Theodosia Burr Alston: Life & Disappearance

Instructor: Anne Butler

Anne has a bachelor's in K-12 art education and a master's in visual art and design. She currently works at a living history museum in Colorado.

The popularity of the musical 'Hamilton' has increased interest in the lives of America's Founding Fathers. Aaron Burr's daughter, the subject of the song 'Dear Theodosia,' deserves her own story, even with its mysterious ending.

Doted-On Daughter

Theodosia Burr was born on June 21, 1783, in Albany, New York. She was the only surviving child of Aaron Burr and Theodosia Bartow Prevost. Burr was the second husband of Mrs. Prevost; the two had fallen in love while she was still married to her first husband.

Burr was determined that Theodosia would have the best of everything, including an excellent education. She could read Latin and Greek, as well as speak French, dance, and skate. She was a bright child, and was rumored to have read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by the time she was 10. Her father was convinced she could be more than just a wife. Her education continued even after the death of her mother when she was eleven.

Theodosia Burr
burr

Marriage and Child

In 1800, Theodosia met Joseph Alston. He was a wealthy landowner from South Carolina who was becoming involved in politics. They married in February of the next year and were the first couple to spend their honeymoon at Niagara Falls.

Soon after, Aaron Burr was sworn in as the vice president to Thomas Jefferson. Theodosia and Joseph had their first and only child, Aaron, in 1802. Theodosia's health had been delicate anyway, but her son's birth was traumatic and took a toll on her. The birth damaged her uterus and left her in immense pain and unable to have any more children.

Joseph Alston
alston

Later Life

Theodosia didn't adjust well to life as a plantation wife. She ending up spending most of her time with her father in New York. Burr was having his own issues, however. Burr's famous duel with Alexander Hamilton occurred in 1804, resulting in Hamilton's death. Murder charges were eventually dropped, but Burr's political career was over.

Burr then tried to join western states with Mexico and create his own kingdom. Had it worked, Theodosia would have become queen of Mexico, but the plan failed and Burr was tried for treason in 1807. Burr was once again acquitted, and left the country in 1808.

Theodosia continued to defend her father, even sacrificing her own health. She wrote her political connections, hoping they could safely return her father to America. She even wrote to James Madison's wife, Dolley, asking for help.

''My anxiety on this subject has, however, become too painful to be alleviated by anticipations which no events have yet to justify; and in this state of intolerable suspense, I have determined to address myself to you, & request that you will, in my name, apply to the President for a removal of the prosecution against Aaron Burr, I still expect it from him as a man feeling and candour, as one acting for the world & posterity.''

Theodosia wrote this in 1809, but Burr wasn't able to return until 1812, after Theodosia's son Aaron contracted malaria and died.

Breakdown and Disappearance

After her son's death, Theodosia grew even more fragile. It was decided that she should travel to New York to stay with her father, who had just returned from exile. Joseph Alston had just been elected governor of South Carolina, so he wasn't able to go with her.

Burr sent a doctor friend of his, Timothy Green, down to accompany her to New York. They boarded a ship called Patriot on December 31, 1812. The ship and its crew were never seen or heard from again. Joseph Alston died four years later, never recovering from the loss of his son and then his wife.

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