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The New Orleans Bank Run of 1814

June 25, 2013 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History


New Orleans merchants, planters, and other citizens rushed the Planter’s Bank, Bank of Orleans and Louisiana Bank in panic in mid April 1814, desperate to exchange their paper bank notes for specie (mostly gold and silver Spanish coins), but nearly all were refused, with the banks locking their doors early to avoid the hostile crowds. There was no specie to be had. Pandemonium ensued_ were the bank notes worthless tender?

The Louisiana public already was edgy due to the continuing wartime embargo and to the British warship blockade of the Balize below New Orleans. The British ships successfully harassed shipping by most merchants heading to and from New Orleans, plus the trade traffic from the Gulf of Mexico to the upper Mississippi River.. Almost the only ones who could avoid the blockades consistently were the Laffite brothers’ Baratarian privateers. The smugglers brought captured prize goods in to sell at auction, often at the Temple site near New Orleans, attracting large crowds of eager buyers who were only too happy to pay in silver reales, pieces of eight, and gold doubloons for such items as German linen, exotic spices, glassware, wine and other trade goods. Thanks to the restrictions of the War of 1812, the Laffites’ smuggling operation had a virtual monopoly on imported goods which were cheap due to avoiding the customs duty and the fact that the Laffites got them for free from captured Spanish prize ships.

When the New Orleans banks ran out of specie, it was only natural for the public to immediately pin the blame on the smigglers, sure that they, and they alone, had drained the port city of all that gold and silver.

Stoking the fires of public animosity toward the Baratarians that spring of 1814 was none other than prominent New Orleans attorney Edward Livingston. At an address to a meeting of  concerned citizenry at Tremoulett’s Coffee House on April 29, 1814, Livingston concurred with the generally held sentiment, accepted as fact by the populace,  that the scarcity of specie could “be almost entirely ascribed to the encouragement shown to the Baratarian pirates.” When specie could be obtained earlier, “immense sums were daily carried away to purchase goods at Napoleonville, as Lafitte (sic) has not unaptly denominated the capital of his empire.” Many planters made trips to the Laffite base at Grande Terre to purchase slaves and other goods, and it was Grande Terre that was nicknamed “Napoleonville.”

It is particularly curious that Livingston agreed with the public at this meeting that the Laffites were to blame, since at almost the same time as the bank run, Livingston was named chairman of the secretive New Orleans Association, an expansionist group of the elite which had evolved from the previous Baratarian Association of the Laffites and their privateers. The Laffites were members of the New Orleans Association, so apparently Livingston was playing both sides against the middle. Interestingly, it was also during this time period that Livingston became the power broker for the some 21 members of the elite who controlled the ciy economically and politically.

Presidents of all three New Orleans banks agreed it was in the best interests of the community to suspend payments in specie and to accept each other’s bank notes as payment in kind. They assured their customers that nothing would be neglected “to preserve your properties their full value, and maintain the public credit at a moment when the want of specie may produce the ruin of various classes of the community.” The statement was published widely and signed by Thomas Urquhart, president of the Louisiana Bank; Dusuau De La Croix, for the president of the Planter’s Bank, and Benjamin Morgan, president of the Bank of Orleans.

A committee composed of merchants William Nott, Caizergnes, H. Landreaux and P.F. Dubourg and attorney Mazureau was formed to investigate the cause of the shock upon the public credit in New Orleans, a shock which contemporary newspapers said was “severely felt through all the ramifications of Society.” According to New Orleans merchant Vincent Nolte, this committee did find the true cause of the specie shortage to have been a personal vendetta between the two chief cashiers at the Planter’s Bank and Bank of Orleans, T. L. Harman and Joseph Saul (both British-born immigrants), but the committee chose not to inform the public of this fact. Instead, the specie shortage was blamed on the “accumulation of produce in our stores, for which there is no vent, and in the difficulty, not to say the impossibility, of receiving supplies through the usual channels.” In other words, they blamed the wartime embargo. The public dismissed this finding outright and continued to blame the Laffites and their men.

The species shortage continued throughout the summer with no relief, and animosity toward the Laffites simmered among the very merchants who had profited handsomely from their smuggled goods in happier times. Even some of the privateers’ French friends were getting hostile.

By early July 1814 things reached a boiling point and Pierre Laffite was arrested in the French Quarter on a charge of piracy and thrown into the Cabildo jail. A grand jury formed around the same time, and issued indictments for piracy among other Baratarians as well. Jean Laffite stayed around Grande Terre and avoided the authorities. He wrote a letter to the editor of the Louisiana Gazette and New Orleans Advertiser in which he tried to allay the public’s suspicions about the earlier specie disappearance from the banks. Jean wrote that several rich prizes had been brought into Barataria, and that the public could share in the profits of the trade, as specie was not the only payment accepted. He stressed bank note money of the banks of New Orleans also would be received for goods sold, pointedly saying this was proof of the “blind and stupid opinion of the late Grand Jury of this city, who stated that our trade contributed to drain the country of its specie.” He stressed, “We deal in specie instead of carrying it away.”

However, the die was cast in the public eye of not only the New Orleans area, but throughout the nation, as reports of the Baratarians’ actions draining specie made the newspapers throughout the country. The negative public relations would soon prove disastrous to the Laffites and their operations.

When the British ship Sophie and Captain Nicholas Lockyer visited Grande Terre the first week of September 1814 and tried to bribe Jean Laffite into siding with the British, Jean wasted no time in turning over the British letters to Louisiana Governor W.C.C. Claiborne via Jean Blanque, saying he wished to assist the American cause. This was the chance at redemption that the Laffites needed, but it was far too late. Pierre Laffite escaped from the Cabildo jail even as the governor and his council perused the letters, and naval Commander D.T. Patterson already had orders in place to blast Barataria to bits, confiscate ships and property there, and arrest whomever could be caught. The public was not made aware that the Laffites had offered to help in defence. The existence of the British letters was later made public, but it seems everyone thought those were among the papers found by Patterson during his raid on Barataria.

Patterson and his gunboats arrived at Grande Terre on Sept. 16 and met with no resistance from the privateers present, per Jean’s orders not to fire on Americans. Both Jean and Pierre Laffite escaped to friends along the the German coast above New Orleans. Second in charge Dominique Youx and several other Baratarians were taken prisoner and placed in jail in New Orleans to face possible hanging.

In late September, a ship finally arrived in New Orleans  from Vera Cruz with  much-needed specie on board. The specie was immediately deposited in the Planter’s Bank but was not exchanged for bank notes among the populace.

The Laffites were now fully aware of how dire their situation was. In early October, 1814, Jean Laffite wrote a letter of entreaty to Livingston, thanking him for earlier assistance and begging him for whatever help he could provide in rescuing him from his current troubles. Livingston, for his part, was telling the newly formed Committee for Public Safety of which he was chairman, that the Baratarians’ assistance could be helpful for the American cause. Meanwhile, the Grand Jury was continuing to hand down indictments to not only Baratarians, but also to some New Orleans merchants whose papers had been found in the raid on Grande Terre,

When Major General Andrew Jackson arrived at New Orleans in early December, Edward Livingston was probably the one who convinced him to accept the Baratarians’ assistance in defending the city from the British. By mid December, Dominique and the other jailed privateers were freed on a conditional pardon, and the Laffite brothers emerged from hiding. Jackson’s men were poorly armed and had no backup supplies. Jean Laffite and his men provided all the gun flints and powder that the Americans had through the ending battle of Jan. 8, 1815, according to Jackson’s later accounts. Jackson also praised the Laffites and their men for their assistance in winning the battle against the British.

In reflecting about how all this came about, and the available information about the political and economic condition of the city, it seems the Laffites were motivated to help the Americans to expunge the extremely negative aftermath of the bank run of April 1814. The damage to their social standing was already done, though, and could never be wiped clean.

One has to wonder what would have happened if, at the time of the bank run, the public had been made aware that the real reason for it was that cashier Joseph Saul of the Bank of Orleans wanted to attract the Planter’s Bank customers of  cashier T.L. Harman to his own bank as they were mostly planters who allowed their deposits to lie longer than the merchants were accustomed to do. Saul had collected his rival’s bank notes until he had amassed a large group, then presented it to the Planter’s Bank on a day when he knew the amount of the notes far exceeded the silver held by that bank, Then Saul made sure everyone at the coffee house knew about the shortfall, and the run on the Planter’s Bank happened, but it didn’t end there. The public also rushed to the other two banks, demanding specie when there wasn’t specie to be had. So why didn’t the investigating committee tell the public the true reason for the bank run? Most likely, no one wanted to be called out to a duel by Saul, who was notorious for being a hothead and an expert boxer who thought nothing of beating someone up for irritating him.

People will always believe what they want to believe, so even if the truth of the matter had been stated at the time, perhaps the Baratarians would still have been blamed. Perhaps not.

Maybe, in a what if alternate ending, the Patterson raid would never have happened, and the Laffites would have moved away from New Orleans before the British invasion so they couldn’t have been said to have assisted the British; Jackson and his men would have had no flints or powder to fight the British when they advanced at Chalmette on that famous day of Jan. 8, 1815 and thus would have lost the battle. General Pakenham would have lived and declared a British victory. The Treaty at Ghent would be nullified, the US would have returned to British rule. Everything would have turned out differently, all due to a case of petty jealousy among two bank cashiers.


Theodosia Burr Alston’s Letters on Behalf of Burr in Exile

June 24, 2013 in American History, general history

ds 866 CAAversion1984.02Aaron Burr went into exile in Europe in 1808 following his acquittal in the trial for treason.  At first he had high hopes of procuring funding for his interrupted Mexican expedition, but those were soon crushed when Spain and England became allies. Burr was forced to leave England, and with this began a lonely journey through Europe with ever diminishing funds. Throughout it all, Burr kept up a correspondence with his daughter Theodosia Burr Alston, whom he did not wish to alarm by his dire circumstances, but who nevertheless served as his closest confidante.

One urgent problem that delayed Burr’s return to the United States was that having given up all hope of successful funding in Europe, he did not have a passport to allow him to reenter his native land. On the 10th of November, 1810 Burr wrote from Paris:

Alas, my dear Theodosia, I have no hope of seeing you this winter. 
It is more than five months since I have been constantly soliciting 
from this government a passport for America. Fair promises and 
civil words have been received, but nothing more. It would be folly 
to hope, yet daily some new occurrence or new promise inspires new 
hope. . . . The only consolation which I can offer you for this dis- 
appointment is that my health continues unimpaired, and I have 
the present means of support. A little addition to those means would 
not be inconvenient. Continue to write to that gentleman on whose 
unpaid notes I relied, and of which not a cent has been received. . . . 
Not a line from you since August, 1809, fifteen months ago. It is 
only by mere accident that I know you were living last July. ... I 
live with a very amiable Genevoise family, of which I am a member. 
Every morning I devote half an hour, sometimes an hour, to you.


. Theodosia, for her part, made every effort that she could to secure help for her father, most notably in her letters to Secretary of the Treasury Gallatin and to the first Lady, Dolley Madison.

Below is a letter to Secretary Gallatin dated March 9, 1811 that Theodosia sent from The Oaks:

Though convinced of your firmness, still with the utmost diffidence 
I venture to address you on a subject which it is almost dangerous to 
mention, and which, in itself, affords me no claim on your attention. 
Yet, trusting that you will not withhold an opinion deeply interesting 
to me, and which your present station enables you to form with 
peculiar correctness, I venture to inquire whether you suppose that 
my father's return to this country would be productive of ill conse- 
quences to him, or draw on him farther prosecution from any branch 
of the government. 

You will the more readily forgive me for taking the liberty to make 
such a request, when you reflect that, retired as I am from the world, 
it is impossible for me to gather the general opinion from my own 
observation. I am, indeed, perfectly aware how unexpected will be 
this demand; that it places you in a situation of some delicacy; and 
that to return a satisfactory answer will be to exert liberality and 
candour; I am aware of all this, and yet do not desist. 

Recollect what are my incitements. Recollect that I have seen my 
father dashed from the high rank he held in the minds of his country- 
men, imprisoned, and forced into exile. Must he ever remain thus 
excommunicated from the participation of domestic enjoyments and 
the privileges of a citizen; aloof from his accustomed sphere, and 
singled, out as a mark for the shafts of calumny ? Why should he be 
thus proscribed and held up in execration ? What benefit to the coun- 
try can possibly accrue from the continuation of this system ? Surely 
it must be evident to the worst enemies of my father, that no man, 
situated as he will be, could obtain any undue influence, even sup- 
posing him desirous of it. 

But pardon me if my feeling has led me astray from my object, 
which was not to enter upon a discussion with you. I seek only to 
solicit an enlightened opinion relative to facts which involve my best 
hopes of happiness. 

Present, if you please, my respects to Mrs. Gallatin, and accept 
the assurances of my high consideration.

To Dolley Madison, Theodosia wrote:

You may perhaps be surprised at receiving a letter from one with 
whom you have had so little intercourse for the last few years. But 
your surprise will cease when you recollect that my father, once your 
friend, is now in exile; and that the President can only restore him to 
me and his country. 

Ever since the choice of the people was first declared in favor of 
Mr. Madison, my heart, amid the universal joy, has beat with the hope 
that I, too, should soon have reason to rejoice. Convinced that Mr. 
Madison would neither feel nor judge from the feelings or judgment 
of others, I had no doubt of his hastening to relieve a man whose 
character he had been enabled to appreciate during a confidential 
intercourse of long continuance, and whom (he) must know incapable 
of the designs attributed to him. My anxiety on this subject has, 
however, become too painful to be alleviated by anticipations which 
no events have yet tended to justify; and in this state of intolerable 
suspense I have determined to address myself to you, and request 
that you will, in my name, apply to the President for a removal of the 
prosecution now existing against Aaron Burr. 

Statesmen, I am aware, deem it necessary that sentiments of lib- 
erality, and even justice, should yield to consideration of policy; but 
what policy can require the absence of my father at present ? Even 
had he contemplated the project for which he stands arraigned, evi- 
dently to pursue it any further would now be impossible. There is 
not left one pretext of alarm even to calumny; for bereft of fortune, of 
popular favor, and almost of friends, what could he accomplish? 
And whatever may be the apprehensions or the clamors of the igno- 
rant and the interested, surely the timid, illiberal system which would 
sacrifice a man to a remote and unreasonable possibility that he might 
infringe some law founded on an unjust, unwarrantable suspicion that 
he would desire it, cannot be approved by Mr. Madison, and must 
be unnecessary to a President so loved, so honored. Why, then, is 
my father banished from a country for which he has encountered 
wounds and dangers and fatigue for years ? Why is he driven from 
his friends, from an only child, to pass an unlimited time in exile, and 
that, too, at an age when others are reaping the harvest of past toils, 
or ought, at least, to be providing seriously for the comfort of ensuing 
years ? I do not seek to soften you by this recapitulation. I only 
wish to remind you of all the injuries which are inflicted on one of the 
first characters the United States ever produced. 

Perhaps it may be well to assure you there is no truth in a report, 
lately circulated, that my father intends returning immediately. He 
never will return to conceal himself in a country on which he has 
conferred distinction. 

To whatever fate Mr. Madison may doom this application, I trust 
it will be treated with delicacy. Of this I am the more desirous as 
Mr. Alston is ignorant of the step I have taken in writing to you, 
which, perhaps, nothing could excuse but the warmth of filial affection. 
If it be an error, attribute it to the indiscreet zeal of a daughter whose 
soul sinks at the gloomy prospect of a long and indefinite separation 
from a father almost adored, and who can leave unattempted nothing 
which offers the slightest hope of procuring him redress. What, in- 
deed, would I not risk once more to see him, to hang upon him, to place 
my child on his knee, and again spend my days in the happy occupa- 
tion of endeavoring to anticipate all his wishes ? 

Let me entreat, my dear Madam, that you will have the considera- 
tion and goodness to answer me as speedily as possible; my heart is 
sore with doubt and patient waiting for something definitive. No 
apologies are made for giving you this trouble, which I am sure you 
will not deem irksome to take for a daughter, an affectionate daughter, 
thus situated. Inclose your letter for me to A. J. Frederic Prevost, 
Esq., near New Rochelle, New York. 
That every happiness may attend you, 

Is the sincere wish of 



Following the unfavorable response from Mrs. Madison, Theodosia wrote to her half brother, Frederic Prevost::  

Your letter enclosing that from Washington reached me just before 
I left Springville. The long expected answer from Mrs. Madison 
was such as reason and experience unmixed with hope might have 
led us to suppose it. She expresses great affection for me, calling me 
her "precious friend," pays me compliments badly turned, and regrets 
that Mr. M. finds it impossible to gratify my wishes, &c. You will 
be more pleased to hear that I have received a letter from A. B., dated 
Gottenburg, where he arrived safely but with the loss of all his luggage, 
an accident he laughs at, although he is destitute of the means of 
procuring another supply. To my inexpressible relief he says that 
he has in view some means of support which will rescue him at present 
from this state of dependence. Yet I fear that he may say so merely 
to alleviate my anxiety, for what can he do at Stockholm ?

When Burr did safely arrive in the United States in 1812, after many delays and bureacratic debacles over the coveted passport,  Theodosia was not able to meet with him. First, her son died of malaria, and then she was lost on board The Patriot on her way to a long postponed reunion with her father. But what cannot be denied is that both father and daughter remained loyal and devoted to one another as long as they lived, no matter how far separated in time and space by circumstances outside their control. Theodosia’s letters on Burr’s behalf are a testament to this.



Pidgen, Charles Felton.  (190&)Theodosia, the First gentlewoma of her Time; the Story of her Life, and a History of Persons and Events Connected Therewith.


Jean Laffite as a Father

June 16, 2013 in American History, Caribbean History, general history, Louisiana History, Texas History


Sketch of Jean Laffite by Lanie Frick

According to The Journal of Jean Laffite, the famed privateer was the father of five children. He was married when he was seventeen to Christina Levine who bore him two sons and a daughter in close succession: Jean Antoine Laffite, Lucien Jean Laffite and Denise Jeanette Laffite. After Denise’s birth, Christina died, and Jean did not remarry until he was about fifty, By then his three children by Christina were grown.

Jean Laffite’s second marriage was to Emma Hortense Mortimore, and she bore him two sons: Jules Jean and Glenn Henri. But by this time Jean Laffite was in hiding and presumed dead, and he did not go by his real name in public. He may have adopted the name of John Lafflin, and his younger sons may also have gone by that name.

What sort of father was Jean Laffite? And did he treat all his children in the same way? We cannot know for sure, but there are some indications in his journal and in the few letters that were left behind.

Jean Laffite as a Single Father

From the time that Denise was a newborn until all three of his children by Christina were grown, Jean Laffite, according to the Journal that bears his name, was a widower and a single father. If he was involved with other women, he does not mention this. The journal was written for his children and grandchildren, and it was meant to be something they could pass from one generation to the next. As a member of the bourgeoisie, Jean Laffite practiced middle class morality, and he did not discuss anything that would not be appropriate to a general audience.

We know from what is written in the Journal that Denise was nursed by a black servant of her mother’s who had accompanied her to New Orleans from Port-au-Prince. Very little else is known about the early upbrining of the three children of Christina Levine.

We do know a little more about the schooling of his elder sons. Though Jean Laffite was a highly articulate man, both in person and in writing in several different languages, among them Spanish, French and English, his spelling in some of the documents bearing his signature left something to be desired. It seems that he wanted more of an education for his children, for he writes proudly of how at least one of his sons attended a language school in Washington City.

Jean Laffite as a Married Father


An oil painting by Manoel J. de Franca which is said to have been completed in 1842, depicting Emma, Jean, Glenn and Jules, when Jean Laffite was about sixty years old.
(According to Stanley Clisby Arthur in “Jean Laffite, Gentleman Rover”.

According to the Journal of Jean Laffite, following his retirement in 1823, Laffite suffered from a cold that would not go away and a rash all over his body. He was staying in the home of his friend John Mortimore, and that was when he met Emma, who helped to nurse him during his illness. It was, according to the Journal. a very real and deep love that developed between them. They married, and remained happily together for the rest of his life.

Of the two sons that Emma Mortimore bore Jean Laffite, only Jules survived to adulthood. The younger boy, Glenn, died in a freak accident in childhood. The Journal does not directly mention this death, though it is registered in the family Bible. Also, at one point in the Journal, it is mentioned that Jules is the only boy that Jean still has left at home, which would be odd if Glenn, being the younger, had matured and left home before his elder brother.

The narrator of the Journal seems averse to speaking about this loss, but there is a change of tone after the death of the younger son. Some things are too painful to write about.

Instead, at this point in the Journal, the narrator allows us to glimpse random little scenes from his family life. He tells how many teeth a certain Dr. Forbes has recently pulled from his mouth and how many teeth he has left. And he discusses the tutors of his son Jules and of his grandsons, and what subject each of them is responsible for.

The education of his son and grandsons is recorded, but the death of the youngest child is left entirely to the imagination of the reader.


My son Jules and my two grandsons, Eugene and Francis, have learned German. Mr. Jacob Phillipson was their teacher.

Mr. Bonfils was also one of the teachers of my son Jules.

Mr. Edward Chase is in the process of trying to teach music to my son Jules. My grandson Francis is also studying music with Mr. Chase.

My son Jules and Jack Clemens go on horseback and ride in the park on 14th street. Jules and William Morrison go hunting in the woods after wild animals.

These random and somewhat disjointed accounts of Jules’ everyday life show that  the father was very much interested in the education and development of the son. The two grandsons mentioned were probably the children of Denise and her husband Francis Little.


 We stayed, my family and I, at the house of the old Prairie [Praire], situated on the olive Route, about four miles west of St. Louis, as well as at the house of Shackett, situated around fifty-five rods to the west of the Praire [?] house.

Mr. Freeman Little, the seller of funeral supplies, is a member of the family by marriage.

My son Jules paid $25.00 to Elmer for stealing the slave Stephen after the death of his owner, Madame Smith.

The subject of slavery is one that comes up randomly throughout the narrative. While Laffite justifies his selling of slaves captured from Spanish and English vessels, he is clearly not happy with the institution of slavery, and he seems proud of his son Jules for trying to free a slave following the death of the slave’s long term owner.

 Dividing the Laffite Fortune Per Stirpes

In the passages that were quoted above, we can see that Jean Laffite was able to blend his two families, the children  by his first wife, and the children by his second wife, into a harmonious whole. But it was not always that easy. When he first announced his engagement to Emma Mortimore,  Denise was very much opposed to it. It was only when both she and Emma had children that Denise softened, and then she and Emma became good friends. One way in which Laffite avoided provoking envy among his children was by a wise division of his fortune among his first and second families.

There are two ways to divide an inheritance. One is per capita — by the head — and the other is per stirpes — by the stock.

People who tend to divide all their property among their heirs equally tend to disregard that some heirs have many children and others have few, and they tend to favor those persons in their family who left many  offspring. But a fairer distribution is by the stock, acknowledging the different lines, and treating each progenitor equally, regardless of how many children they had. In most cases, the division takes place after death. But when Jean Laffite retired, he took all his property and divided it into two parts: one part for the children of Christina Levine and the other part for himself and his new wife and young minor children. He distributed the first half equally among Antoine, Lucien and Denise. The second half he kept to live on, and eventually leave to his current wife and her children.

In this way, Jean Laffite honored both of his wives and dealt fairly with each of his children. In the Laffite family, there was no quarreling over inheritance. All were well provided for.


The Journal of Jean Laffite, a manuscript currently housed at  Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Liberty, Texas.

Arthur, Stanley Clisby. 1952 Jean Laffite Gentleman Rover. New Orleans: Harmanson.


Aaron Burr as a Father

June 15, 2013 in general history

AaronBurrFatherPeople do not usually remember Aaron Burr as a father. They remember perhaps that he was the third vice president of the United States. They remember, if anything, that he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. They remember that he was later tried for treason, though most have forgotten that he was acquitted.. But he was also a father, and in that day and age, an exemplary parent of an unusually well educated daughter.

On July 2, 1782 Aaron Burr married Theodosia Bartow Prevost, a widow and the mother of five children by her previous husband, Major Jacques Prevost. Burr took on a paternal role toward all of his wife’s children, and their only surviving joint child, Theodosia, was born on June 21, 1873.

In letters to his wife, among various and sundry other communications, an interest in and an affection toward each of the children was manifest. For instance, in May of 1785, at the end of his letter home, he wrote:

Tell one of the boys to send me some supreme court seals; about six. I forgot them. Write me what calls are made at the office for me. Distribute my love. Let each of the children write me what they do. You may certainly find some opportunity. Adieu.

Though he was often away from home, he took an active interest in the education of his daughter. In a letter dated October 30th, 1791, he writes to his wife:

Theodosia must not attempt music in the way she was taught last spring. For the present, let it be wholly omitted. Neither would I have her renew her dancing till the family are arranged. She can proceed in her French, and get some teacher to attend her in the house for writing and arithmetic. She has made no progress in the latter, and is even ignorant of the rudiments. She was hurried through different rules without having been able to do a single sum with accuracy. I would wish her to be also taught geography if a proper master can be found; but suspend this till the arrival of the major.

Burr was a classics scholar as well as an attorney, a soldier and a statesman. He had very particular ideas about how his daughter was to be taught, and while he was not often there to do it himself, he left detailed instructions. The following quote is from a letter dated February 8th, 1793.

You may recollect that I left a memorandum of what Theo. was to learn. I hope it has been strictly attended to. Desire Gurney not to attempt to teach her any thing about the concords. I will show him how I choose that should be done when I return, which, I thank God, is but three weeks distant.

While he admitted that he had not met that many women of genius, apart from his own wife, Burr believed that the reason for this was the way girls were educated, and he wanted to make sure that his own daughter was given the best possible opportunity to excel and make the most of her native intelligence. This letter from Feb.15th, 1793 gives us such a perfect example of how Burr managed to mix his work and home life that it bears reproducing here in full:

I received with joy and astonishment, on entering the Senate this minute, your two elegant and affectionate letters. The mail closes in a few minutes, and will scarce allow me to acknowledge your goodness. The roads and ferries have been for some days almost impassable, so that till now no post has arrived since Monday.

It was a knowledge of your mind which first inspired me with a respect for that of your sex, and with some regret, I confess, that the ideas which you have often heard me express in favour of female intellectual powers are founded on what I have imagined, more than what I have seen, except in you. I have endeavoured to trace the causes of this rare display of genius in women, and find them in the errors of education, of prejudice, and of habit. I admit that men are equally, nay more, much more to blame than women. Boys and girls are generally educated much in the same way till they are eight or nine years of age, and it is admitted that girls make at least equal progress with the boys; generally, indeed, they make better. Why, then, has it never been thought worth the attempt to discover, by fair experiment, the particular age at which the male superiority becomes so evident? But this is not in answer to your letter; neither is it possible now to answer it. Some parts of it I shall never answer. Your allusions to departed angels I think in bad taste.

I do not like Theo.’s indolence, or the apologies which are made for it. Have my directions been pursued with regard to her Latin and geography?

Your plan and embellishment of my mode of life are fanciful, are flattering, and inviting. We will endeavour to realize some of it. Pray continue to write, if you can do it with impunity. I bless Sir J., who, with the assistance of Heaven, has thus far restored you.

In the course of this scrawl I have been several times called to vote, which must apologize to you for its incoherence. Adieu.

The evening after he wrote this letter, Burr read Mary Wollstonecroft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman. He liked it so much that he read it all that night and the next day, here is what he wrote to his wife:

You have heard me speak of a Miss Woolstonecraft, who has written something on the French revolution; she has also written a book entitled Vindication of the rights of Woman. I had heard it spoken of with a coldness little calculated to excite attention; but as I read with avidity and prepossession every thing written by a lady, I made haste to procure it, and spent the last night, almost the whole of it, in reading it. Be assured that your sex has in her an able advocate. It is, in my opinion, a work of genius. She has successfully adopted the style of Rousseau’s Emilius; and her comment on that work, especially what relates to female education, contains more good sense than all the other criticisms upon him which I have seen put together. I promise myself much pleasure in reading it to you.

Is it owing to ignorance or prejudice that I have not yet met a single person who had discovered or would allow the merit of this work?

Burr was a loving father, but his fondness for his daughter did not blind him to her faults, and he used a combination of severity and praise to motivate Theodosia the younger in her studies. In this letter to his daughter from January 4th, 1794, Burr is intermittently critical and yet full of praise. He does not allow Theodosia off the hook for mistakes, but he takes every opportunity to let her know how proud he is of her accomplishments.

At the moment of closing the mail yesterday, I received your letter enclosing the pills. I cannot refer to it by date, as it has none. Tell me truly, did you write it without assistance? Is the language and spelling your own? If so, it does you much honour. The subject of it obliged me to show it to Dr. Rush, which I did with great pride. He inquired your age half a dozen times, and paid some handsome compliments to the handwriting, the style, and the correctness of your letter.

The account of your mamma’s health distresses me extremely. If she does not get better soon, I will quit Congress altogether and go home. Doctor Rush says that the pills contain two grains each of pure and fresh extract of hemlock; that the dose is not too large if the stomach and head can bear it; that he has known twenty grains given at a dose with good effect. To determine, however, whether this medicine has any agency in causing the sick stomach, he thinks it would be well to take an occasion of omitting it for a day or two, if Doctor Bard should approve of such an experiment, and entertains any doubts about the effects of the pills on the stomach. Some further conversation which I have had with Doctor Rush will be contained in a letter which I shall write by this post to Doctor Bard.

My last letter to you was almost an angry one, at which you cannot be much surprised when you recollect the length of time of your silence, and that you are my only correspondent respecting the concerns of the family. I expect, on Monday or Tuesday next, to receive the continuation of your journal for the fortnight past.

Mr. Leshlie will tell you that I have given directions for your commencing Greek. One half hour faithfully applied by yourself at study, and another at recitation with Mr. Leshlie, will suffice to advance you rapidly.

While Aaron Burr started out as a married father, sharing his parental responsibilities with his wife, when their daughter was eleven, the mother died (May 18, 1794) , and Aaron Burr became a single father. He never remarried during his daughter’s lifetime, and he took full responsibility for her care and education. As a single father, Burr took an interest in his daughter’s diet, manners and education and he required her to keep a journal detailing events day by day, so that he could know about the minutiae of her life, even when he could not be there. This excerpt is from a letter  addressed to “My dear Theo” from August 4th, 1794.

On my arrival here I was delighted to receive your letter of the 30th, with the journal of that and the preceding days. Your history of those three days is very full and satisfactory, and has induced me, by way of return, to enlarge on the particulars of my journey. I am quite gratified that you have secured Mrs. Penn’s (observe how it is spelled) good opinion, and content with your reasons for not saying the civil things you intended. In case you should dine in company with her, I will apprize you of one circumstance, by a trifling attention to which you may elevate yourself in her esteem. She is a great advocate for a very plain, rather abstemious diet in children, as you may see by her conduct with Miss Elizabeth. Be careful, therefore, to eat of but one dish; that a plain roast or boiled: little or no gravy or butter, and very sparingly of dessert or fruit: not more than half a glass of wine; and if more of any thing to eat or drink is offered, decline it. If they ask a reason–Papa thinks it not good for me, is the best that can be given.

It was with great pain and reluctance that I made this journey without you. But your manners are not yet quite sufficiently formed to enable you to do justice to your own character,  and the expectations which are formed of you, or to my wishes. Improve, therefore, to the utmost the present opportunity; inquire of every point of behaviour about which you are embarrassed; imitate as much as you can the manners of Madame De S., and observe also every thing which Mrs. Penn says and does.

You should direct your own breakfast. Send Cesar every morning for a pint of milk for you; and, to save trouble to Madame De S., let her know that you eat at breakfast only bread and butter.

I wish you would read over your letters after you have written them; for so many words are omitted, that in some places I cannot make out the sense, if any they contain. Make your figures or ciphers in your letters, but write out the numbers at length, except dates. Adieu,

While Aaron Burr was not by any stretch of the imagination a “stay-at-home dad”, as he was always involved in practicing law and in politics, his duties as a father were always on his mind, and he corrected Theodosia’s compositions and wrote her long letters of instruction while serving in congress, putting her own letters on an equal footing with those of people who wielded political power.

When Theodosia grew up and married, Aaron Burr still took his parental duties seriously, and he was an active participant in her life as well as that of her son. As a grown woman, Theodosia served Aaron Burr as a friend and confidante, and he shared with her his joys and his sorrows, not withholding embarrassing details. She was the person to whom he wrote the greatest number of letters, and when she disappeared on board The Patriot on December 31, 1812, she was on her way to see her father, following the death of her son. Burr never got over the loss. Long after all hope had flown, he still went to the docks every day, to see if her ship would come in.

Aaron Burr was many thing: a hero of the Revolutionary War, a supporter of women’s rights before that was fashionable, a believer in the equality of the races and the sexes, a devoted husband, and a dedicated father. This Father’s Day, when you think of exemplary fathers from the past, think of Aaron Burr.



The Courtship of Theodosia Bartow Prevost and Aaron Burr

June 8, 2013 in American History, general history

The Hermitage

She was the posthumous only child of Theodosius Bartow and Anne Stillwell Bartow. Named after her father, she bequeathed her given name, which she got from a father she never met,  to a daughter that she left an orphan at the age of eleven. Known for her intelligence, wit and good character, Theodosia Bartow Burr was not said to be particularly beautiful. But she was deeply loved and chosen by Aaron Burr as his bride, despite being ten years his senior and already afflicted with cancer.

The facts prior to Theodosia Bartow Prevost’s association with Aaron Burr are known only in their starkness. Following the death of her father, Theodosius Bartow, in a carriage accident, her mother Anne Stillwell married Philip De Visme and had several children by him, half-siblings of Theodosia. Theodosia grew up in an educated, intellectually stimulating household and she spoke and read French as well as English. She married Jacques Marcus Prevost and bore him five children. He was in the British army, but of French Swiss descent. The couple established themselves in Bergen County, New Jersey, in an estate called The Hermitage. Eventually, after leading several campaigns against the American revolutionaries, Jacques Prevost was serving as  governor of Georgia in 1778 under the British and then was later stationed in Jamaica in 1780, but his wife Theodosia remained behind in New Jersey at the Hermitage.

It is at about this time that Aaron Burr, serving the Continental Army, came on the scene.They met in August of 1778 on a trip down the Hudson. It happened like this: General Alexander sent Burr on a spy mission after his heat stoke following the Battle of Monmouth. He was to check on British positions in preparation for a combined attack by the continental army and French regiments. At the time, the French had a fleet off Sandy Hook. Burr was ordered to West Point in July of 1778. General Washington then ordered him to escort three highly placed Loyalists under a white flag down the Hudson River to the enemy side. Theodosia Prevost, wanting to rejoin family in New York City, got permission from General Alexander to board the same ship, along with her half-sister, Caty De Visme and a servant. Burr was the one who added their names to the passenger list. The trip took five days, and that was enough time to change everything.

After that, Burr visited Theodosia Prevost and her family in the Hermitage quite frequently and even wrote to his sister Sally about her, saying she had “an honest and affectionate heart.”

After his resignation from the Army in 1779, Burr was a frequent visitor at the Hermitage. Everybody who knew them knew that they were in love.  Burr’s cousin Thaddeus wrote to him: ““I won’t joke you any more about a certain lady.” In 1780, Major Prevost, Theodosia’s husband, who was serving under the British in Jamaica, was gravely injured. He sent home reports that the medical conditions there were poor, and anticipating his own death, he sent his teenaged sons who were with him back to their mother in America.

Theodosia Bartow Prevost Burr’s letters to other members of her family do not seem to have been preserved. But her letters to Aaron Burr show a remarkable ability to discuss philosophical issues as well as matters of the heart. She believed in the methods of education and the morality set forth by Rousseau in La Nouvelle Heloise, and was very much opposed to the advice of Lord Chesterfield to his son, even though Aaron Burr thought it good.

Your opinion of Voltaire pleases me, as it proves your judgment above being biased by the prejudices of others. The English, from national jealousy and enmity to the French, detract him. Divines, with more justice, as he exposes himself to their censure. It is even their duty to contemn his tenets; but, without being his disciple, we may do justice to his merit, and admire him as a judicious, ingenious author.

I will not say the same of your system of education. Rousseau has completed his work. The indulgence you applaud in Chesterfield is the only part of his writings I think reprehensible. Such lessons from so able a pen are dangerous to a young mind, and ought never to be read till the judgment and heart are established in virtue. If Rousseau’s ghost can reach this quarter of the globe, he will certainly haunt you for this scheme–’tis striking at the root of his design, and destroying the main purport of his admirable production. Les foiblesses de l’humanite, is an easy apology; or rather, a license to practise intemperance; and is particularly agreeable and flattering to such practitioners, as it brings the most virtuous on a level with the vicious. But I am fully of opinion that it is a much greater chimera than the world are willing to acknowledge. Virtue, like religion, degenerates to nothing, because it is convenient to neglect her precepts. You have, undoubtedly, a mind superior to the contagion.

When all the world turn envoys, Chesterfield will be their proper guide. Morality and virtue are not necessary qualifications–those only are to be attended to that tend to the public weal. But when parents have no ambitious views, or rather, when they are of the more exalted kind, when they wish to form a happy, respectable member of society–a firm, pleasing support to their declining life, Emilius shall be the model. A man so formed must be approved by his Creator, and more useful to mankind than ten thousand modern beaux.

Later biographers used this particular letter to explore the contrasting attitudes held by Aaron Burr and Theodosia Bartow Prevost Burr toward the subject of educating their daughter, but it is important to remember that at the time this letter was written ( February 12, 1781), they had no children in common. Theodosia was a married woman, and Aaron Burr was her suitor. And the topic of this letter was whether committing adultery is all right. Theodosia, using literary allusions to Jean-JacquesRousseau and Lord Chesterfield, was letting Aaron Burr know that she thought it was not all right. Although her husband had already died, Theodosia did not know this, and she was adamant in her insistence that self-restraint was a better course of action than giving in to passions

There was already much gossip about the couple, even though they had not in fact acted on their love and carried on their courtship mainly through correspondence. In May of 1781 Theodosia wrote to Aaron:

Our being the subject of much inquiry, conjecture, and calumny, is no more than we ought to expect. My attention to you was ever pointed enough to attract the observation of those who visited the house. Your esteem more than compensated for the worst they could say. When I am sensible I can make you and myself happy, I will readily join you to suppress their malice. But, till I am confident of this, I cannot think of our union. Till then I shall take shelter under the roof of my dear mother, where, by joining stock, we shall have sufficient to stem the torrent of adversity.

It was not until December 30, 1781 that Caty De Visme wrote to Burr from The Hermitage: “If you have not seen the York Gazette, the following account will be news to you; We hear from Jamaica that Lieutenant Col. Prevost, Major of the 60th foot, died at that place in October last.’”

They were now free to marry. But the mores of society required a suitable period of mourning. For a widow to marry after less than a year of learning of her husband’s death was scandalous. And yet they had waited so long already.

On July 2, 1782 at the wedding of Cathy De Visme to Joseph Browne, Aaron Burr, Esq., of the State of New York, was married to Theodosia Prevost, widow, of the State of New Jersey. The marriage certificate, however, is dated July 6, 1782. In any event, their daughter Theodosia was not born until June 21, 1783, proving that they had waited patiently. They married when they did not because they had to,  but because they wanted to wait no more. The marriage was to last twelve years, until Theodosia Bartow Prevost Burr’s death on May 18, 1794. Aaron Burr never got over her.


The Letters of Theodosia Prevost Burr from




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by J-Hanna

Are There Any Historic Stay At Home Dads?

June 7, 2013 in general history

Looking back on the recent history of the last thirty years there are no notable stay at home dads, with the exception of prominent celebrities.  When I was in kindergarten  I remember watching the movie Mr. Mom, which poked fun a Jack  (Michael Keaton) trying to fill the role of a stay at home mom Caroline when she needed to go back to work so the family would not starve. Jack blanches when having to buy his wife feminine protection at the supermarket, he does not understand how to properly drop his kids off at school when it is raining, and tries to overcompensate with his wife’s boss by bragging about home repair, even though it is apparent he is not exactly an expert on the subject.  This movie was very indicative of 1980’s attitudes towards stay at home dads when this was still considered an exception to the rule, and a man would only stay at home if he forced to because of a situation like being laid off.

About twenty years later by the year 2006 not much had changed with stay at home dads being portrayed as reluctant participants in movies such as the Little Children, where the character Brad (Patrick Wilson feels trapped by his wive’s restrictive budget, and only comes to life when he decides to have an affair with the neighbor Sarah (Kate Winslet).  Instead of trying to pass the bar, he begins to obsess about skateboarding with the local teens, and you begin to wonder if someone should have ever got married and had kids.  Even movies that portray stay at home dads in a more egalitarian way, such as Daddy Day Care, are primarily situated around the premise that men are a bit clueless when it comes to staying home with the kids at the beginning, or until they realize they have a talent for it.

Traditionally men have men considered the bread winners, whereas women were regarded as the ones who must stay home, and some feel there can be no messing with these “rules”.  Honestly, this just seems like a rigid way of viewing things, especially considering a couple of hundred years ago most people did not live past the age of fifty, and electricity and cell phones would have been things out of science fiction novels.  Times do change, and gender roles sometimes change along with these.  No one is saying that men have to stay at home if they do not want to, but through out the ages there have always been men who prefer to be more domestic, such as transgender men in Tahiti, and women who are inclined to be adventurers, like Annie Oakley and Amelia Earhart.

Whereas some men might be reluctant to stay at home with the kids, and are only doing so because of the economy.  However, there are actually men who probably would have preferred being in years past, but society told them this was wrong.  Whereas some say it is emasculating to force men to take on my traditional female roles, conversely it is also a bit facile to dictate what traditional male and female gender roles must be.  I remember putting together a couple of book cases by myself, and I probably managed this task better than some men in the world.  The truth is there are men prefer reading books to their kids and baking cookies, whereas some wives would rather repair a leaky faucet and and be high power lawyers.  Why do people have to be defined by their traditional gender roles?  We need to give people more latitude to be who they feel most comfortable evolving into.

So are there any historic stay at home dads?  Truthfully, Google brings up sparse results on this subject because we are at transition period in history when some men are finally stepping out and admitting that it is okay if you want to stay at home with the kids.  Many experts praise the notion of having a stay at home parent, and daycare centers have been known to have safety issues, but some still blanch at the idea of stay at home dad.  So whereas we do not have any famous ones per se, but there were a few cases where middle income families in imperial Russia that had something akin to what we consider stay at home dads today, such with the case of Andrei Chikhachev.  He seems to be one few historical persons that would be considered a stay at home dad, but that is probably because we are in a transitory period.

My online research indicated that stay at home dads are on the rise in the western world, and even in more traditional societies such as China and India.  There are many online communities devoted to stay at home dads supporting each other in the US and the UK, and Australia even has a network devoted to men who are strong enough to reveal that they  actually prefer stay at home with the kids.  So we do not have many stay at home dads who are famous through out history, but do we have lots of stay at home moms that people read about in text books for solely doing that?  Let us be honest: the drudgery of house work, helping kids with home work, and making dinner do not exactly make the highlights of historical chronicles.  Nevertheless, these mundane,are exceedingly vital tasks is what makes to world go round.  So there is certainly a dearth when it comes to pointing out historic SAHDs (stay at home dads) beyond notable celebrities, but who knows how people will view this subject fifty years from now.  Perhaps many men will be thankful they can finally do what they have always dreamed of: staying at home with the kids, and finally admitting that they have no problems with their wives being the bread winners.

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by J-Hanna

The Serrano Indians And The Indian Rock Camp

June 6, 2013 in American History, general history, Pacific History

Acorns were a food staple for the Serrano Indians of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Acorns were a food staple for the Serrano Indians of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Today most people do not think much about acorns, except to put these in the category as being beautiful objects to collect nature walks. Crafters might use acorns to create a fall or winter decorations, but how many people actually think about eating acorns?  About three hundred years ago there were no grocery stores in Southern California, and Native American tribes had to hunt and gather all of their food.  Survival depending on rudimentary concerns such as food and shelter, but people still managed to enjoy life.  Actually, the simple life probably had more perks to it over the hectic and chaotic schedules that us modern people live.  Acorns were a staple food for the Serrano Indians of the San Bernardino Mountains, and they even used the caps of the acorns to fashion dice for games they played. However, how does someone go about eating an an acorn?  First off, it has to be cracked open, and then soaked in water because it has a very bitter taste due to the tannic acid in the meat of the acorn .  The Serrano Indians had camps near groups of large acorn trees since these were their main source of food.  The Serranos are known by their Spanish name, which means mountain dwellers, but in their own language they referred to themselves as Yuhaviatam, which means people of the pines.

The Serranos were hunters and gathers who caught small game, but their main source of grains consisted of grinding acorns and pinon nuts.  Acorns were cracked open with rocks, and soaked in water to leech out the bitter taste.  After the bitter tannic acid was drained from the acorn meat, it was ground into a fine acorn meal used to make flat breads.

The place where the Serranos ground their acorns were on large rocks, which are called metates in Spanish. The Indian Rock Camp is located in the San Beranrdino Mountains, and a plaque was dedicated to the Serrano people by the Lake Arrowhead Woman’s Club in 1938.

A sign dedicated to the Indian Rock camp by the Lake Arrowhead Woman's Club.

A sign dedicated to the Indian Rock camp by the Lake Arrowhead Woman’s Club.

Below is a video showcasing the photography of the Indian Rock camp where the Serranos used to grind acorns. Unfortunately, there is most certainly a dearth of printed or online information on the Serrano Indians, but perhaps someone will publish a book with more research and information in the near future to fill some of the gaps.



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