Reader’s call, found notebook revive historical novel efforts

By Janice R. Edwards

The Bulletin


Recently, I got a note from one of the Bulletin’s readers in Alvin, Gerry McKee, who wanted to talk about my story about the Blarney Stone.


He also wanted to tell me there was another piece of that stone on the Texas Tech campus.

We talked about the Blarney Stone, research, writing, and writers, including J. Frank Dobie, the famous western writer. McKee exhibited the tell-tale signs of becoming a writer.


Since we had been talking about J. Frank Dobie, I mentioned to him that Dobie had been married to a Brazoria County woman from Velasco named Bertha McKee and wondered if they were related. He didn’t know but thought it would be interesting to check out.


I hope he does and that they are related. It would make a good personal discovery story for him to write. I’m glad we had that little talk because he stirred my idea for a novel that has been on the back burner in my mind for some time.


And what a coincidence. While moving furniture around while we were getting our house painted and a new floor, I found three notebooks full of research I had done for this topic for a novel. I read part of one of my research books.


Thank you, Mr. McKee for your call.


The story that jogged my memory is based on a local legend, Theodosia Burr Alston, the only legitimate daughter of Aaron Burr.


Burr was the third vice-president of the United States, and at the end of his term in 1805, he left the northeast for the western frontier, eventually reaching the Louisiana Purchase region.


Theodosia died in 1816 in the arms of an English-speaking Karankawa Indian Chief in the mouth of the San Bernard River after the pirate ship she was on was destroyed in a hurricane.


It’s kind of a weird premise for a story. Some people think it’s just a legend. Personally, though, I think the story is true. There is enough history to back up points of the story that makes it unlikely to be a figment of someone’s imagination.


The crux of the story is that Aaron Burr (in conspiracy with almost everybody famous at this filibustering period of Texas History) was involved in an alleged military plot with Britain to separate the Louisiana Territory from the American union.


Parts of the Burr conspiracy involved General James Wilkinson, who was also trying to take Texas for his own; he was Jane Long’s “uncle” and instigator of the Long expedition into Texas. It also involved explorer and public administrator Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark fame), lawyer and Virginia plantation owner Harman Blennerhassett, letters in code and a clandestine fort on the Ohio River.


General Wilkinson got cold feet and turned in the balance of the conspirators to the United States on treason charges. Most of the conspirators beat the charges, but not before all their funds were exhausted.


They were ruined. Burr fled to France to get support from Napoleon or other sources. Finding no financial support for his project there, Burr returned to New York in shame, using his mother’s maiden name, Edwards, so that he could practice law.


Theodosia stayed in the U.S. with her husband, the Governor of South Carolina. But in 1812, Theodosia’s son died, and she left South Carolina to see her father in New York on Christmas Day, taking “the Patriot”, which had been refitted shortly before the voyage from being a pirate boat. The Patriot did not make it to New York, and Theodosia was lost at sea.


Meanwhile, Lafitte was still owed money for his part of the conspiracy, and pirates were in the area. Some believe Theodosia died at sea, but some believe that the pirate ship picked her up and was holding her for ransom.


So, could Theodosia have really died in the arms of an English-speaking Karankawa Indian Chief in the mouth of the San Bernard River? Well, let’s look at some folklore:


- There was an English-speaking Karankawa Chief who wore a locket with a small lady and her child around his neck. Austin’s colonists used him as an interpreter.


- There was a hurricane in 1816. Pirate Lafitte was in the area at that time and often used the San Bernard to hide his treasure.


- Theodosia’s body was never found on the Atlantic coast.


Another interesting part of this legend is that Aaron Burr was told on his death bed that Texas had won its independence. He said, “See, I told you. I was just 20 years too early."


(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. )Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)