Nags Head, North Carolina, United States

The Portrait of Theodosia Burr

On December 30, 1812 a young woman by the name of Theodosia Burr Alston boarded the ship Patriot in Charleston, South Carolina. Theodosia was battling with fragile health brought on by the death of her infant son and the stress of her father undergoing trial for treason. She was heading to New York City to reunite with her father. Her maid and doctor accompanied her on the journey. There were many reasons why Theodosia shouldn’t have made the trip, one being that the United States and Great Britain were at war and there were rumors of pirates looming along the coastline, but she insisted. In late afternoon the Patriot sailed out of the Charleston harbor. The ship and no one aboard was ever seen again.

The rumors surrounding the fate of the ship are many, but the most popular story involves a pirate attack. Once aboard the ship, the pirates began to kill everyone. Theodosia watched in horror as her maid was tossed overboard. Just as one pirate was about to run his sword through the young woman, she went out of her mind. Superstitious about insanity, the pirates spared her and left her abandoned on the seashore, purportedly at Nag’s Head, off the coast of North Carolina. The one thing she had salvaged was a portrait of herself, which was to be a gift to her father. She was looked after by a local couple until she grew old. One day she walked into the sea and disappeared. Her ghost can be seen walking on the beach today.

The miniature portrait is unsigned, but attributed to John Wesley Jarvis.

The Portrait of Theodosia Burr