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Theodosia Burr


The Waccamaw Neck was a lonely place for the 17-year-old bride. Her father, Aaron Burr, hadn't encouraged Theodosia's marriage to Joseph Alston of South Carolina. But Joseph, who had finished college before he was 17 years old and had finished the training for the practice of law, had convinced Thee that he was a man of considerable courage, refinement and training: he would some day bring notice to himself. Although Thee was not in love with Joseph, and her friends discouraged her move to the swamps of the Waccamaw region of South Carolina, she gave him her hand in marriage.

The coast of South Carolina was like a foreign country to her.

Girls there didn't walk hours on end while balancing books on their heads in order to learn to walk as straight as a rod. Nor did they bury their heads in language books in order to speak fluent French and other tongues. Instead, they wore frilly dresses, fretted over who swung down the Virginia reel line with whom, and never went out without at least two body servants accompanying them. It was so wasteless, so desolate. It all made Thee sick. Really sick. She took to her bed more and more in order to blot out the useless goings-on in the mosquito-infested, Godforsaken land in which she had chosen to live with her new husband.

Joseph did everything in his power to make Thee comfortable and happy. He encouraged her to continue the studies of the subjects she enjoyed, inspired her to write long accounts of her new life to her father, and consoled her when she was pale and her strength waned. And he never failed to remind her that for one so young, he had inherited an extraordinary plantation from his grandfather. The grandfather's name was also Allston, but he spelled it with two Is.

Joseph Allston's will provided:

July 1784
I Give and Devise to my Grandson
Joseph Allston (son of William Allston)
when he arrives to ye age of Twenty four
years old that plantation or Tract of Land
Will'd to me by my Father with all ye
Island of Swamp Lands over against ye same.
Also one other Tract of Land joining ye
same which I purchased of my brother John
Allston making in the whole about One
Thousand Three Hundred acres more or less.

The plantation was named The Oaks. and a new house was constructed there for Joseph and Theodosia after their marriage in 1801. But as far as Thee was concerned, all of the plantation was an "island of swamp lands." The mosquitoes brought blood when they punctured your skin.

Thee's health further deteriorated with each year and her only happiness came as she wrote long letters to her father and doted on her only child, a boy named Aaron Burr Alston.

When Thee's father challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel, he didn't know if he would survive the contest, and he wrote Thee a heart-tearing letter:

I am indebted to you, my dearest
Theodosia, for a very great portion
of the happiness which I have enjoyed
in this life. You have completely
satisfied all that my heart and
affections had hoped or even wished.
With a little more perseverance,
determination, and industry, you will
obtain all that my ambition or vanity
had fondly imagined. Let your son
have occasion to be proud that he had a mother.
Adieu. Adieu.

The day after this letter was written, Burr and Alexander Hamilton met on a grassy, wooded knoll in Weehawken Heights. New Jersey. It was July 11, 1804. The men refused last minute reconciliation. They walked off ten paces. Each took his position. They turned and fired. Hamilton fell, mortally wounded.

Burr fled to Pennsylvania and again wrote to his daughter, but Theo could not be consoled. Why had life failed her, she wondered. Nothing could be straightened out.

In the years that followed, Theo's health went from bad to worse, in mind as well as body. She spent most of her time lying on a long cushioned seat, without back or arms, and placed against a wall. Her body servants waited on her constantly, holding damp cloths to her forehead, and speaking soothing words. On Jan. 11, 1811, she wrote to her father:

Imagine yourself the feelings of a
woman whose naturally irritable nerves
were disordered by severe illness, and
who, during weeks of solitude, and pain,
and inoccupation, lay pondering incessantly,
amid doubt and impatience, and hope and
fear, on the subject which mingled
through the whole extent of her soul.

Eighteen months later, when the weather was humid, the Alstons left for a holiday at their cottage at the seashore. While there, Thee's son took a head cold, Joseph sent for several physicians but they were unable to save his life. He died on June 30, 1812.

Both Thee's husband and father insisted that she visit her father who was now back in New York, A friend wrote to Thee's father saying that Thee was bent on making the trip, as she was low, feeble and emaciated. Her complaint was an almost incessant nervous fever.

She set sail from Georgetown on The Patriot on Dec. 30, 1812. The Patriot, after it disappeared over the horizon, was never heard from again.

On foggy nights, if you stand on the beach at Huntington Beach State Park, you may see the slender figure of Theodosia Burr Alston suspended above the water. With her declining health after her marriage and the birth of her son, and the death of her cherished son, it is no wonder that the spirit of Theodosia comes back to the sea near her home.

Taken from "Coastal Ghosts" by Nancy Rhyne, Sandlapper Publishing, Inc.