Alexandria Virginia, A Grave And A Legend

A Short Story

Across the Potomac River from Washington is the historic city of Alexandria, Virginia. The city was an active and important seaport in the colonies from the early eighteenth century and has buildings dating back to the seventeenth century. It was originally part of the land ceded to the Nation’s Capital but was later reclaimed by Virginia and is home to a number of historic colonial buildings. Just north of George Washington’s Mt. Vernon it includes his church, Christ Church. The city has a Sea Captain’s Row, the Lee-Fendall House constructed in 1785 and home to thirty-seven members of the family of Robert E Lee. It is also home to a historic 18th century pharmacy and fire house and is also famous for the Carlyle House, a mansion built by Scottish merchant John Carlyle in 1751 situated on North Fairfax Street. At 228 South Pitt Street is also the historic St Paul’s Episcopal Church and the home of a legend that still receives significant attention even today.

I was born in Washington D.C. but was raised in Alexandria, Virginia. I was Baptized at St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia. The church is a landmark in the historic area of Alexandria and was founded in 1809 and consecrated in 1818. It was designed by one of the architects of the U.S. Capital and is the earliest example of Gothic Revival architecture in the United States. It served as a hospital during the Civil War but its biggest claim to fame is a gravestone in its cemetery. The Grave of the Female Stranger is a famous historical landmark and visitor’s attraction in the historic Old Town.

The grave is the resting place of an unnamed woman who died in 1816. Historical accounts say the young woman died in room 8 at the famous Gadsby’s Tavern where supposedly her ghostly visage can be seen standing at the rooms window late at night. Stories have spread widely and been romanticized because of the mysterious headstone in the church’s graveyard that bears the following 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
  • 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.

There seems to be no records about the name of the husband or companion, how or why they came to Alexandria or who ordered the headstone. But there are lots of myths.

The numerous legends include stories of an English aristocratic couple bound for New Orleans that were left in Alexandria because the wife became ill and include a number of claims the young lady was Aaron Burr’s daughter who was either captured by pirates or lost in an accident at sea. Over the two centuries, accounts have been published in newspapers all over the United States and England. A story with a large spread, including a dramatic illustration, was featured in the Ladies’ Home Journal for January 1913 and there have been at least 2 books published on the legend.

The fact is – nobody really knows the truth of the story. The church is located at 228 South Pitt St, Alexandria, VA 22314 in case you find yourself in the neighborhood.

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