In the autumn of 1816 a couple, thought to be man and wife, walked into the Gadsby’s Tavern Hotel in Alexandria Virginia. The woman was ill and the patrons assumed it was from Typhoid fever, common at the time.
The local doctor was called but the woman’s condition continued to deteriorate. Several hours into the ordeal, the drama thicken when the husband then summoned the doctor members of the hotel staff and the owner’s wife into the sick room to make a request that they would swear on all that is holy never to reveal the couples identities.
All of the assembled agreed and never spoke the couple’s names so long as they lived.
A few days later, on October 14, the woman died and the husband, before leaving, commissioned an extravagant headstone and buried his wife at St. Paul’s Cemetery in Alexandria Virginia.
The engraving on the headstone reads:
To the Memory of a FEMALE STRANGER whose mortal sufferings terminated on the 14th day of October 1816 Aged 23 years and 8 month’s. 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 Gadsby Tavern is still in business today and many people have reported seeing a ghostly figure of a woman standing by one of the windows looking out to the where the port had been.
The most popular explanation as to who this woman was is that she may have been Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of Theodosia Bartow Prevost and U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr.
Theodosia (above) disappearance was the talk of the nation for almost fifty years before memory of her faded away.
Highly educated and refined she married Joseph Alston, (below) a wealthy land owner and politician from South Carolina. They are the first recorded couple to spend their honey moon at Niagara Falls.
Alston was governor of South Carolina at the time and owned an enormous rice plantation. The gossip of the day was that the Burr family, always close to broke, designed and then pushed the marriage together. At any rate, the couple had a son, Aaron Burr Alston, born in 1802. At that point Theodosia grew ill and became “fragile”.
In 1806, Aaron Burr and a wealthy Irishman named Harman Blennerhassett, along with General James Wilkinson plotted to build an empire by separating Louisiana and parts of the western United States from America.
The charges were never proven but in the spring of 1807, Burr was arrested for treason. He was acquitted of the charges and self-exiled in Europe for the next four years with his ever loyal daughter Theodosia acting as his agent. Burr returned to the United States in July of 1812, and settled in New York.
That December Theodosia and Timothy Green, an old friend of the Burr family, to accompany her to New York since her husband couldn’t leave the business for an extended period of time.
On December 31, 1812, Theodosia sailed aboard the schooner Patriot from Georgetown, South Carolina and somewhere out in the ocean, the Patriot vanished, probably raided and sunk by pirates operating off the Carolina cost.
The rumors said that Theodosia had been captured. However in the early part of 1813, the dead body of a young woman "with every indication of refinement" had been washed ashore at Cape Charles, and was buried in a nearby farm.
Almost one hundred years later a researcher found some documentation in the State archives in Mobile, Alabama, said that the pirate John Howard Payne had taken the ship and killed all aboard including "a woman who was obviously a noblewoman or a lady of high birth". But the research was never documented as true and correct.
Another legend says that a Karankawa Indian chief on the Texas Gulf Coast was seen wearing a gold locket inscribed "Theodosia." When questioned, the warrior said that after a terrible storm, he found a ship wrecked at the mouth of the San Bernard River. Hearing a woman’s cry, he boarded the ship and found a white woman, naked except for the gold locket, chained to a bulkhead by her ankle. The woman fainted on seeing him. He pulled her free and carried her to shore where she revived she told him that she was the daughter of a great chief of the white men, who was misunderstood by his people and had to leave his country. She gave him the locket and told him that if he ever met white men he was to show them the locket and tell them the story, and then died in his arms.
Adding to this mish-mash of stories was the writer Charles Etienne Arthur Gayarre who, in 1872, penned a novel called Fernando de Lemos (Truth and Fiction.) One chapter in the book is the confession of a pirate named Dominique You who admits to having captured the Patriot after he discovered it dismasted off Cape Hatteras following a storm. You and his men murdered the crew, while Theodosia was made to walk the plank: "She stepped on it and descended into the sea with graceful composure, as if she had been alighting from a carriage," Gayarre wrote in You's voice. "She sank, and rising again, she, with an indescribable smile of angelic sweetness, waved her hand to me as if she meant to say: 'Farewell, and thanks again'; and then sank forever." Because Gayarre billed his novel as a mixture of "truth and fiction" it was assumed by many that the story was real.
Then, in 1869, Dr. William G. Pool treated Mrs. Polly Mann for an ailment; in payment she gave him a portrait of a young woman which she claimed her first husband had discovered on board a wrecked ship during the War of 1812. Pool became convinced the portrait was of Theodosia Burr Alston, and contacted members of her family, some of whom agreed, though Pool conceded "they cannot say positively if it was her."
It is more probable that the ship was probably wrecked by a storm off Cape Hatteras. Logbooks from the blockading British fleet report a severe storm which began off the Carolina coast in the afternoon of January 2, 1813, and continued into the next day.