Maritime History & Mystery: Theodosia Burr




The water’s off of the Outer Banks are filled with history and mystery. One of the greatest unsolved mysteries is that of disappearance of Theodosia Burr.

In 1812 the wife of the South Carolina governor, Theodosia Burr, set sail from South Carolina to New York aboard the ship Patriot. Along the way the ship was blown off course by a strong gale, forcing the ship into the treacherous waters off of the North Carolina coast. The Patriot and members on board were never seen or heard from again.

Many theories have swirled about over the years, suggesting pirates as the demise of the Patriot and its crew. One noted theory is the confession of the pirate Dominique Youx who claimed to have captured the Patriot after discovering it dismasted off of Cape Hatteras following a storm. Youx and his crew murdered the crew, sending the female passenger to walk the plank.

Another interesting confession comes from that of “Old Frank” Burdick, a pirate who was part of Youx’s crew. On his deathbed he confessed to being part of the capture of the Patriot. Old Frank reports that he had held the plank while a woman in a white dress walked it, later plunging to her death. During the pillaging of the ship, Old Frank and company noticed an oil painting of a woman wearing a white dress in the main cabin, assumed to be that of Theodosia. Old Frank stated the painting and women’s clothing found in the cabin were left untouched.  

Years later in 1869, the painting resurfaced with a local doctor who claimed to have received it as payment from a patient for medical services. When questioned about the origin of the painting, the patient stated her in-laws were “wreckers” and found the painting aboard an abandoned ship after a winter’s gale with no crew on board. The doctor, convinced it was that of Theodosia Burr, contacted her relatives only to have them state that while the painting could be that of Theodosia, none of them had actually seen/met her and were unable to confirm the identity of the women in the painting. 

What truly become of the Theodosia Burr and the crew of the Patriot? Did they meet their demise by Youx and his pirate crew? Or was the Patriot yet another victim of the treacherous waters of Graveyard of the Atlantic?

To this day, people claim to see a shadowy figure of a woman in a white dress roaming the beaches near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Many believe it is the ghost of Theodosia Burr forever searching for her way home.  

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