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August 04 , 2008

The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel

A Story of Marriage and Money in the Early Republic


The notorious life and times of one of the wealthiest women in 19th-century America
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Born into grinding poverty, Eliza Jumel was raised in a brothel, indentured as a servant, and confined to a workhouse when her mother was in jail. Yet by the end of her life, “Madame Jumel” was one of the richest women in New York, with servants of her own and mansions in Manhattan and Saratoga Springs. During her remarkable life, she acquired a fortune from her first husband, a French merchant, and almost lost it to her second, the notorious vice president Aaron Burr. Divorcing Burr amid lurid charges of adultery, Jumel lived on triumphantly to the age of 90, astutely managing her property and public persona. After her death, while family members extolled her virtues, claimants to her estate painted a different picture: of a prostitute, the mother of George Washington’s illegitimate son, and a wife who ruthlessly defrauded her husband and perhaps even plotted his death. With this book, author Margaret A. Oppenheimer draws from archival documents and court filings, many untouched since the 1800s, to tell the true and full story of Eliza Jumel.

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