Benjamin Henry Boneval Latrobe, Virginia State Penitentiary

The Virginia State Penitentiary That Held Former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr While He Was Awaiting Trial For Treason

In 1796, the Virginia General Assembly appropriated taxpayer dollars for the construction of a new Virginia State Penitentiary. Benjamin Henry Boneval Latrobe, who later hired by U.S. President Thomas Jefferson to become a ”Surveyor of Public Buildings” and the second architect for the United States Capital, took on the role of primary architect for the new penitentiary.

Portrait of the British neoclassical architect Benjamin Henry Boneval Latrobe.

In 1807, seven years after the opening of the penitentiary, United States President Thomas Jefferson accused the former United States Vice President Aaron Burr, whom had served under his first term as President, with treason. Aaron Burr was alleged to have spent time traveling in the western parts of the United States to devise a plan to seize land in Mexico, for the purpose of provoking a war a foreign nation, so that his followers would take up arms against the United States. Ultimately, Aaron Burr was arrested in the Mississippi Territory, within the area of the future states of Alabama, while he was with sixty of his followers attempting to travel to New Orleans. Aaron Burr was moved to the Virginia State Penitentiary while awaiting his federal court case.

The court case turned into a showdown between United States President Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr and United States Supreme Court Justice John Marshall. However, on September 1st, 1807, Aaron Burr was acquitted of all charges of treason.