Saturday, September 26, 2015

Theodosia Burr Alston's Disappearance was Used in Anti-Privateer Propaganda

There are many stories about what may have happened to Theodosia Burr Alston after she boarded The Patriot on December 31, 1812. Most of those stories involve pirates: pirates forcing her to walk the plank, pirates turning her into their love slave, pirates slitting her throat because they are after her jewels. Every such story was used to hurt Theodosia's father Aaron Burr, both personally and politically,  and in the process to bolster the Neutrality Act under which he was persecuted for his expedition against Spanish held Mexico.

It is one of the practices of the political propagandist to recruit as victims of the policies they are against people near and dear to their political enemies. So it should come as no surprise that some of the people accused of killing Theodosia were not pirates at all, but rather law abiding privateers. One of these was Captain Jean DesFarges, who while working for Jean Laffite, was accused of piracy for taking as a prize a Spanish ship named the Filomena . This occurred about seven years after Theodosia's disappearance. The purpose of the prosecution and later hanging of DesFarges and his crew was to discredit Jean Laffite and his privateering establishment in Galveston. As part of the general smear campaign,  a baseless story was published to the effect that DesFarges had confessed to murdering Theodosia.

The following newspaper account, countering the "pirate" story, from The Famer's Repository, Charleston, W. Vrginia, August 30, 1820 was provided to me by Pam Keyes;

The New Orleans Advetiser of August 21 contradicts the story in the New York prints of June 1820, of certain pirates, executed at New Orleans, having confessed they composed part of the crew of the pilot boat Patriot who murdered Mrs. Alston. The Advertiser discredits the whole account: and upon the testimony of the Rev. Mr. Larned, who attended them in prison from the day of condemnation to the moment of their being swung from the gallows, "It did not appear that they had ever stained their hands with blood."

Nevertheless, the legend of Theodosia having been done away with by pirates lives on. And very few people understand that DesFarges and his crew were not pirates. Likewise, Jean Laffite is known as a pirate, and Aaron Burr, while acquitted of treason, is known as a traitor.  This is how political operatives kill two birds with one stone.


  1. It is always interesting how people disappearing can be used to create stories that are not true. There have been murder cases where it was speculated the person just ran away on vacation, then it turns out they were murdered by a close friend. In Theodosia's case, maybe she did end up with Jean Laffite. Her wanting to take on a new identify makes sense to me, considering all she had been through.

    1. Hi, Julia. Yes, it can definitely go both ways. Someone can die, and people can think that they just went away on vacation, Sometimes, if the person does not have family, this can happen even if they are not murdered, when they die peacefully at home and their utlitlity and other bills keep getting automatically paid until it drains all their savings, years later, and only then does someone break into the house, because of non-payment of property taxes and the place being put up for auction.

      In the case of Theodosia, if she did die on the Patriot, she did not die alone, as the whole ship disappeared and no one on it was heard from again. But there is a chance that something else happened to them all or to some of them, as the remains of the ship have yet to be discovered. Ships can have their names changed.