The Education and Mystery of Theodosia Burr
Although the play ‘Hamilton’ has some of it’s most sentimental moments through songs about Theodosia Burr, it does not take into account her fascinating adult life.
Theodosia was afforded a better education than most of the women of her day. Heck, it was better than most of the men’s!
Unfortunately, intelligence was not enough to prevent her from leading a life with a tragic end.
Theodosia Burr was no ordinary woman.
This is largely due to receiving a man’s education.
Her father, Aaron Burr, has gone down in American history as a man more famous for dueling Alexander Hamilton than for being elected as the Third Vice President of the United States.
He has also been largely overlooked as one of the first Americans to truly consider women as intellectually equal to men.
The Finest Education
Theodosia’s early education was overseen by her mother (also Theodosia) whom she was named after.
When her mother passed away, she was only ten, but Burr saw to it that Theodosia continued her studies.
Unlike most women, she was trained in Latin and Greek and kept a disciplined routine which included daily exercise. Her extensive learning, coupled with an intelligent mind, made Theodosia one of the best educated women in the young nation.
In 1801, at just 16 years old, Theodosia married South Carolinian Joseph Alston.
It seems that the wedding was based, in part, on her father’s financial troubles (which were kept secret enough to allow him to run for President without scandal).
Alston was the heir apparent to one of the wealthiest plantation owners in the south and the union of the two young people would benefit both families.
Shortly thereafter, the couple would have their only child, Aaron Burr Alston.
The birth of her son left Theodosia in continued poor health.
Things became worse when her father was accused of treason, not for his duel with Hamilton but for his ‘filibustering’ expedition in the Louisiana Territory. She traveled to Richmond, Virginia to be with him in that strenuous time.
Although he was cleared of any wrongdoing, Aaron fled to Europe in an effort to dodge creditors.
Theodosia was heartbroken and even wrote to Dolly Madison in the hopes she could persuade her husband, President James Madison, to invite Burr back to the United States.
Losing a Child
Although Aaron Burr returned to New York in 1812, that year would be one of tragedies for his daughter.
Although her husband was elected Governor of South Carolina, her son passed away from malaria. She was riddled with sadness and took several months to recuperate before attempting to go see her father.
As the war of 1812 broke out, Joseph Alston needed to remain in South Carolina since, as Governor, he was in charge of the State Militia. When Theodosia left to travel to New York, he was forced to stay behind.
Lost at Sea
Theodosia boarded a boat for New York in December of 1812.
The vessel was never heard from again.
Over the years, rumors and speculation flowed across the nation while people tried to make sense of the disappearance of such and intelligent young woman.
Some claimed that the ship was captured by pirates while others believed it was sunk by the British.
The most likely scenario is that a violent storm crossed its path and overturned the boat.
Whatever the case, Theodosia Burr Alston, who was not yet 30 years of age, had been lost at sea.
Ladies of the Revolution you say?
Here you go:
The best place to learn about Theodosia Burr Alston is in a biography of her father.
Although I hate to recommend reading about a woman through the biography of a man, Nancy Isenberg’s ‘Fallen Founder’ is a fantastic look at the Burr Family. Hey, if you’re anything like me, you might even come away with a bit more appreciation for the former VP as well.
If you’d like a copy you can get one through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).