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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Daughter of a vice president : the double life of Louisa Burr Maillard, Mary Jane Ward


There is no documentary evidence that Louisa Burr (c.1784-1878) and her better-known brother John Pierre Burr (1792-1864) are the biracial children of U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr. The oral history of their parentage, however, is persuasive and consistent over a period of 230 years. Descendants have continued to tell their children and grandchildren of their descent from Aaron Burr through as many as eight generations. Drawing on archival research, fiction, memoir, biography, news clippings, and naming practices, as valid evidence that supports oral history and situates it within the context of historical events that had the effect of silencing, I will recover the biography of one woman of color and pose research questions for the ongoing search for her mother. Louisa Burr’s various Philadelphia house addresses throughout her life, the social connections among Aaron Burr and his associates in 1790s Philadelphia, and the political activities of Louisa Burr’s family and friends in the first half of the nineteenth century, all provide circumstantial evidence that supplements the oral family history and demonstrates that Aaron Burr’s family of color not only participated in the growth of the Early Republic but made significant contributions to early African American activism, culture, and literature. The complex portrait of Louisa Burr that emerges is one of a biracial Northern woman who lived simultaneously—and apparently harmoniously—in both abolitionist and Southern-sympathizing households. Louisa Burr’s double life, bound by conflicting loyalties, gave her a rare ground-view perspective of the sectional crisis—a perspective that we can only now appreciate through the traces of refracted light emanating from her family and friends.

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