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Was Aaron Burr Black or White?

July 6, 2020
3 min read

Hamilton‘ is slated to be the most influential production of the early 21st century. The exclusive rights to the musical’s live-stage recording were bought for $75 million by Disney: the largest sum of money paid for a single feature of any kind, including movies. The success and popularity of ‘Hamilton’ rest on multiple reasons and have gone on to boost various changes (especially related to the representation of people of color) in the entertainment industry.

‘Hamilton’ is based on Ron Chernow’s biographical novel titled ‘Alexander Hamilton.’ It recounts the rags-to-riches story of one of the founding fathers of the nation. The character of Hamilton is essayed by Lin-Manuel Miranda who is of Puerto Rican descent. He has also composed the musical’s music.

One of the reasons that ‘Hamilton’ has been lauded by critics is the musical’s creative choice of casting actors of color (like Miranda) in the roles of Caucasian figures. “Our cast looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional. It’s a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door,” Miranda explains to the New York Times. The cast proves to be a subversion of racially discriminatory practices such as blackface.

Apart from that, ‘Hamilton’ is also acclaimed for its usage of modern storytelling methods and modern music. Genres like R&B, hip hop, and even rap are combined well with classical Broadway. There is beatboxing too!

Was Aaron Burr Black or White?

Several viewers would have wondered whether Aaron Burr was black or white after having watched ‘Hamilton.’ Leslie Odom Jr. plays the role of Burr. Odom Jr. is black. However, it ought to be remembered that his casting is an extension of the creative choice that Miranda makes. As explained earlier, casting a black actor in Burr’s role is a form of subversion of racially discriminatory practices like blackface.

However, Aaron Burr himself was Caucasian by race. His father, Aaron Burr, Sr. was of English ancestry. Aaron Burr Sr.’s maternal grandparents were from England. Aaron Burr’s mother, on the other hand, was also Caucasian from Massachusetts.

Interestingly, one of Burr’s descendants, Sherri Burr traced her descent to a “non-white” ancestor. After some research, she found out that one of Aaron Burr Jr.’s children, John Pierre Burr was actually an illegitimate offspring whose mother was Mary Eugenie Emmons. Emmons hailed from Calcutta, India. Some sources (unconfirmed) have suggested that John Pierre Burr was considered to be non-white due to his illegitimacy and the fact that his mother was of Southeast Asian descent at a time when being “white” was as much about social class as it was about race. However, the Burr family also kept this a secret at the time, so it might be unlikely that John Burr was discriminated against.

While Aaron Burr might have been white, John Burr went on to be a strong advocate for the rights of African-American people. He was an active member of the Underground Railroad and an organizer of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society.

Read More: Was Alexander Hamilton Black?

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