Item description for Theodosia Burr Alston: Portrait of a Prodigy by Richard N. Cote...
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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Cote studied political science and journalism at Butler University. After serving several years on the staff of the South Carolina Historical Society, he spent the 1980s and early 1990s exploring South Carolina's social history and exotic local microcultures.
Richard N. Cote currently resides in Mt. Pleasant, in the state of South Carolina. Richard N. Cote was born in 1945.
Reviews - What do customers think about Theodosia Burr Alston: Portrait of a Prodigy?
Aaron Burr Has a Starring Role in His Daughter's Biography Mar 30, 2007
I first heard about Theodosia Burr while visiting Charleston, SC, earlier this year. The tour guide mentioned she was Aaron Burr's daughter, a woman educated like a man and raised to be future Empress of Mexico, who disappeared at sea and was rumored to be stolen away by pirates. I was fascinated and determined to learn more. When I looked up Theodosia on this site, Richard N. Cote's book came up. I bought it immediately.
I was not disappointed. The biography "Theodosia Burr Alston: Portrait of a Prodigy" by Richard N. Cote was a fun ride through history. While the book could use more editing, the story itself was intriguing. A Revolutionary War hero and infamous duelist, Aaron Burr raised his only child to be female version of himself: a sophisticated, intelligent, free-thinking prodigy who socialized with French nobility, Native American Chiefs, and quite a few famous Americans, including President George Washington and Dolly Madison.
What I discovered reading this, however, was that Theodosia herself did not interest me as much as her father. In fact, something about her turned me off. I found myself skimming sections about her to learn more about her charismatic father, Aaron Burr, whose mercurial career in politics and wild scheme to conquer Mexico made for a much more interesting story.
All in all, "Theodosia" was a great book in terms of history. I learned quite a bit about our Founding Fathers and what life was like after the War in the newly formed US. I also enjoyed satisfying my curiosity about Theodosia's education and death, as it is an interesting footnote in history. But more importantly to me, I was pleased to learn so much about Aaron Burr, the third Vice President of the US. He is the true hero of this book.
Enlightening! May 16, 2004
I entirely disagree with the reader below me. (Everyone owned slaves back then, except for, notably, Alexander Hamilton, who hated slavery, and yes, he wasn't the only one. But still, the focus of the book was Theodosia, not Aaron.)
I came across Theodosia while I was watching the PBS Home Video "The Duel" (which I recommend if you are interested in Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, the duel itself, or politics in that time period). I wanted to know more about her and purchased this book. I'm glad I did! This biography seems more like a novel because of the incredible, fast-paced journey it leads you on into the past. I especially liked the last few chapters, when the author explored Theodosia's possible fates and the "mystery of the Nag's Head portrait." This whole book never had a boring moment, so if you are interested in this great yet unknown woman or her infamous father, read this book ASAP!
A huge disappointment! May 7, 2004
I hate to rain on the parade of all these glowing reviews, but this book is a product of shoddy, lazy, amateurish research. A full 59% of the footnotes are based on secondary sources, & a full 25% of those are from one source alone which the author himself admits is unreliable. The section on Aaron Burr's mother is based on a "source" well-known for decades to be [untrue]. The discussion of Burr as a "slave-owner" is totally misleading, based on assumptions for which there is no evidence, & completely overlooks Burr's well known anti-slavery record. I could go on & on, but you get the picture. The book is full of factual errors, misleading assumptions, & faulty logic. Theodosia Burr Alston needs a good biography, but this isn't it.
I Couldn't Put It Down Apr 16, 2004
What an in depth and at times riveting account of Theodosia, the beautiful and very gifted daughter of Vice President and scheming traitor, Aaron Burr. This is a story that has been told before but never brilliantly as in Mr. Cote's sweeping tale. The author brings to life the romantic and tragic heroine, Theodosia, so vividly that the reader truly feels her joys and pain. From her privileged upbringing by a father who was a brilliant but flawed man to her marriage into South Carolina's wealthiest family and eventually to her mysterious death at age 28, this is a story that carries us through the ballrooms and political intrigue of the 18th and early 19th Century. Theodosia, the most well educated woman of her time, was destined by her ambitious father to be empress of Mexico in a scheme both treasonous and ultimately ruinous. Theodosia vanished at sea in 1812 leaving behind a haunting portrait that washed up on a North Carolina beach and a story so intriguing that it lingers in the heart and mind long after the book is finished.
The Scare History of Prominent Females and their Males Jan 14, 2004
There is little doubt that Vice President Aaron Burr was the single, most important person in the world to this young, and impressionable young woman: and why not? He was, after all, her father, the person most likely to offer her his best nurturing protection, validate her worth, and interpret the world as he would like her to see it, educating her for what he perceived it to be, in its complexity as well as its simplicity. As his most unconditional admirer, she apparently did the same for him, and as his trusted confidant, the author spectacularly preserves and presents their special relationship of father and daughter with reasonable success despite the number of rumors, accusations, and hype that usually accompanies infamous figures in history, allowing us to appreciate the complexities of political environments, personal relations, and complex events in a very readable and eloquent fashion, in today's conjecture of thought and reason as best he can from a 200 year old antique history. An insightful account of a very colorful period of American history. While certain presumptions may well be far fetched, certainly the inquiry is a valuable contribution to what can only be called one of the very few accounts of the importance of females in the lives of historical figures.