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The 200 Year-Old Mystery of the Grave of the Female Stranger

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posted on Nov, 14 2016 @ 10:46 PM

It was late September in the year 1816 when the couple walked through the doors of the City Hotel, known today as Gadsby's Tavern, in what is now the Old Town section of Alexandria, Virginia. The couple gave the appearance of being well-heeled. Some say that the gentleman, who may have spoken with a British accent, was handsome and that his purported wife was young, refined and beautiful — or perhap as others describe her, never actually seen without a heavy veil — but in all accounts, gravely ill... or soon to be.

It's also said that they'd arrived by ship, their journey cut short by the young woman's rapidly declining health. In some accounts, the ship is identified as a brig named Four Sons which was either sailing from Halifax to the West Indies or perhaps returning from the West Indies. Or maybe it was some other ship on some other route or there was no ship at all. In certain variations, the ship, assuming there was one, docked and the couple disembarked, hiring a carriage to deliver them to the hotel. In others, the ship diverted into the Potomac and the couple was lowered down and rowed to shore in a life boat.

What nearly every account agrees on is that the couple booked lodging at the hotel and it's most popularly believed that they were given room #8. Furthermore, that shortly afterward a doctor was summoned who may have been attended by two nurses. The woman's health did not improve and in a period that is typically believed to be about three weeks, on the 14th of October, she succumbed to her illness which may have been typhoid fever.

Many of the retellings include a scene where the physician, nurses and in some, the innkeeper himself, are sworn to secrecy. The man then made arrangements for the woman's burial, commissioning an elaborate stone table marker for her grave. A few sources have it that the man borrowed the money for the cost of the woman's plot, burial and marker from a local businessman. Still fewer say that he sealed her in the coffin himself which is almost certainly an embellishment intended to bolster certain of the identifications of the deceased woman and her companion/presumed husband.

It's often said that the man was the only person in attendance at her funeral, assuming he hadn't left town shortly before as others relate. Some of the earliest published accounts claim that the man in fact skipped town, owing money and that he'd paid their expenses with counterfeit bank notes. One in particular, claims that one of the men swindled, Lawrence Hill, caught up with the man some years later on a visit to Sing Sing (which opened in 1826) and that his surname was Clermont.

While the the details have grown confused with passing decades of embellishment, one thing is certain; in St. Paul's Episcopal Church Cemetery, perched upon six legs is a slab bearing a very curious inscription that resolves little but the woman's likely age and relationship to the man and has insured that the mystery of the woman's identity would continue to intrigue mind's more than 200 years later.

To the Memory of a
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.
How loved how valued once avails thee not
To whom related or by whom begot
A heap of dust alone remains of thee
Tis all thou art and all the proud shall be
To him gave all the Prophets witness that
through his name whosoever believeth in
him shall receive remission of sins.
Acts.10th Chap.43rd verse

The last part come (with slight errors) from Alexander Pope's Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady

I don't have any pet theory of my own but I'll share a couple of retellings of the story and mention a few of the more popular theories. The earliest published account I can find a reference to comes from 1836. It was written by Susan Rigby Dallam Morgan who wrote a column under the pen name "Lucy Seymour" in The Philadelphia Saturday Courier. She'd apparently visited the woman's grave some time before May of 1883 when she wrote a poem about the visit for the Alexandria Gazette which was published in March of 1834. From what I gather, the grave was already a well known curiosity in the Alexandria area and it was Morgan's piece that brought it to the attention of the nation.
edit on 2016-11-14 by theantediluvian because: (no reason given)

posted on Nov, 14 2016 @ 10:46 PM
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a reproduction of the account or the an image of the newspaper page. There is something of a summary and details of a later published account on Wikipedia:

In Seymour's account, the Stranger had been a young, foreign woman with a tearful face and a pale complexion. The woman also seemed ill and troubled. The Stranger's male companion appeared inauthentic to the locals as her husband. True to form, the man quickly left after the Stranger was buried. The only person that the Stranger confided in was a local pastor.

Seymour's sources are not explicitly named. She implies that she took interest in the cemetery first and then began to ask questions about the interesting gravesite. This pattern of discovery closely mirrors her earlier poem. Furthermore, Seymour speculates that the tombstone inscription was written in a manner “strangely calculated to awaken interest and elicit sympathy.”

In September 1848, the Alexandria Gazette published a response to an article about the Female Stranger written in the Baltimore Sun. The Alexandria Gazette writer states that the woman who arrived was indeed a beautiful woman of a pale complexion and further elaborates on her grace and the admiration of those around her. The author adds that the man's surname was “Clermont," and that after his sudden departure, it was revealed that the $1500 in English currency he had used to pay his bills was counterfeit. Lawrence Hill, one of the men to whom the money was owed, purportedly confronted Clermont sometime later at Sing Sing prison.[3]

Lawrence Hill was indeed a businessman living in Alexandria at the time. He sold his house in Alexandria in 1830, and moved to New York. He died of cholera in New York in the spring of 1849.[4]

I was however able to track down images from two pieces in the Alexandria Gazette that I haven't seen transcribed anywhere else. I'll do so here.

Alexandria Gazette, July 20, 1866, p.2

A reminiscence—Female Stranger, &c.

About the year 1818 a gentleman and lady put up at the old City Hotel, then kept by the late Jesse Brown. It is not remembered what name the gentleman passed by, and it was not the fashion, here at least, in those days, to keep a register. The gentleman was polished and polite; the lady was young and handsome. She was taken ill, and died after a short illness, after the kind attentions bestowed by some ladies, and especially one, Mr.s S., who was benovolence personified, and has, some years since, gone to her reward. A fine tomb was erected to the memory of "Female Stranger," over her grave, in the grave-yard of St. Paul's congregation, in the lot at the south-west corner of the intersection of the main crossroads. On the stone may still be read Pope's epitaph on an unfortunate lady—

"How loved, how honored once avails thee not, To whom related or by whome begot; A heap of dust alone remains of thee, 'Tis all thou art and all the proud shall be."

—But not withstanding the fine sentiment of his chosen epitaph, the gentleman was a cheat and a swindler. He drew a sterling bill of exchange to defray the expense incurred, which bill was cashed by an old firm here — Lindsay & Hill — The bill was returned protested. Some years afterwards Mr. Hill chanced to go into the New York State prison, and there, among the convicts, he saw the fine gentleman of the "tomb." The keeper allowed Mr. H. to speak to him.

"Mr. ------," said Hill, "the bill you sold us was protested." "Is it possible," said the chevalier, "then I will give you another."

As Mr. Hill did not expect a convict's bill to be honored, he left. The above facts are substantially true, as some of our fellow-citizens may remember.


Immediately below that was printed what appears to be a response:

The substance of the above has been published in town papers, occasionally, for twenty years past. We should be glad to see the proof upon which is is based. Bring up Mr. Hill and let him testify.


edit on 2016-11-14 by theantediluvian because: (no reason given)

posted on Nov, 14 2016 @ 10:47 PM
Alexandria Gazette, May 27, 1893, p.1

The Female Stranger. A special correspondent of the Philadelphia Press writing from Kansas City, MO.

Many years ago a citizen of Alexandria, in a weird but clever and interesting little book, published under the title of "Narrative of John Trust," gave to the world what purported to be the history of this "Female Stranger," and therein described her as "stately, yet graceful; her queenly form rose from the undulation which acknowledged my greeting. She seemed, indeed, the mold of form, the union of elegance and grace before undreamed of. Her eye, a diamond when she listened, flashed like a sword when she spoke. A Grecian nose, perfectly feminine in the softness of its outline, relieved the masculine swelling of the upper lip and made womanly the entire contour of her face. Her hair lay in its raven brilliancy as if it had been chisled upon her noble forehead. On such features repose wore an air of command and emotion took stateliness."

He describes her coming to Alexanderia at a time when the seeds of death daily brough her nearer the sleep eternal, and says "the ladies of the hospitable town were kind to her; they never asked her name or that of her family, for, said one of them, 'she is a stranger and sick—two letters of introduction from heaven.'"

That sounds so like the famous hospitality of Old Virginia that one wishes this narrative were true, and regrets, with a sigh, that is only a fancy sketch, in which the vivid imagination of the author converts the molehill of fact into the mountain of entertaining fiction.

The known facts relationg to the "Female Stranger" are but few and simple. At the close of the war I visited a great aunt of mine who was born, reared and lived at Alexandria, and was recognized society leader there in the good old days when all the balls and receptions of the National Capital were given in the then famous and fashionable city. She had seen the "strangers" and, perhaps, knew more of them than anyone living. One day, nearly thirty years ago, upon my return from the old cemetery, I took from the lips of this clear headed, venerable lady the following:

"In the early autumn of 1816, when this city was the best part of the District of Columbia, a gentleman and lady, supposed to be husband and wife, arrived at Alexandria and took a suite of rooms at the City Hotel, then our principal inn. I remember them well. The gentleman was traveled, scholarly, cultured; seemed possessed of ample fortune, and aside from an occasional hour with other gentlemen of elegant leisure, spent all his time with his wife.

The lady was tall and graceful, accomplished in music and literature, dressed with exquisite taste, had most beautiful hands and feet, a voice of marvelous richness and tenderness and conversed as one who under the world, its history, literature, philosophy, music, poetry and religion. Occasionally they appeared together on the streets, at church, and in their long evening walks.

Neither ever told their names or whence they came or why, nor do I remember that any questions were aasked, exclusive and aristocratic as our people then were. People were not so meddlesome or so curious as now, and while we really knew nothing of them, yey they were so kind and good, so gentle and refined that I think we all loved them. To us they were known simply as "the strangers." The lady always took her meals in her rooms, which in that day excited no comment here, yet there was one, and only one thing mysterious in her conduct — on all occasions she was heavily veiled; no citizen of Alexandria ever saw her face.

After some weeks the lady was taken sick. From the fact that the most eminent physicians of Alexandria and Richmond were called to see her we knew she must be dangerously ill. No one had vouched for her; she was not a native of the Old Dominion, but she was a stranger and she was sick. At that time I was about 28. You will know how to pardon the appararent vanity of an old lady of near four score, when I tell you that I then occupied a prominent social position, and at my suggestion several ladies of the old families went with me to the hotel, where we tendered our services and offered to do all in our power to releive and comfort her. We were assured both by the husband and attending physicians that nothing could be done, that all she needed was quiet and rest, but that night more than one prayer went up for the sweet voiced, veiled stranger. Well, I never knew just what her disease was, but in a few days she died and was quietly laid at rest out here in the old cemetery.

The husband left Alexandria a few days after her burial, without telling any on where he was going, and was never seen there afterward.

I think it was in the summer of 1817 that the flat marble slab bearing the strange inscription was put up over her grave in the night time, and if any one here ever knew by whom it was done the public never found it out.

Within a few weeks after this the landlord, in whose hootel the 'strangers' had been guests, received from some foreign country, just where he never told, a letter containing a draft for a good sum of money with specific instructions as to how a sufficient amount of the money should expended in erecting around the grave a brick wall, surmounted by a copestone, and that upon the stone should be erected an iron railing so high that no one could get into the enclosure. The money was expended as directed, and the top of the iron railing was about nine feet from the ground. Afterward, regularly every year until about 1835, money was received from the same source and spent in keeping the grave and enclosure in perfect condition. The remittances then ceased; the gentleman who had so long sent money was supposed to be dead.

That particular piece was signed "C.E.E."
edit on 2016-11-14 by theantediluvian because: (no reason given)

posted on Nov, 14 2016 @ 10:48 PM
Time for another picture
— this one from Find-A-Grave:

Some of the more mentioned theories:

1. That she was the daughter of Aaron Burr, Theodosia Burr Alston, married to Joseph Alston, a wealthy land owner who became Governor of South Carolina. Theodosia vanished at sea in 1813 along with all those aboard the former privateer scooner, Patriot, sailing from Georgetown. There are multiple problems with this theory, not least of which is that Alston would have been in early 30's in 1816.

2. One that has enjoyed popularity for some time, no doubt bolstered by the 1848 story from the Arizona Gazette, is that they were swindlers. Some even posit that the woman's death had been faked and that the grave is empty.

3. Another theory is a that one or both were English nobility who had apparently eloped, fleeing to America.

4. Perhaps the absolute most bizarre theory is that female stranger was... Napoleon Bonaparte. In drag. The thinking as far as I can tell has something to do with the Female Stranger's age corresponding with a significant date in Napoleon's life.

It is also rumored that Room 8 of Gadsby's Tavern is haunted with a multitude of stories that I will unfortunately not be detailing here.

Being a 200 year-old mystery, there is no shortage of information available on these things and more on the Internet should anyone be interested in doing some research of their own. I'd love to get ahold of a transcription or image of the 1836 article. Having interviewed locals less than 20 years after the events, this seems likely to have at least a good chance of being the least embellished published account.

Sources / Addition Info:
Top image
Middle image
PDF of cool tourism brochure from 1907 with a brief mention/pictures
Theodosia bio w/retelling of theory from 1892 in The New York Press
For the genealogists out there: Find-A-Grave link
Well sourced history blog w/list of published articles
Virginia Creeper - Appalachian History & Folklore eZine
edit on 2016-11-14 by theantediluvian because: (no reason given)

posted on Nov, 14 2016 @ 11:36 PM
That is a really interesting piece of history, and a good mystery.

Thanks for sharing that.

posted on Nov, 14 2016 @ 11:39 PM
Damn, Ante nice job on this! Nobody here at ATS can say you don't do your research.

S & F Interesting thread.

posted on Nov, 15 2016 @ 12:10 AM
a reply to: muzzleflash

I was really surprised not to find it on ATS already anywhere when I searched. Particularly with the 200th anniversay last month.

posted on Nov, 15 2016 @ 12:15 AM
a reply to: Nucleardoom

Thanks! While I was hunting around for information, I came across some other topics in the same vein that I'll be posting about in the near future so keep an eye out!

posted on Nov, 15 2016 @ 08:02 AM
Wonderful story...I hadn't heard of this before...but thanks so much for laying it out so beautifully. Great research.
You're an awesome writer, antediluvian.

posted on Nov, 15 2016 @ 10:34 AM
a reply to: theantediluvian
Thanks for passing along this tale. It resonated with me as I've been engaged in clearing up a 225 year old 'murder mystery' in my locale and a certain amount of that research has involved old newspaper stories and books. Here are a few observations on that process:
1) Newspapers of the day were never too concerned with letting the facts get in the way of a story well told.
2) Often varying accounts are simply embellishments of a previous one, so one needs to sort out which is the oldest version. While that may sound basic, too often researchers use different iterations as confirmation of the 'facts'.
3) This is the third occasion where I've wrecked a local 'creation myth' by debunking it. I realized during the second exercise that if I was going to do that, I had a responsibility to replace it with one even better. It's too easy to be a revisionist arse.
4) Finally, never forget that every story has its own story.

I look forward to seeing more on this topic and anything similar that you might have in the can.

posted on Nov, 15 2016 @ 11:38 AM
a reply to: theantediluvian

Funny I was getting the feeling that the Woman was a Man, glad at least one explanation went there too

posted on Nov, 15 2016 @ 11:46 AM
a reply to: theantediluvian

Very enjoyable tale. Thanks for the impeccable research. You gave me some fresh ideas for a project that I am currently involved in.

Maybe just me, but this seemed slightly Vampireshy in nature? Woo Woo...


posted on Nov, 15 2016 @ 12:54 PM
a reply to: theantediluvian

Wow this is a very interesting story and mystery! Just by reading what you wrote, my theory would be number 2

2. One that has enjoyed popularity for some time, no doubt bolstered by the 1848 story from the Arizona Gazette, is that they were swindlers. Some even posit that the woman's death had been faked and that the grave is empty.

Though number 3 seems enticing as well...

3. Another theory is a that one or both were English nobility who had apparently eloped, fleeing to America.

Clearly there is some sketchiness here among this couple. You have a source saying that people had doubts they were actually married. There is the story of the bounced check. The need to not see the lady's face. They are transients with no know place of origin and no know place of ultimate destination (they certainly weren't going to live in that hotel room). Yet among all these puzzles a constant that these people were pleasant and nice people. Aristocrats. This is key since presenting yourself as rich and sophisticated would be go a long way to establishing trust with strangers.

There is just one piece that troubles me. The fact that they never gave their names. Even con artists will give fake names. It's easier to get along with people over a long period of time if they know who you are or at least what to call you. Yet these people stayed in this town some 3 weeks plus (since that is how long it took for the girl to die) and no one managed to get their names? Even for being con artists that is strange.

So maybe they were elopers from Europe. After all that would explain the need to look rich while bouncing checks. You have a need to present yourself how you were raised but if you are eloping you are probably cut off from your family's wealth. Though why the need for the veil? If you are a couple eloping from Europe, chances are the people in Virginia won't recognize even your name, let alone your face. Perhaps she had a disfiguring scar or maybe the signs of her illness were already showing.
edit on 15-11-2016 by Krazysh0t because: (no reason given)

posted on Nov, 15 2016 @ 01:49 PM
a reply to: Krazysh0t

There is just one piece that troubles me. The fact that they never gave their names. Even con artists will give fake names. It's easier to get along with people over a long period of time if they know who you are or at least what to call you. Yet these people stayed in this town some 3 weeks plus (since that is how long it took for the girl to die) and no one managed to get their names? Even for being con artists that is strange.

That's the part that bothers me the most too. That's why I don't personally put much stock in the stories like the one that supposedly came from the 1866 article's author's aunt. If they kept to themselves, they could have avoided giving their names to most anyone. I can't see them socializing with people and getting past many introductions without at least giving a fake name.

My thinking is that if the essence of the earliest accounts is accurate, then they likely avoided people for the most part and whether it was true or not, gave some compelling story (or money) to the handful of people who would have asked their names.

posted on Nov, 15 2016 @ 02:37 PM
Can I be the one who goes crazy out there and say time travellers?

Was this one laid out, did I miss it?

posted on Nov, 15 2016 @ 02:51 PM
a reply to: theantediluvian

Yeah that sounds like a likely reason. But one thing is for sure there was DEFINITELY a need to keep their identities a secret. Heck the woman may have been notorious and that's why they used the veil. Maybe the woman is from a highly respected family and that guy is from nothing which is why he could get away with showing his face but she has to keep it hidden.

posted on Nov, 16 2016 @ 07:01 PM
OOO I love a juicy mystery!

Keeping her face veiled is unusual for that period. I'd hazard a guess, it was a illness pox she didn't want seen to have her quarantined, or she was a well known personage.

If it was the latter, she would be the right age for French royalty having escaped their revolution
Total hysterical random guesswork involved on my part. lol.
But there was a group of aristocrats that fled to Pennsylvania.
Colonel Vicomte de Louis de Noailles started "Azilum" which means place of refuge.
There was a grand "log cabin" 3,600 square foot mansion dubbed “Le Grande Maison.” that people thought was made for Queen Marie Antoinette and her children. For 10 years 200 French aristocratic refugees started to there until things went downhill and they all hid themselves throughout Virginia and the Carolinas.

Or not

Thx Ante D

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