By Sheri Wysong
David H. Burr was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1803—approximately one year before his distant relative, Colonel Aaron Burr, killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, on July 11, 1804.
As a young man, David H. studied law, becoming the aide-de-camp to Governor DeWitt Clinton in 1825. Soon thereafter, he was appointed to the job that became the first of his true callings: heading up a road surveying crew, mapping the roads in the state of New York.
Upon completion of the surveys, Burr ventured into his second true calling, cartography. He used the reports and maps from the road surveys to compile an atlas of the state of New York, which he self-published in 1830. Burr then set his sights higher and began work on a world atlas, probably planning to again publish it himself. He was unable to complete the atlas, however, because in the early 1830s, he accepted an appointment as the topographer to the U.S. Post Office and moved his family to Washington, D.C. The engravers of the maps took over the project, and D. S. Stone of New York City completed and published the Universal Atlas in 1835.
All sources state that Burr accepted the Post Office appointment in 1832. However, he does not appear in the 1833 civil service register, indicating that he was not offered the appointment until the latter part of 1833 at the earliest. The source of the 1832 date was probably Burr family genealogist Charles Burr Todd, whose descriptions of Burr’s activities must be read with a discerning eye.
Todd also stated that the House of Representatives employed Burr from 1832 until 1846. However, in examining the civil service registers, I found him listed in that position only from 1839 until sometime before late 1843. One might reasonably conclude that Burr created maps for his atlas until mid to late 1833, then worked for the Post Office from late 1833 or 1834 until 1836, at which time he left its employ to pursue the publication of his American Atlas.
Although David H. Burr does not appear in the civil service registers until September 1839, Henry A. Burr is listed as the topographer to the Post Office in the September 1837 Biennial Register of all Officers and Agents, in the Service of the United States. Todd includes a Henry A. Burr as David H.’s younger brother, born in 1806. In the 1839 registry, David H. Burr is listed as the geographer to the House of Representatives and Henry A. still appears as topographer to the Post Office. According to Todd, Henry A. remained in that position “until his death in March, 1863.” The employment of the two brothers probably explains another incorrect statement by Todd, namely that David H. had held the position of topographer of the Post Office at the same time as he held the appointment of geographer to the House of Representatives.
Sometime before September 30, 1843, Burr appears to have left the employ of the federal government again. According to Todd, upon his 1846 return from England, Burr worked as a deputy surveyor general for Florida then Louisiana until 1852—but again Todd’s narrative of Burr’s timeline is faulty since Burr’s trip to England probably took place 10 years earlier. Contracts were issued for deputy surveyor generals for Florida in 1842, which is consistent with Todd’s statement that Burr went there soon after the end of the Seminole War. It appears that he returned to Washington long enough to produce a map, Texas (1845). Burr then evidently gained federal employment sometime after late 1845, working on a survey in Louisiana, since he turns up in the September 1847 civil service register as a draughtsman there.
Burr’s activities between 1848 and 1853 are difficult to establish; he cannot be found in the 1849 or 1851 civil service registers, so it’s very possible he was working under contracts as a deputy surveyor general like he did in Florida. Another possibility is that he spent time in California pursuing opportunities during the Gold Rush, since the Daily Alta California documents a “D H Burr” departing San Francisco on July 1, 1853, for Panama. Separately, on January 13, 1852, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution to hire a draughtsman “to mark and lay down the on the maps, now in the room of the Committee on Public Lands, the state of the surveys” and subsequently appointed Burr to the position. The draughtsman appointment was anticipated to last only three months, yet the 1853 civil service register documents that Burr was in the position on September 30, 1853. Burr’s trip from San Francisco to Panama (then across the isthmus to board another boat for Washington, D.C.) might have been in response to news of the appointment, which would not have occurred a year-and-a-half after the Senate’s resolution.
Burr’s next federal appointment was as surveyor general for Utah Territory, where he arrived in midsummer, 1855. Over the course of the next twenty months, Burr’s relationship with the Mormon settlers in Utah—who disagreed with his surveys—became increasingly difficult. He ultimately fled the territory in April 1857, as tensions in general escalated. Burr returned to Utah after the Utah War had quieted the conflicts. With John M. Hockaday, Burr opened a dry goods store on the corner of First South and East Temple (now Main Street) in Salt Lake City, as documented in a local 1860 almanac. The business did not appear in the next year’s almanac, and Burr’s activities after 1860 are not known.
At that point, Burr was fifty-eight years old and had limited prospects. He returned east at some point before 1870; the census that year verifies he was in Washington, D.C. One source hints that he might have taken up engraving. Charles Todd stated that Burr’s health had suffered from the stress of his ordeals in Utah, but he lived for another fifteen years after he presumably left Utah, dying in Washington, D.C. on December 25, 1875.
 Both David H. and Aaron Burr were included in two extensive volumes on the Burr family published by Charles Burr Todd. The first edition, published in 1878, had a nominal entry on David H. Burr; by 1891, however, Todd had expanded on Burr’s life, presumably after being provided more information by Burr’s immediate family members. Charles Burr Todd, A General History of the Burr Family in America, with a Genealogical Record from 1570 to 1878, 1st ed. (New York: E. W. Sackett, 1878), 204, and A General History of the Burr Family, with a Genealogical Record from 1193 to 1891, 2nd ed. (New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1891), 199–200.
 Walter W. Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1985), 104.
 Ibid., 106.
 Todd, A General History of the Burr Family, 182, 200; United States Department of State, Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval in the Service of the United States, 1837, 1839, 1841, 1843, 1845. I cannot find Burr’s name in the 1843 or 1849 civil service registers.
 Todd, General History of the Burr Family, 182, 200; United States Department of State, Register of All Officers and Agents, Civil, Military and Naval, in the Service of the United States, 1837, 1843, 1847, 1849; David H. Burr, The State of Texas, 1836–1845 (New York: Richard Swainson Fisher, 1845), available at Yale University Library Digital Collections, accessed March 30, 2018, digital.library.yale.edu/cdm/ref/collection/10261/id/2147.
 Contract Surveyors were not Federal employees, and would not appear in the civil service register.
 “Passengers,” Daily Alta (San Francisco) California, July 1, 1853, 2.
 Todd, A General History of the Burr Family, 182, 200.
 Cong. Globe, 32nd Cong., 1st Sess. (1852); Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States on the Thirtieth September, 1853 (Washington, D.C.: Robert Armstrong, Public Printer, 1853).
 Florida state historian Joe Knetsch provides an account of Burr’s conflicts in Utah in “The Surveyor General, the Prophet, and a War that Almost Happened,” Professional Surveyor, May 2006, accessed July 19, 2018, archives.profsurv.com/magazine/article.aspx?i=1642.
 “The D. Griffing Johnson, A. J. Johnson and J. H. Colton Connection,” Geographicus, June 13, 2009, accessed September 24, 2017, geographicus.com/blog.