Thursday, February 6, 2014

Connections between Theodosia Burr Alston and Jean Laffite

The first time I met Theodosia, I was reading Gore Vidal's Burr. And she had a bit scene. She was not an important character at all. It was during the period when Jefferson and Burr were tied. Theodosia was about to go off on her honeymoon. She was about to be married, and she said to her father that he should grab the presidency while he still could, and he should not keep his promise to Jefferson. And he made some kind of joke about her honeymoon or her wedding night. It was a very kind of light banter. That scene made a really big impression on me, so that years later, I decided to read up on Theodosia herself.

And having read her entire life story, the tragedy of her death or disappearance -- whatever it was that happened to her after she boarded that ship The Patriot -- I decided that someday I was going to rescue her. I was going to give her a happily ever after, because I thought she deserved it.

Now, the first time I met Jean Laffite, I was reading the Journal of Jean Laffite. And the reason I was reading it was that I was looking for someone to rescue Theodosia. And at the time my interest in Jean Laffite was contrived. The idea of bringing them together was contrived. But as I got to know Jean Laffite better from his own words and his own description of the world he lived in, and  not just the great deeds that he did, I saw that there was a connection. And the connection involved Texas, the plans to conquer it. It involved being a filibuster. It involved being very patriotic and supporting Jefferson, and there was one person who appeared in both stories. It took me a while to figure this out. Because every biography that I had ever read of Theodosia mentioned a compliment paid to her by Edward Livingston.

It was something to do with being careful because her beauty might ignite the sparks -- or cause sparks -- and ignite a French frigate that he was escorting her on. Now I didn't understand what the significance of this compliment was, because, frankly, I didn't know who Edward Livingston was. I'd never heard of him, until he appeared again in the Journal of Jean Laffite. And Jean refers to him as his lawyer, Ed Livingston. It took me a while to figure out that was the same Ed -- the same guy.

In Theodosia's biographies, mentioning Edward Livingston was like name dropping. It would be equivalent to someone saying that someone from my period had been paid a compliment by Henry Kissinger or Alexander Haig. Now years in the future, nobody is going to remember who Henry Kissinger was. He just wasn't important enough to appear in long term history. But for the short term he was an important guy. Same thing for Al Haig. Edward Livingston was extremely important during the period when Theodosia and Jean Laffite were alive, but nobody really remembers him now. Lots of things are named after him, but if you ask a school child who Edward Livingston was, you're going to draw a blank. And most grown ups don't know, either. As I said, he was mentioned in the biographies as a kind of name dropping to show how important Theodosia was and how she was admired by the important people of the day. Although it does fall flat on the ears of someone who has no idea who this guy is.

But when Jean Laffite mentions Edward Livingston, he's not name dropping. Edward Livingston was actually somebody who was involved in his business and his life, and he really didn't feel that Edward Livingston was more important than himself, or that Edward Livingston's contributions were more important than those of Jean Laffite.

So, one of the things that I learned after I got to know Jean Laffite better was how very much in the same world he and Theodosia were living. Did they ever meet? I don't know. But it's entirely possible that they did. Whether before or after she disappeared, I don't know.

This book is a romance, and it's fictional. But if you really want to understand what happened in those days, what the power struggles were that people were facing, and possibly the effect of the politics of the day on what is happening to us right now, you should read it. It isn't just fantasy.  It's about connections that you haven't made yet -- that I hadn't made yet, until I met Theodosia and Jean..


  1. Actually, briefly remember reading about Edward Livingstone during my AP History class in high school, but had not thought about him at all until you mentioned him today.

    1. I think you are unusually well educated in history, Julia, to have been exposed to information about Edward Livingston while yet in high school. What course was it in? What did they teach about him?