Ohio River baroness returns to her early 18th Century home

News Tribune & Echo
June 29, 1996

Margaret Blennerhassett, whose husband some say was involved in a treasonous plot with former Vice President Aaron Burr, will be returned to her Ohio River island this weekend.

The bodies of Mrs. Blennerhassett and her son, Harman Jr., were recently exhumed from their graves in an underground mausoleum in New York Marble Cemetery on Manhattan's lower East Side, according to Parkersburg funeral director John Rockhold.

They are to be reburied Saturday afternoon near their reconstructed 7,000-square-foot mansion on Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, about 100 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.

"The only place where they're revered and held in esteem is Parkersburg," Rockhold said. "They have no connection to New York."

Harman Blennerhassett came to America in 1796 from Ireland to escape persecution for organizing an uprising against the British and to help conceal his marriage to his beautiful niece, Margaret.

Blennerhassett settled on the Ohio River island, quietly experimented with chemicals and befriended Burr, who had fought in the Revolutionary War, served as a senator and vice president, and dueled Alexander Hamilton in Weehawken, N.J., after losing the governorship in New York in 1804.

Blennerhassett, who provided money to Burr, was implicated in a conspiracy in which Burr supposedly plotted to either carve out for himself a piece of the Southwest or to create an independent country.

Ray Swick, historian for the West Virginia State Park System, said most historians today believe Burr's goal was an armed expedition into Texas to seize control from the Spaniards.

Burr was acquitted of treason and Blennerhassett, having lost his fortune and his home, left the area after being released from the Virginia State Penitentiary. His home was damaged by militia and later destroy by fire, Swick said.

Harman Blennerhassett failed to rebuild his wealth as plantation owner and lawyer, and he died in 1831 in England. His body lies in an unmarked grave on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel.

Although the Blennerhassetts have been forgotten in many history books, they are still remembered in the Ohio Valley, where their island home near Parkersburg is a popular state park.

About 50,000 people visit the hour glass-shaped island each year to see the refurbished home built on what was then the nation's western frontier.

"Without the story of the Blennerhassetts, what we have is a big island in the middle of the river. What makes this one unique is its connection and its place with historical figures," Rockhold said.

New York officials agreed to allow the bodies of mother and son to be removed from the cemetery where they were laid to rest in 1842 and 1854, Rockhold said.

Episcopal priests will perform a ceremony at the reinterment true to the mid-1800s, Rockhold said.

At the ceremony, a poem by Mrs. Blennerhassett will be read aloud extolling the virtues of the island home she loved, he said.

"Oh! Why dear isle aren't thow not still my own? Thy charms could then for all my griefs atone," she wrote years after leaving.

Sources on Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett