Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pelham Manor Romance: A Tale of Aaron Burr and His Love, Theodosia Bartow Prevost of the Manor of Pelham

Aaron Burr, who served as Vice President during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and who fought a duel with, and mortally wounded, Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804, spent time in Pelham, bought a farm there which he promptly sold to his step-son Augustine J. F. Prevost, and married Theodosia Bartow Prevost, a widow born in Pelham Manor who was ten years his senior.

Portrait of Aaron Burr, 1802, by John Vanderlyn.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

In 1931, Elizabeth Cushman published an entertaining article about Aaron Burr's tremendous love for Theodosia Bartow Prevost who was born in the Manor of Pelham and whom Burr married on July 2, 1782.  The article discussed Burr's purchase of "The Shrubbery" and his practice of law in Westchester County.  The text of the article is transcribed below, followed by a citation and a link to its source.

"Aaron Burr, The Great Lover, Used Barge To Reach Only Woman He Ever Cared For
As a Youth He Had a Great Collection of Billet - Doux

(Editor's Note:  Westchester County is rich in Revolutionary history -- far richer than we are likely to think as we go about our daily tasks or our social life.  To study histories of the great days when the nation's existence was at stake is to discover interesting and important thing[s] about Westchester.  Aaron Burr's part in the life of early Westchester was interesting.  Whatever our sentiments about his actions which caused his conviction for treason, we must remember him as one who spent much of his time here.)


There was no moon that night. 

The darkness made an excellent ally for the young man who, muffled in a long cloak that hid his soldier's uniform, led his horse carefully down the rutty road now known as Sunnyside Lane, Irvington, and, when he had reached the water's edge, paused to give a long low whistle.  Immediately dark figures arose from the bushes around.  They seized and tied his horse and carried the animal aboard a barge that floated nearby.  The soldier followed them and without a single word having been spoken, the barge pushed off and headed for the Jersey shore.  In the prow the soldier, forgetful now of his uniform, of his rank as Lieutenant Colonel in the American Army, of his command of the American lines in Westchester from Tarrytown to the Byram River, impatiently awaited the arrival at his destination.  He was a soldier no longer; he was a lover now, set out on a midnight wooing.

To the average American, this soldier of long ago is known in one capacity only -- as the slayer of Alexander Hamilton; but to you and to me, who live in Westchester, he is or he should be the brave and gallant figure in Westchester's most glamorous revolutionary romance -- who ferried the Hudson at night, as often as he could to pay his court to a lady who lived in the Ramapo Hills but who was llied with Westchester far more than the young Colonel who sought her for his wife.


This was not only Westchester's most glamorous revolutionary romance but one of the strangest stories written in the love-ife of an outstanding American.

Aaron Burr, destined to become Vice President of the United States, to be tried for treason, to dream of a Mexican empire with himself seated on the throne, was, at the time of his war-time wooing only 22 years old.  He had proven himself a brave and intrepid soldier at the storming of Quebec; he had fretted as a member of Washington's official family in the Greenwich Village quarters then established in the Mortier house which later would be Burr's own famous home; he had served under General Israel Putnam and had been mentioned frequently in official circles for his 'coolness, deliberation and valor.'  He was the youngest man in the army to hold the rank of lieutenant colonel.

They called him 'The Little Colonel,' and the name rankled in the heart of this fiery grandson of a fiery grandfather -- for his grandfather had been the eminent New England divine, Jonathan Edwards, preacher  of hell-fire and damnation.  His father, too, was a minister, and the president of the Young College in New Jersey known as 'Prince Town.'  For six generations, the ancestors of Aaron Burr had been clergymen, his own father was the author of religious books that became so popular that he was a 'best seller' in his day.  The ancestry of 'The Little Colonel' was impeccable, quite different from that of the gentleman he was to slay one day on the field of honor, the gentleman from Nevis.

That Was to Come

The duel, however, was far ahead, the intellectual and religious exploits of his progenitors far behind, those nights when Aaron Burr crossed the Hudson River to woo Theodosia Prevost.

He could have married any girl in the colonies.  His gallantry with the ladies had passed the point of fame and approached that of notoriety.  He was handsome and fascinating, suave and cultured.  

He had, at 20, a collection of letters from women that could have disrupted many of the proudest homes in the country.  He still had the collection, greatly augmented, when he died at 80.

What sort of woman was it, then, whom he had set his heart on marrying, for whom he'd ride from the Hammond House, where he had his headquarters, to the river, cross the river, ride ten miles to her house, and make the return trip before daybreak?

A Widow, Cultured

She was a widow 10 years his senior.  She was the mother of five children, a delicate ailing woman with a deep scar on her forehead and a scanty fortune in her purse.  She was a little faded, a little worn, when Aaron Burr came a wooing. . . . But she could speak several languages, she read Voltaire, Rousseau, Chesterfield.  In 'The Hermitage,' her house at Paramus, New Jersey, she had a fine collection of books; she was cultured, intelligent, with gentle manners and gracious ways; it was this combination of qualities that won and kept the love of Aaron Burr, philanderer as he was, during the rest of her life.  But it is not these things, especially, that interest us of Westchester.

It is the fact that this woman whom Aaron Burr loved so faithfully and so long was a Bartow of Pelham Manor.

Her father, Theodosius Bartow, died shortly before she was born.  Her grandfather had been John Bartow, rector of St. Paul's in Eastchester and had founded St. Peter's Church in Westchester.  Her uncle, Theophilus, had married Bathsheba Pell.  Another generation of the Pell-Bartow family would build the Bartow mansion still standing on Pelham Road, just as previous generations of the Pells had held the lordship of the Manor of Pelham.

British Husbands

Theodosius Bartow's mother married twice, her second husband being Philip De Vismes.  Theeodosia herself had a British army officer, Colonel Jacques Marc Prevost, for her first husband, and for her brother-in-law, general Augustine Prevost, commander of British forces in South Carolina.  

Her first husband died in the West Indies, on duty, in 1777.  She married Aaron Burr on July 2, 1782, either in Albany or in Paramus, the ceremony being performed by the Rev. Benjamin Van Der Linde, pastor of the Reformed Dutch Church of Paramus.  It was a wedding as curious as the wooing.  The bridegroom, a great dandy in his day, ame, for some reason, in his oldest coat and paid the minister his last coin -- a half joe -- for a fee.  The bride was gowned 'in suitable gauze.'  They went to live in Albany where, the next year, the ill-fated child, Theodosia, destined to be a beautiful woman and one of American history's most fascinating mysteries, was born.  Eventually they came to New York.  

His Estate

On February 6, 1790, Aaron Burr bought an estate in Westchester.  

It comprised 155 acres of land lying near the Eastchester Creek and bound by property owned by the Pells.  This, too, had been Pell property, for though Burr paid 800 pounds for it to Nicholas Wright of Pelham Manor and William Wright of Oyster Bay, it had been the estate of Joshua Pell and from him had descended to his son, Joshua, Jr.  The first Joshua was the son of Thomas, third lord of the manor, and of his Indian wife, Anna, daughter of Wampage.)

A month after Burr bought the property he turned it over to his step-son, Augustine James Frederick Prevost, 'in consideration of the love and affection which he (Burr) bears Augustine. . . '  And for the sum of ten shillings.  This was on March 1, 1790.  The property remained in the Prevost family until 1898, when on October 6, Adelaide S. Prevost, widow of George A., deeded it over to the Pelham Summer home for Children.


At the time of Burr's purchase a fine mansion, called 'The Shrubbery,' stood on the property.  It was only about thirty years old then, having been built around 1760; its entrance stood just north of Split Rock.  This was one of the best farms in the county, especially renowned for its apple orchard.  During the Revolution, a few years previous, Colonel Leommi Baldwin, commanding one of the regiments which took part in the Battle of Pelham, noted the orchard.  When the war was over, he obtained some of the trees, took them to his home at Woburn, Mass., where he was a noted horticulturist, and proceeded to develop the Baldwin apple.

Colonel Burr's stepson -- of whom he was as fond as of his own children -- lived in 'The Shrubbery,' and here the Colonel, no longer a military figure but one of America's most famous lawyers, came with his wife for the Summers.  He had become Attorney General; he was to become, in 1791, a United States Senator, after a bitter campaign, in which he defeated General Philip Schuyler, and added fuel to the fierce hatred smouldering between him and Alexander Hamilton, for Schuyler was Hamilton's father-in-law.  Burr sat also in the New York Assembly.

Church Has His Paper

It is quite possible that it was during his visits to Augustine Prevost's home he appeared in legal cases in the old Eastchester church where there is still cherished a legal document signed with Burr's name.  Burr lived at this time in Richmond Hill, the Greenwich Village estate then far out in the country but on property now bounded by King, Varick, Charleston and McDougal Streets.

Little Theodosia Burr must have played, those Summers of long ago, on the lawns near Split Rock Road.  (She was the only one of her father's four legitimate children to survive.  Two boys were stillborn and a little sister, Sally, died in babyhood.  Theodosia herself, the wife of John Alston, Governor of South Carolina, was lost at sea.)

All Burr's life, from the age of 22, was colored by the love he bore Theodosia Bartow Prevost.  The story of this romance and of the prior and subsequent philanderings of this gallant -- whose last word addressed, possibly, to a shadowy Theodosia who beckoned him onward from some spirit-land, was 'Madame!' -- is told in a new romantic biography, 'Aaron Burr,' written by Johnston D. Kerkhoff and published by Greenberg.  It tells of course of his unhappy second marriage, contracted in his old age, with Madame Jumel.

The Lover

No woman ever meant to Burr what Theodosia had meant.  The story of his courtship is memorialized in a little known poem by E. C. Steadman, called 'Aaron Burr's Wooing':

From the Commandants quarters on Westchester height
The blue hills of Ramapo lie in full sight;
On their slope gleam the gables that shield his heart's queen, 
But the Red-Coats are wary -- the Hudson's between.
Through the camp runs a jest,
'There's no moon; 'twill be dark;
'Tis odds little Aaron will go on a spark.' 
And the toast of the trooper is:  'Pickets, lie low!'"

Source:  Cushman, Elizabeth, Aaron Burr, The Great Lover, Used Barge To Reach Only Woman He Ever Cared For, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Jul. 31, 1931, p. 12, cols. 1-3.  

*          *          *          *          *

I have written about Aaron Burr, Theodosia Bartow Prevost Burr, Augustine J. Frederick Prevost and The Shrubbery on a number of occasions.  For examples of such earlier postings, see the following:

Thu., Apr. 23, 2015:  Augustine James Frederick Prevost of The Shrubbery in Pelham Manor.

Tue., Sep. 30, 2014:  Pelham Resident Recorded His Impressions of Meeting Aaron Burr.

Fri., Feb. 7, 2014:  Early History of The Pelham Home for Children, an Early Pelham Charity (Notes that The Pelham Home for Children first occupied the Shrubbery before the building burned in the 1890s).

Wed., Aug. 1, 2007:  1805 Real Estate Advertisement Offering Prevost Estate in Pelham for Sale.

Mon., Jun. 4, 2007:  Abstract of 1797 Will of John Bartow, Sr. Who Owned Land in Pelham and Whose Family Became Early Pelham Residents.

Wed., Jan. 31, 2007:  A Large Distillery Once Stood on the Prevost Farm in Pelham During the 1790s.

Tue., Jul. 18, 2006: Aaron Burr Tries to Pull a Fast One in the 1790s and Must Sell His Farm in Pelham.

Wed., Jun. 14, 2006: Text of Deed by Which Aaron Burr Acquired Pelham Lands in 1790

Thu., Apr. 14, 2005: The Pelham Home for Children that Once Stood on Split Rock Road

Mon., Oct. 2, 2006: The Revolutionary War Diary of Loyalist Joshua Pell, Jr. of the Manor of Pelham.

"The Shrubbery," a Home That Once Belonged to Aaron Burr
and, Later, His Stepson, Augustine James Frederick Prevost
and Stood Along Today's Split Rock Road in Pelham Manor.
Source:  Courtesy of The Office of The Historian of the Town of Pelham.

Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."  

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