No one really knows what happened to Theodosia Burr Alston (above). She was the oldest daughter of Aaron Burr, the politician and vice president who killed Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. Her disappearance was just one more in a long string of tragedies experienced by the Burr family. Her mother, Theodosia Prevost Burr, died of stomach cancer in 1794, and her sister, Sally, died when she was only three years old (via the Aaron Burr Association).
In the wake of the death of her mother and sister, Theodosia became the focus of much of her father’s attention. He sought for her to have the best education possible, which was uncommon for women at the time (via Star News Online). She learned to speak several languages and studied an array of other subjects, including mathematics. In 1801, she married future politician Joseph Alston and moved to South Carolina. The couple welcomed their only child, Aaron Burr Alston, the following year. The birth had been difficult for her, and she had lingering health problems afterward.
Theodosia defended her father after the dreadful duel with Hamilton in 1804 and his subsequent trial for treason three years later (via The Charlotte Observer). The close bond between father and daughter was only tested by distance as Aaron Burr sought refuge in Europe after being acquitted. He returned to New York in 1812, the same year that his daughter’s son died of malaria. The loss of her son left Theodosia heartbroken, and she made plans to see her father.
Was Theodosia Burr Alston lost at sea?
Burr Alston faced several obstacles in planning her trip. Her husband, Joseph Alston, became governor of South Carolina on December 10, 1812 (via South Carolina Encyclopedia) and could not accompany her because he had to focus on protecting the state during the ongoing War of 1812. Sea travel during war was especially dangerous, and her husband worried for her safety. Her own health was poor, both mentally and physically, but nothing seemed to stop Burr Alston from her journey.
All that is known for certain is that Burr Alston’s ship, the Patriot, left the port of Georgetown, South Carolina, on December 31, 1812, and was never seen again. All those aboard were considered lost, but their exact fate remains unknown. The lack of evidence hasn’t stopped all of the speculation that has occurred over the years. Her father and her husband thought Burr Alston drowned at sea after storms sank the Patriot, but newspaper reports claimed that the ship had been taken over by pirates (via Library of Congress). The pirates either made Theodosia walk the plank or held her captive.
The hit musical “Hamilton” debuted in 2015 and created a new wave of interest in Theodosia Burr Alston. The song “Dear Theodosia” highlights her father’s dedication to her. In 2017, reports surfaced about a portrait of her that was supposedly salvaged from a shipwreck, lending some support to the idea she died in a storm.
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