In the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church cemetery in Alexandria is one of the most famous graves in the area. The inscription on the tombstone bears no name, no hint to who may have been buried underneath. It is not that the name has been erased from centuries of wind and rain. It just never existed. Instead, the table-top tombstone is dedicated to the memory of a “Female Stranger”, an unknown woman who has become the subject of local legends and tales in Alexandria.
As the story goes, in 1816, a young couple arrived at the port of Alexandria and went to Gadsby’s Tavern. The woman was very ill and so her male companion, presumed to be her husband, sought the local doctor to tend to her but it was clear that she would not make it. At this point, the story takes an interesting turn where the man is reported to have asked the doctor, nurse, and Mr. Gadsby to swear an oath that they will never reveal the man or the woman’s identity. When the woman died, she was buried at St. Paul’s cemetery and her grave was marked with an extravagant tabletop bearing this mysterious yet tragic inscription:
“To the memory of a female stranger whose mortal sufferings terminated on the 14th day of October 1816. Aged 23 years and 8 months. This stone is placed here by her disconsolate Husband in whose arms she sighed out her latest breath, and who under God did his utmost even to soothe the cold dead ear of death.”
The cost of the tombstone, inscription, and burial was pricey and is estimated to have been around $1500. The husband paid for it in English currency and left town immediately after the burial. Later on, it was discovered that the money he had used was counterfeit.
Over the years, the story of the mysterious female stranger and her companion has become an intrinsic part of Alexandria’s narrative with the accounts changing each time. There are even some speculations that the woman may have been Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of Aaron Burr who was lost at sea. Her grave is a famous landmark and the reported location of her death, Room 8 at Gadsby’s Tavern, is also a tourist destination, and supposedly her ghostly visage can be seen standing at the window.
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