The heartbreak and disappearance of Theodosia Burr Alston, wife of former SC governor

Local News

CHARLESTON S.C. (WCBD) – In modern times, the last name Burr is almost synonymous with the hit Broadway show and now Disney+ film, ‘Hamilton’.

Indeed former-Vice President Aaron Burr is most infamous for being the longtime ‘frienemy’ of Alexander Hamilton, and ultimately killing Hamilton in a duel.

But in the shadow of Hamilton, Burr’s own story — and the story of his family — is often overlooked. Not anymore.

This is the story of Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of Aaron Burr and wife of former South Carolina Governor Joseph Alston, and the mark she left on the Lowcountry.

A Lowcountry love story

Theodosia Burr wed Joseph Alston in 1801 in what was likely an arranged marriage, according to BullDog Tours General Manager Andrew Kuhn.

The Alstons had numerous homes across the state, with the two most famous being in Charleston and Murrell’s Inlet.

Early in their relationship, they stayed at the Thomas Bee House, now located at 94 Church Street in Downtown Charleston.

The Edmonston-Alston House at 21 East Battery was erected after her death.

One year after marriage, the couple welcomed their first child, Aaron Burr Alston. Theodosia reportedly threw all of herself into caring for her son.

Despite his heavy involvement in politics — serving in the SC House of Representatives from 1805 to 1812 before becoming governor — Alston was not an absent father or husband.

In fact, he was known for his kind and caring demeanor. He would often confide in his wife, tapping in to the vast political knowledge instilled in her by her father.

A life of grieving

Despite a seemingly happy life, Theodosia was ill.

Believed to have begun after the death of her mother, she suffered from intense bouts of grief that intensified after her only son died of malaria at 10 years old.

Following the death of her child, Theodosia fell into a deep depression. 

So concerned with his wife, Alston tasked a physician to be with Theodosia at all times.

Towards the end of 1812, Theodosia received word that her father would be returning from exile. Wanting to see him, Kuhn said Theodosia begged Alston to allow her to travel North and reunite with her father.

Concerned for her safety, Alston allowed her to travel only under certain conditions.

As long as your health starts improving, it doesn’t get any worse, as long as that doctor stays with you along with a close personal friend of the family, and then finally you have to be on a ship that will be the fastest ship that we know of that will get you there, then you can go and see your father. 

Andrew Kuhn, General Manager Bull Dog Tours 

The ship, carefully selected by Alston to get his wife to her father as quickly as possible, departed from Georgetown, but never arrived at its destination.

Kuhn said that Alston started writing letters to make sure his wife had safely arrived, but of course, those letters were answered by a grief-stricken father who had to come to terms with the fact that he was never going to see his daughter again. 

Theories of storms and pirates swirled but nothing was ever verified aside from the grave heartbreak of two men. 

But Theodosia’s story doesn’t end there. 

A stranded soul

According to Kuhn, paranormal activity has been reported in the winter months near the Battery and the Emondston-Alston House.

He said as some guests walk out in the evening around Christmas, they have reported seeing a woman dressed in period attire — specifically a hoop skirt — and it doesn’t look like something that was made in a costume shop.

Those who tried to approach the woman said she had a cold look and would continue staring out into the harbor. 

The only known portrait* of Theodosia is an oil painting that was found in a fisherman’s home near Nag’s Head, North Carolina.

When shown the photo, witnesses say they believe Theodosia is the woman they saw staring into the harbor.

Kuhn believes there is a reason Theodosia’s presence lingers in the Holy City:

These great emotions that we go through create energy, and energy is just embedded in everything that is around us. So even if Theodosia had maybe but a footnote in our history, she left a mark here; a mark that will never be destroyed and will forever remain here.  

Andrew Kuhn, General Manager Bull Dog Tours 

To stay connected with Cait Przetak, follow her on social media! For Facebook click here, for Twitter click here, and for Instagram click here.

Photo of Theodosia Burr Alston courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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