We’ve all heard of early American politician Aaron Burr, but not as many of us know about his daughter, Theodosia — a well-educated socialite whose mysterious disappearance in early 1813 kept Americans intrigued for decades.
On the last day of 1812, 29-year-old Theodosia set sail from South Carolina (where she lived with her husband, Joseph Alston, the newly elected governor) to New York, to visit her father.
She was never seen again.
Presumably her ship was wrecked in a storm off Cape Hatteras, and all aboard were lost at sea.
No one knew for sure, though, and this left room for a number of alternative theories (many of which involved pirates).
These theories were printed and re-printed in the newspapers and other publications for decades to come. For instance, the following illustration of Theodosia being forced to walk the plank (by pirates, of course) was published in a California newspaper in 1906 — almost a century after her disappearance.
Thanks to these recurring stories, dozens (possibly hundreds?) of baby girls were named “Theodosia Burr” during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some examples…
- Theodosia Burr Kirkland (née Wilkinson), b. 1837
- Theodosia Burr Vaughan, b. 1841
- Theodosia Burr Thomas (née Vaughan), b. 1841
- Theodosia Burr Ebey (née Balsley), b. 1843
- Theodosia Burr Nipp (née Lair), b. 1846
- Theodosia Burr McGinty, b. 1849
- Theodosia Burr Barnes (née Gordon), b. 1849
- Theodosia Burr Austin (née Austin), b. 1849
- Theodosia Burr Wead (née Dimmock), b. 1857
- Theodosia Burr Heilman (née Spencer), b. 1859
- Theodosia Burr Knapp (née Kinnear), b. 1861
- Theodosia Burr Knox (née Waddell), b. 1864
- Theodosia Burr Avis (née Calbreath), b. 1864
- Theodosia Burr Quist (née Wright), b. 1865
- Theodosia Burr LaFever (née Cupp), b. 1867
- Theodosia Burr Dall (née Jones), b. 1867
- Theodosia Burr Baker (née Potts), b. 1869
- Theodosia Burr McEndree (née Stokesbury), b. 1872
- Theodosia Burr Burnett, b. 1875
- Theodosia Burr Grant (née Tutwiler), b. 1886
- Theodosia Burr Lindsey (née Mills), b. 1887
- Theodosia Burr Barnett (née Lee), b. 1900
- Theodosia Burr Jackson (née Hawley), b. 1909
Her most famous namesake was Theodosia Burr Goodman, born in Ohio in 1885, who went on to become silent film actress Theda Bara.
- Theodosia Burr Alston – Wikipedia
- Thomas, Heather. “The Unsolved Mystery of Aaron Burr’s Daughter.” Headlines and Heroes [Library of Congress blog] 22 Jan. 2019.
- “Oil painting gives clew to the Fate of Theodosia Burr Alston.” San Francisco Call 17 Jun 1906: 4.