Something I have long known is that history is filled with the greatest stories. Stories that I collect and keep in filing cabinets in my brain only to be removed every once in awhile, looked at and then re-stored. I decided it was about time to share some of these stories and if my blog isn’t the perfect place to do so then I don’t know what is.
In the spirit of the month I decided to kick it off with the tale of the Female Stranger.
Though accounts have differed over the years the best version of this story goes as thus: In 1816 in the town of Alexandria, Virginia a ship was diverted up the Potomac to drop off a sick passenger, a woman cloaked in veils accompanied by a man thought to be her husband. She was brought to Gadsby’s Tavern where a room was procured. A doctor and several females attended her until his death, at which point they were sworn to secrecy as to her identity. The promise was kept.
The Female Stranger was buried in St Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in Alexandria in an elaborate grave. Her funeral was attended by only her male companion. The inscription reads:
“To the memory of a Female Stranger
Whose mortal suffering terminated on the 4th day of October,1816 Aged 23 years, and 8 months
“This stone is erected by her discon- solate husband in whose arms she sighed out her latest breath, and who under God did his utmost to soothe the cold dull hour of death.
“How loved, how honor’d once avails the not, To whom related or by whom begot, A heap of dust remains of thee
‘Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be.”
Her husband left immediately after the funeral and left behind him almost two hundred years of speculation. In some reports it was found the bank notes used to pay for the Tavern and grave were counterfeit.
Of course, this sort of bizarre story has posed a lot of questions over the years.
Some reports describe the woman as being a young foreign woman with tears in her eyes, while others claim her face was never seen. Another account states she was Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of Aaron Burr (U.S. Vice President under Thomas Jefferson though frequently remembered for his duel with Alexander Hamilton which resulted in Hamilton’s fatal wounding), who was lost at sea. Though most agree that the dates don’t quite match up. Speculation has included everything from Napoleon Bonaparte in drag to a captured European princess and pirates.
Another theory, relying heavily on detail of the counterfeit money, is that the whole thing was simply a ruse for publicity or an elaborate con and that the grave remains empty.
And like any good tale the yarn has been spun so many times that it’s hard to wade through all the knots. Accounts arose all through the 1800s until 1913 when the most detailed account (which is the bulk of what I shared above) emerged in the Ladies’ Home Journal, nearly a hundred years after the events took place.
Whatever the answer to this two century old mystery the grave has not been changed in all that time. Perhaps someday it might be decided to exhume the remains (if there indeed are any) and test the DNA. But, that hasn’t happened yet. But DNA only goes so far and the chances of every learning the whole truth about this puzzling occasion are very remote.
For me, this story is too good to ruin with even the chance of truth.