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A Ghost Story for Halloween: Whatever Happened to the Governor’s Wife

Every region has its Halloween traditions and ghost stories and the Carolinas are no exception.

 

One famous story is that of the portrait of Theodosia Burr. Theodosia Burr was the wife of South Carolina Governor Joseph Alston and the daughter of Aaron Burr. On December 31, 1812, still distraught after the death on her only child in June from malaria, she left her husband’s plantation and sailed north on the schooner The Patriot to visit her beloved father in New York City. In early January, the vessel was accosted off Cape Hatteras by ships of Great Britain, then at war with the United States, but was permitted to proceed on its journey. The Patriot was never seen again nor, with any certainty, was Theodosia. Legend has it though that Theodosia survived the ship’s sinking – either from a storm, by the British, or by pirates depending on which legend you prefer – and was cast ashore in a small boat onto the Outer Banks, bereft of all possessions except a portrait of herself, and that, with her sanity completely gone, she was thereafter cared for by a Banker fisherman and (possibly) his wife.

 

Time passed and in 1869 Dr. William Poole was called to a fisherman’s cottage to attend a strange old woman who may or may not have been the fisherman’s wife. He did what he could, but it was clear that she had not long to live. As he was leaving the sick room, the poor fisherman offered the doctor a fine oil portrait of a young woman in payment. When asked how he had come by the portrait the fisherman told of a young woman who had washed ashore with only the portrait in her possession and that she would not part with it. Eventually she returned to health and settled down in the village becoming the fisherman’s wife.

 

When Dr. Poole replied that he would accept the portrait as payment, the afflicted old woman sprang from her bed. “It is mine! You shall not have it! I am on my way to visit my father in New York, and I am taking this picture of his darling Theodosia!” With that, she grabbed the canvas, rushed through the door, ran into the ocean never to be seen again. The next day, the portrait washed up on the beach. Today the portrait is known as the Nag’s Head Portrait of Theodosia Burr and hangs in the Lewis Walpole Library in Farmington, Connecticut. The story of the portrait was featured on the Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum in November 2017, the episode is available on YouTube.

 

Sources:

History Channel Famous Ghosts in American History

North Carolina Ghosts

The Charlotte Observer

The Travel Channel

 

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