July 26 1812: A Father's Grief

On July 26 1812, Joseph Alston, Governor of South Carolina, writes to his father in law, Aaron Burr (on the left), the former Vice President of the United States, now living in New York City and recently returned from Europe. Alston writes about the death of his son,  Aaron Burr Alston, who was Burr's only grandson. His son had died of malaria on June 30, 1812 at the age of ten. Alston writes that he and his wife Theodosia, Burr's beloved daughter, are grieving. "One dreadful blow has destroyed us;" Alston writes, "reduced us to the veriest, the most sublimated wretchedness". The full letter is reproduced below.

Joseph Alston letter to Aaron Burr, 26 July 1812
July 26, 1812.

A few miserable weeks since, my dear sir, and in spite of all the embarrassments, the troubles, and disappointments which have fallen to our lot since we parted, I would have congratulated you on your return in the language of happiness. With my wife on one side and my boy on the other, I felt myself superior to depression. The present was enjoyed, the future was anticipated with enthusiasm. One dreadful blow has destroyed us; reduced us to the veriest, the most sublimated wretchedness. That boy, on whom all rested; our companion, our friend--he who was to have transmitted down the mingled blood of Theodosia and myself--he who was to have redeemed all your glory, and shed new lustre upon our families--that boy, at once our happiness and our pride, is taken from us-- 'is dead'. We saw him dead. My own hand surrendered him to the grave; yet we are alive. But it is past. I will not conceal from you that life is a burden, which, heavy as it is, we shall both support, if not with dignity, at least with decency and firmness. Theodosia has endured all that a human being could endure; but her admirable mind will triumph. She supports herself in a manner worthy of your daughter.

We have not yet been able to form any definite plan of life. My present wish is that Theodosia should join you, with or without me, as soon as possible. My command here, as brigadier-general, embarrasses me a good deal in the disposal of 'myself'. I would part with Theodosia reluctantly; but if I find myself detained here, I shall certainly do so. I not only recognise your claim to her after such a separation, but change of scene and your society will aid her, I am conscious, in recovering at least that tone of mind which we are destined to carry through life with us.

I have great anxiety to be employed against Quebec, should an army be ordered thither, and have letters prepared asking of the president a brigade in that army. From the support which that request will have, if not obtained now, I doubt not it will be at the first increase of the military force, which, if the war be seriously carried on, must be as soon as Congress meet. Then, be the event what it may, I shall at least gain something. Adieu.

Yours, with respect and regard,


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