The Female Stranger
Alexandria was a bustling harbor for shipping and trading after the Revolutionary War. One day a large schooner sailed into this Virginia port, owned by an Alexandria merchant named John Dean. The ship carried rum and sugar as its cargo, as well as a handsome, wealthy couple when it entered port on July 25, 1815.
A vessel named “Four Sons,” from the West Indies, was bound for Halifax, Virginia. The ship made an emergency stop at Alexandria, only long enough for two passengers to leave the boat. The man, who was apparently the husband, accompanied his heavily veiled wife. The two drew an incredible amount of attention as she wore thick veils over her head, yet it was the hottest part of July. She also had to be carried wherever they went due to her malady.
The couple first went to The Bunch of Grapes, Alexandria’s largest tavern at the time. It was also the finest lodging. The gentleman registered them as husband and wife. As soon as they arrived in the best room, he sent for the physician.
Now, the story becomes even stranger. Before the husband allowed the physician in the room, he had to take an oath to absolute secrecy. A strange request for a man desperate to get his sick wife treated.
The couple also ascertained the services of two local women to work as servants. The women were likewise sworn to absolute secrecy. All three kept true to their word, regardless. The doctor visited weekly for 10 weeks. The two women provided daily services, but the veiled lady’s primary servant was her husband.
Various rumors have endured regarding their months in Alexandria. Some people claimed she never left the room. Others say they went out for walks whenever her health allowed. Every legend mentions the strange practice of wearing heavy veils. People were curious as to who they were and where they came from, but it seemed no one had any information.
After a few months, the pair became a familiar fixture to Alexandria. It was clear she was dying from her illness. On the night of October 3rd, her condition worsened. The husband called in the physician and the two servants; however, he asked that they leave the room when she started to die. They consented and hours later, he emerged again saying it was all over.
Just as in that latter part of her life, no one was allowed to prepare the body for burial, but her husband. He even refused any assistance with placing her in the coffin or sealing it shut, he did everything alone.
The funeral was held in the hotel and the coffin was quickly taken to the hearse. She was taken to the St. Paul Cemetery and buried. The husband ordered her monument after her burial and disappeared. The monument reads:
“To The Memory of
A FEMALE STRANGER
whose mortal sufferings terminated
on the 4th day of October, 1816.”
For several years, he returned to her grave annually to ensure it was kept maintained. His visits suddenly ceased. Most people believed he passed on. The grave fell into disrepair and neglect after that.
One spring, years later, an elderly man and two elderly women showed up at her grave. They were all remarkably well dressed. They tried to clean the mysterious grave and make it presentable. The cemetery’s sexton came to see them. He asked who they were and why they disturbed the dead. They claimed they were relatives of the lady. They said her husband had been a British officer. The sexton wasn’t satisfied with the meager reasons after the history of question surrounding the grave and the woman buried there. He tried to question them further and they left. They never returned.
As time passed, people began to think the John Dean’s son, William H. Dean, knew the secret. Whatever it was, he carried it with him to the grave. Passenger lists were searched, but no one found anything more than the same false names used at the hotel.
The secrecy is an incredibly suspicious matter. The doctor actually admitted later on that he never saw the woman’s face. She always wore the veils, even when he examined her. The two women only admitted she was beautiful and of uncommonly high birth. This was in the 1810s, long before photographs, telephones or even telegraphs.
This story was once enjoyed with the greatest romantic Victorian notions. People mourned with the grief-stricken “husband” after her death. It would seem the explanation is fairly simple today. Perhaps, the female stranger was pregnant from an affair and the father brought her to a strange land to have the baby. Perhaps the grieving husband murdered her, as no one else was allowed to prepare the body for burial. That would’ve been the most opportunistic circumstance for a murderer.
Today, it doesn’t seem so romantic. She was buried in a distant land, amid strangers, and wasn’t even allowed to have a name on her tombstone. She was essentially erased from history. Even those claiming to be her relatives so many years later never spoke her name or inscribe her tombstone with anything. They didn’t even care to visit a second time.
It could’ve been an elaborate ruse and she didn’t really die or an enemy might’ve been murdered and placed in her grave. Whatever the reason, she wasn’t a female stranger to those who cared for her.