Fans of the Broadway show, Hamilton, will be familiar with the beautiful duet, Dear Theodosia, sung by Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda). It’s an ode to their newborn babies, Theodosia and Philip. (You can listen to it here.)
Earlier in the play, in the Story of Tonight reprise, Burr had confessed to Hamilton that he’d been having an affair with the wife of a British officer. That would be Theodosia’s mother, Theodosia. Let’s investigate the history behind this:
During the war, Aaron Burr was the aide-de-camp to General Israel Putnam, Washington’s second in command. Putnam had been a hero of the July 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill, and was now in charge of Long Island. It was probably while he was stationed in New Jersey, in 1777, that Burr met Theodosia Prevost (pronounced “pree-VOH.” Her husband was of Swiss-German origin). Her husband was off fighting in the southern colonies. But she herself was a patriot, siding with Washington and the Americans. Ten years older than Burr, she had married at seventeen, and had five children. She was also sick, probably with stomach cancer.
The show Hamilton is not kind to Burr, with justification. Among his other flaws, he was certainly a womanizer. But he was also extremely progressive for his time on the subject of a woman’s capacity for genius, and he fell hard for the witty and highly-educated Mrs. Prevost. And she for him. By all accounts, she was a top-notch intellect and charmer. It’s unclear exactly when their love affair began.
In December 1781, she learned that her husband, stationed in Jamaica, had died of yellow fever. She and Burr were free to marry, and did so in July of 1782. In 1783 they had a daughter, who, at Burr’s insistence, they named Theodosia. The war ended in 1783. In 1785 they had a second daughter, Sally, but she died at age three. Theodosia would be the only child of Burr’s who would reach adulthood.
He was a big fan of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, and he raised his daughter as a thoroughly educated woman of the Enlightenment. As Theodosia, his wife, grew sicker, Burr took over more and more responsibility for his daughter’s education. Theodosia-the-wife died at age 48.
Theodosia-the-daughter married a boring rich guy named Joseph Alston at age seventeen, and they had a son, whom they named Aaron Burr Alston. Sadly, he died at age eleven. A year later, in 1812, the still-grieving Theodosia set out to visit her father. The United States had just declared war against Great Britain, and Theodosia’s husband was in command of a militia in South Carolina, so he couldn’t accompany her. In December of 1812 she left Charleston on a schooner bound for New York, with only her maid and a male escort. There was a violent storm off the coast of the Carolinas, and the ship was lost at sea. She was just thirty years old.
Source: Nancy Isenberg, Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr