Tales of the Female Stranger Ghost

Posted by carrieh in Alexandria Ghosts

The tales of the Female Stranger ghost at Gadsby’s Tavern in Old Town Alexandria are many, and that’s because there are so few facts. If you believe in ghosts, the hauntings many have experienced will solidify her ghostly existence in your mind. However, it will not solve the mystery of exactly who the Female Stranger was.

Weather beaten tomb of the ghost of the female stranger
Photo: Wikimedia

The tales of the Female Stranger ghost at Gadsby’s Tavern in Old Town Alexandria are many, and that’s because there are so few facts. If you believe in ghosts, the hauntings many have experienced will solidify her ghostly existence in your mind. However, it will not solve the mystery of exactly who the Female Stranger was.

From raven-haired with pouty lips to a buxom blond, her description varies from story to imagined story. Pretty funny considering most reports describe her as wearing a black veil and no one, not even the doctor who treated her, ever saw her face. With all the controversial stories about who this woman was, there are some basic facts to the story used as the foundation of the ever-curious imagination of many.

Facts of the tales of the Female Stranger Ghost

And this much we know.

In September of 1816, a mysterious ship sailed into the port of Old Town Alexandria. A man and a woman from the ship arrived at Gadsby’s Tavern, which was also City Hotel.

The woman reportedly wore a black veil over her face and was very ill. The man, assumed to be her husband, requested a room and asked for a Doctor to be called. They were put into room 8, and the Doctor was summoned.

The woman was too sick for the Doctor to help her, and she died from typhoid fever on October 16th. Some believe her illness was caused by black magic.

Before she died, the presumed husband requested Gadsby and two women who helped nurse her to swear to keep her identity a secret which they obliged.

The man paid for her burial and headstone and left Alexandria after her death. The means used to pay for the tomb and their expenses while staying at Gadsby’s were returned a forgery, but the man was long gone.

The account identifies the husband as a man named Clermont, later found in Sing-Sing Prison in New York. He was serving time for fraud. The man he had given the forged payment to discovered him in prison and confronted him. Some accounts say Clermont admitted to his scam and again tried to swindle the man with his words.

Gadsby’s Tavern and City Hotel History

The Georgian-style Gadsby’s Tavern was built in 1785 by John Wise, but the building was leased by John Gadsby in 1792. This was when the name was changed to Gadsby’s Tavern, which it is called today.

A prominent Tavern in Old Town Alexandria, the establishment was visited by famous people such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. Marquis de Lafayette is said to have been included in the festivities of the Tavern when he toured the United States in 1824. However, the visits by George Washington, who frequented the Tavern and attended the balls there, are who you will hear about in the museums tours nowadays. You won’t, however, hear about the hauntings of the female Stranger. Even though the tour includes a visit to room 8.


Gadsby's Tavern home of the Female Stranger Ghost
Gadsby’s Tavern and City Hotel
Photo: Wikimedia

Today, the Tavern serves as a restaurant and museum and was listed in the national register of historic places in Virginia on October 15, 1966. One hundred and fifty years almost to the day after the death of the female Stranger within its walls.

The Tale of John Trust and John Wroe

One of the tales identifies the female Stranger as a woman named Blanche Forden. Her mother was a penniless single woman who died giving birth to Blanche at Truro in Cornwall. Later, Blanche was adopted and taken to Martinique, where she was raised.

After the fall of Napolean, two men, John Trust and John Wroe, left Paris and went to Martinique. There in the Caribbean, John Trust and Blanche Forden met and fell in love. However, John Wroe also fell in love with Forden. He became riled with jealousy because he wanted Blanche for himself.

Black Magic plays a role

It’s said that John Wroe used black magic to seduce Forden into boarding a ship. While she was in a hypnotic state aboard the ship, he married her. However, Forden became very ill, and by the time they reached Alexandria, she was near death.

The townsfolk were mesmerized by the arrival of the mysterious couple, their clothing depicting the life of wealth and intrigue. When the couple parted from the ship, the woman was wearing a long black cloak and a veil covering her face. Who was this mystery couple?

The Tale of Room 8

Assuming the handsome gentleman was the veiled woman’s husband and had money, the couple was directed to Gadsby’s Tavern and City Hotel. The owner placed the couple in room 8 and summoned the doctor as the handsome Stranger had requested. As the husband carried his ill bride into the room, he knocked the number 8 on the door. It fell sideways, making an infinity symbol. Was this the sign of everlasting love or everlasting death?


Room 8 at Gadsby's Tavern where the ghost of the female stranger lingers
Room 8 of Gadsby’s Tavern
Photo: Lizzie Loves Food

Sadly, the doctor was unable to help the woman with her illness. She died on October 14, 1816, with her husband by her side. Various accounts state that she died in his arms and others say that she died locked in a kiss with the man that subjected her to black magic trickery so he could marry her. It is also said that her dying words to John Wroe were to find John Trust and tell him that it was he that she was really in love with, not John Wroe. The story now takes on a love triangle.

A twist to the story

According to the narrative of John Trust, a document that changed hands several times before it was published by the American Legion in 1966, a strange and disturbing twist to the story takes place.

The story indicates that the three people, John Trust, the female Stranger, and John Wroe, were all three siblings. Trust and Forden were said to be twins, born to a single woman in Cornwall. When she died, Trust was sent to Alexandria and Forden to Martinique. John Wroe learned the ways of the occult from the Indian Brahmans in Calcutta. Somehow, they all landed in Alexandria, Forden in the grave, and the two brothers at St. Paul Cemetery, where she is buried. There was an altercation between the two brother’s most likely over the apparent love triangle and John Wroe taking the woman from John Trust.

The Theodosia Burr Theory

Theodosia Burr was the daughter of a not-so-popular politician. The stories say that she ran off with a man to get away from the hubbub of life as a politician’s daughter. Some accounts say her husband was a pirate and some reports say he was a British officer. It all depends on the imagination of who filled the holes in the story to make it complete.

The legend took flight with the Theodosia Burr theory with the oath to the secrecy of the couple’s identity. Common sense would say they did not want to be identified as to not be found. The records for Theodosia’s death indicate she died from a ship disaster and never heard from again.

The Hauntings of Gadsby’s Tavern

The accounts of ghostly sightings are all indicators that the spirit is indeed the Female Stranger regardless of who her identity was. For some or many reasons, depending on the actual facts, her spirit has stuck around to roam the halls and frequent the room where she spent her last days. She is said to be seen looking longly out the window with a candle in her hand. There are accounts of shadows appearing and disappearing, things being moved, and most popular, a lit candle in the window of room 8 at night. However, the building is now an uninhabited museum.

Apparitions of a woman are seen by many. Most popular is a young staff member who started working at Gadsby’s after she graduated from college. On her first night, she was picking up her customer’s meals, and when she turned around to head back to their table, the female ghost was standing right in front of her. Dropping the meals, she grabbed her belongings and quickly left the building. She has never been back.

There are many stories behind the legend of the Female Stranger. Her un-named tabletop headstone’s engraving leaves much to be speculated. So too, the stories that have passed down over the years.

Great Reads and Great Ghost Tours

If you want a good read and take on the story, read Ghosts of Alexandria by Michael Pope. If you want an intriguing, crawl under the skin of the lead character fictional take read The Female Stranger: An Archibald Mercer Mystery by Andrew Mills. Both are excellent reads.

You can read more about the 10 top haunted places in Alexandria here.

To really feel the paranormal vibe of the haunted historic Old Town Alexandria, check our ghost tours or read more haunted history blogs on our sites from all over the country.





The mystery of the Female Stranger | Alexandria Times | Alexandria, VA

Ghosts of Alexandria by Michael Pope

The Female Stranger: An Archibald Mercer Mystery by Andrew Mills

Creepy Tales from Old Alexandria, VA – DC Ghosts