Theodosia Burr Alston: Portrait of a Prodigy

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9781929175444: Theodosia Burr Alston: Portrait of a Prodigy
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Theodosia Burr Alston was a brilliant, independent, highly-educated and freethinking woman in an age which valued none of those traits in females. She was born June 21, 1783 in Albany, New York, the daughter of prominent attorney Aaron Burr (1756-1836) and his wife, the former Mrs. Theodosia Prevost (d. 1794), a widow. Young Theodosia spent most of her unmarried life in New York City with her charismatic, influential father, who had distinguished himself as an officer in the Revolutionary War. There he served under Col. Benedict Arnold and became a member of General George Washington's inner circle. After her mother died when Theodosia was eleven, she became her father's closest confidante and the mistress of Richmond Hill, his New York country estate. A child prodigy whose education was designed by her adoring and demanding father, Theodosia spoke Latin, French, German, and read Greek by the age of twelve.

For Aaron Burr, providing his little girl with an extraordinary education was a lifelong obsession. But Burr's desire to rear a superior woman-child went far beyond mere education. By the time she could walk, Burr had envisioned an incredible goal for her and crafted a master plan to achieve it. Every waking breath of her day was directed by her father to shape Theodosia into something new, radical, and monumental. He was not interested in turning out just a smart, pretty girl; a father's pride; or a husband's delight. Burr was no petty theorist. He was a passionate, egotistical visionary on scale that made the gods cringe. With his vision and his daughter's talent, Burr intended to push the envelope of mortal achievement to its absolute limit. Burr's goal was to sculpt Theodosia into a model for the woman of the future: a female Aaron Burr. She was not trained to serve hearth, home, or plantation. From her first breath of life, she was groomed and educated to take her intended station in life: nothing less than president, queen... or empress. From her birth into New York's high society, her childhood among the leaders of the new nation, her marriage to Joseph Alston, a Southern slaveholding aristocrat, to her mysterious death at sea at the age of twenty-nine, this is the true story of Theodosia Burr Alston. From the letters she exchanged with her father, Aaron Burr, and her husband, Joseph Alston, and from the accounts of those who knew her personally, emerges a powerful portrait of a true American prodigy.

The true story of Theodosia's life -- untold until now -- is far more fascinating than the myths and novelizations that have distorted and obscured it. This new, heavily-illustrated biography draws extensively on primary sources, and especially upon original letters between Theodosia, her father, and her husband. It carefully explores her fascinating life and paints a detailed portrait of the many roles she played, including those of a precocious child, an extraordinarily intelligent and radically progressive young woman, an intensely devoted daughter and confidante to Aaron Burr, loving wife to Joseph Alston, and mother to their son, Aaron Burr Alston. At every opportunity, it identifies and deconstructs the errors and outright distortions of fact which have made their way into print about Theodosia, Joseph Alston, and Aaron Burr. It replaces the historical fog and literary kudzu which now hides her from view with a powerful, accurate new model of Theodosia's extraordinary life and character based on her own writings, those of her father and husband, and upon eyewitness accounts by those who personally knew her.

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From the Author:

Ovid’s saying, "time devours all things," was never more true than when applied to Theodosia Burr Alston. During her life, her friends, family, and acquaintances knew her as a vivacious, mischievous little girl; a charming, intelligent young woman; a tender, loving wife; a caring, attentive mother; and a devoted daughter. In addition, she was trained by her obsessive and loving father as an intellectual prodigy and educational role model for women of the future. On the day of her marriage in 1801, Theodosia, aged seventeen years, seven months, and nine days, was without question the best educated woman in the United States. However, she was not being prepared solely for adulthood, marriage, and motherhood. Burr was grooming her to become a president, queen, or empress.

This book was written to restore to the daylight the flesh-and-blood Theodosia, the girl who giggled on her mother’s knee; the thirteen-year-old who presided alone over a formal dinner for a powerful Indian chief; the young woman who pinned back the ears of her overbearing fiancé only days before their wedding; and the elegant lady who floated gracefully down the Ohio River on a flatboat, headed, she believed, on a one-way-trip to become Theodosia I, Empress of Mexico. In addition, I hope that this book will be the front door through which the next generation of scholars and readers will pass to meet Theodosia and explore the many facets of her heritage, personality, experiences, and destiny for themselves.

From the Inside Flap:

From South Carolina on August 1, 1809, a slender, delicate young woman with large, expressive, dark brown eyes and dark auburn hair picked up her pen to profess her adoration for the man who was the center of her universe. Theodosia Burr Alston, who had just turned twenty-six, wrote to her twice-disgraced father, Aaron Burr, then in self-imposed European exile, "I witness your extraordinary fortitude with new wonder at every new misfortune. Often, after reflecting on this subject, you appear to me so superior, so elevated above all other men, I contemplate you with such a strange mixture of humility, admiration, love, and pride, that very little superstition would be necessary to make me worship you as a superior being, such enthusiasm does your character excite in me. When I afterward revert to myself, how insignificant do my best qualities appear. My vanity would be greater if I had not been placed so near you; and yet my pride is our relationship. I had rather!

not live than not be the daughter of such a man." It was the perfect match. Aaron Burr was Theodosia’s god; Theodosia was Burr’s prodigy and vision. They were far more than soulmates. Theodosia and her father were emotional Siamese twins who occupied separate bodies but shared a single heart.

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