The Grave of the Female Stranger – Alexandria, Virginia - Atlas Obscura

The Grave of the Female Stranger

St. Paul's Episcopal Church

This grave marks the passing of a historic Jane Doe whose identity remains a mystery to this day.  


According to local legend, a young couple arrived in Alexandria, Virginia by ship in 1816 and rented a room in Gadsby’s Tavern at 138 North Royal St. The woman was gravely ill, and her husband hired a local doctor to help care for her—on the condition that the doctor ask no questions about his or his wife’s identities.

The woman’s condition quickly deteriorated, and she eventually died on October 14, 1816. Her husband borrowed money from a local businessman to bury her in town, repaying him with a note from the Bank of England which later turned out to be a forgery. The couple had secluded themselves from the goings-on in Alexandria, and their presence at the tavern became subject to rumors and speculation.

The woman’s grave can still be found in the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church section of the town’s cemetery. A slab bears the 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 was 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.”

There are many theories as to the woman’s identity, most notably that she was Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of former Vice President Aaron Burr, who was mysteriously lost at sea in 1813.

The grave briefly came to national attention in the mid-19th century when several articles recounting the legend behind it were published in newspapers across the country. The grave continues to be a minor tourist attraction in Old Town Alexandria.

Know Before You Go

The only entrance to Hamilton Ave. (Hamilton Ln. in some GPS systems) is from Wilkes St. Continue down Hamilton for maybe 1/4 mile and turn left at the sign for St. Paul’s Cemetery. In approximately 100 feet, make the first right turn. The Female Stranger is the third grave on the right, adjacent to the road. It is marked by a white marble table and is located just left of a grave bearing the name of “Ballenger”.

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