter of Thomas Prince, who was pastor of Old South Church in Boston and a supporter of Edwards through the Great Awakening. Esther and Sarah were about the same age, and they became friends over the course of Esther’s many trips to Boston, during which she spent time in the Prince household. Sarah would also visit Esther in Newark, but eventually she was no longer able to do so. Sarah and Esther decided that they would keep journals and that they would periodically share those journals with each other as a way to continue their friendship. So, from October 1, 1754, until the fall of 1757, Esther Burr kept a detailed diary of most of her days and what was happening in her life.
Some of the accounts and entries are very short. On Monday, January 12, 1756, all she says is, “Mr. Burr gone to New York and I as busy as a bee.” Some of them are a little bit more full and give insight into the life she had. One of them tells the story of when she visited Princeton when they were building the new home of the College of New Jersey. She says, “Soon after breakfast we went up to the college to take a more particular view of that,” that is, the college building, “and our house. The college is a famous building, I assure you, and the most commodious of any of the colleges as well as much the largest of any upon the continent.” And that was true. At the time of Nassau Hall’s construction, it was the largest building in the American Colonies. Esther Edwards Burr goes on to say, “There is something very striking in it and a grandeur and yet a simplicity that can’t well be expressed. I am well pleased with the house they have begun for us. You have a room in it,” she says to her friend Sarah Prince. On another day, she talks about soldiers being quartered in the house. She says, “In the evening, fifty soldiers to sup at this house and lodge, which surprised me much. But they behaved better than I expected considering they came from Rhode Island.” I’m not sure what that means, so I’m just going to leave it at that. “They are going for recruit,” she adds. “How many difficulties one meets in a journey just so with our journey through this life.”
Esther Edwards Burr gave birth to Aaron Burr Jr., the future vice president of the United States, on February 6, 1756. Aaron Burr Sr. died in the fall of 1757. Jonathan Edwards came down to be president of Princeton, and he died in the spring of 1758. And on April 7, 1758, Esther Edwards Burr died of a fever. She was the third child of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, the wife of Aaron Burr Sr., the mother of Aaron Burr Jr., and a Colonial diarist.
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