The Secret Wife of Aaron Burr

Written by Susan Holloway Scott
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

Scott (I, Eliza Hamilton), has taken on a difficult task here in imaginatively illuminating the life of a woman hidden in history: Mary Emmons, the longtime family slave then freed mistress of Aaron Burr. Her life starts in her native India, as the outcast daughter of rape by an English soldier, and goes through horrific trials and masters before she’s bought and brought to America by Theodosia Burr’s first husband. In that New Jersey household, Mary finds love with a free Revolutionary War soldier who tries to buy her freedom before he dies in battle. Quick-witted, practical, and accomplished, Mary becomes a neighborhood sage while still in her twenties. Aaron Burr sets his sights on her even while he’s wooing Theodosia. Their complex, unequal relationship grows over the years and through Theodosia’s childbearing, death, and the birth of Mary’s own two children by Burr. Through all, her dream of freedom for herself and her family never dies.

There are heartbreaking scenes of being invisible while Theodosia is praised for Mary’s abilities in languages, cooking, and managing her mistress’s household. Burr calls her both “friend” and “temptress” as he’s raping her. The specter of being separated from her children hangs over her even after she is freed. Modern echoes of political discord leap off the page as Burr and the new American government grow increasingly unstable. Impressive research, details, and an unforgettable cast of characters led by a woman of courage and spirit spark a story infused with heart. Highly recommended.