After more than 200 years, the mystery of the ‘Female Stranger’ continues to fascinate visitors to this Alexandria, Virginia landmark. Some say her ghost never left.
Alexandria, Virginia is an old town filled with historic buildings, populated by ghosts and legends. No less than 49 sites in Alexandria are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps the most legendary is Gadsby’s Tavern at the corner of Cameron and Royal streets. Its mysterious tale of the “Female Stranger” has confounded local historians and folklorists for over 200 years.
In the late 1700s, Alexandria was the social center of northern Virginia. Charles and Anne Mason first recognized the potential for a tavern and opened a business at the corner of Royal and Cameron streets. With the end of the Revolutionary War, an entrepreneur named John Wise built a new tavern in 1785 and a hotel in 1792, red brick buildings which still exist to this day. John Gadsby leased and operated the establishments from 1796 to 1808, when Alexandria became part of the new Federal District of Washington, DC.
In those early years, Gadsby’s Tavern hosted travelers from all over the colonies, including prominent men like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and the Marquis de Lafayette. It was considered a premier establishment, hosting parties and balls in its large hall. It was during this heyday when the legend of the mysterious “Female Stranger” took root.
A colonial-era home sits on a quiet plaza in America’s most historic town, but storytellers say something sinister lurks inside.
Without the misfortune of dying right before the Declaration of Independence, Peyton Randolph (1721-1775) would be considered one of our country’s most prominent founding fathers. He was elected president of the First and Second Continental Congress, before dying of a stroke while dining with Thomas Jefferson. His home, expanded and modified over the intervening decades, still stands in Colonial Williamsburg.
The Georgian-style house, at least the western wing at the corner of Nicholson and North England Streets, was built in 1715 by William Robertson. Sir John Randolph, Peyton’s father, purchased it in 1721 and willed it to his son, who took ownership at the age of 24. John had built a second house, what became the east wing, in 1724, and Peyton connected the two homes with a spacious hall, though the east wing still had to be accessed from outside.
Peyton’s sister, Susannah Beverley, lived in the home until her death circa 1754, and Peyton’s window retained it after his death. It served as temporary headquarters to French general Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau during the Siege of Yorktown in 1781. It was sold at auction in 1783, and served as a military hospital at the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862 during the American Civil War.
This decisive naval battle on Lake Champlain is celebrated as a pivotal moment in the War of 1812. A large monument towers over Plattsburgh, New York, where you can look out over the water and imagine the old wooden sailing ships locked in deadly combat.
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The Battle of Plattsburgh was fought from September 6 to Sept. 11, 1814 between British forces commanded by Lieutenant General Sir George Prévost and Captain George Downie and American forces commanded by Brigadier General Alexander Macomb and Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough on Lake Champlain and Plattsburgh, New York during the War of 1812. The battle was a major American victory. It stopped the British invasion of New York and led to denial of British territorial demands in the Treaty of Ghent.
In late summer 1814, the British planned to conduct a combined land and naval campaign down Lake Champlain, which had it succeeded, would have drastically altered the balance of power in the region. They gathered approximately 11,000 men and a fleet of four ships and 12 gunboats for the expedition. Opposing them were approximately 6,000 American regulars and militia and four ships and ten gunboats.
Brig. Gen. Alexander Macomb decided to make his stand at Plattsburgh, and sent troops north to harass the British as they advanced. Plattsburgh Bay allowed Commandant Macdonough’s ships to engage the British at close range, where the British would lose the advantage of their long-range guns. On the morning of September 11, the British ships HMS Chubb, HMS Linnet, HMS Confiance, and HMS Finch engaged the American ships USS Eagle, USS Saratoga, USS Ticonderoga, and USS Preble.
Step back in time and explore the former capital of Colonial Virginia, where Founding Fathers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and more walked the streets.
Both an actual town and open air museum, Colonial Williamsburg allows visitors to walk the same streets as legendary figures from the past and explore authentic and reconstructed Colonial-Era buildings. You need a ticket to enter the buildings and museums, but you can walk the streets and enter the shops and restaurants for free. Historical and haunted tours are plentiful, including carriage rides!
In many ways, Colonial Williamsburg reminds me of Tombstone, Arizona, another attempt by a living community to reconstruct history. Like Tombstone, Williamsburg got left behind when its moment in the sun passed. Its historic buildings were modified and fell into disrepair over the decades after Virginia’s capitol was moved to Richmond in 1780.
Built for a war with the U.S. that never came, this nineteenth century relic is a treasure of Canadian military history.
The War of 1812 left relations between the United States and Great Britain at an all-time low. Raids along the Saint Lawrence River were common during the war, and Kingston, Ontario in what was then Upper Canada was seen as potentially vulnerable. The British eyed Point Henry as an ideal place for what became known as the “Citadel of Upper Canada”.
Early in the war, British Canadians erected a blockhouse and artillery battery on Point Henry to help defend Kingston and its naval dockyards. They continued fortifying it throughout the war, calling it Fort Henry after Henry Hamilton, one-time Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Quebec and Governor of Bermuda.
After the War of 1812, the British saw a need to strengthen their defenses around Kingston and Rideau Canal, which connects the Canadian capitol to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River. Between 1832 and 1836, they built a more permanent stone fort in place of the old wooden one.
As part of our trip to West Virginia last month, my wife and I stopped by the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, a destination that’s been on my bucket list for a while. Yes, it’s appeared on just about every paranormal-themed TV show, but it has an interesting history dating back to the Civil War as well.
Designed by Baltimore architect Richard Snowden Andrews in Gothic and Tudor Revival styles, construction on the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum began in 1858. In 1861, the Civil War’s outbreak interrupted construction on Virginia’s new asylum as Union troops seized its construction funds from a local bank (totaling nearly $30,000.00 in gold) and used them to help fund a pro-Union Virginia government in Wheeling. It opened in 1864, though construction wasn’t fully completed until nearly 20 years later.
During the mid-twentieth century, it was notoriously overcrowded and closed in 1994. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. After sitting abandoned for several years, it opened for tours as a museum and it slowly being restored.