Revolutionary War Skeleton: A Love Story

The headline, “A Skeleton With A Romance” caught my attention while researching Hollywood Cemetery several months ago. Even though various newspapers across the country reported the alleged discovery of a Revolutionary War soldier’s skeletal remains found years later and the death of his heartbroken Richmond fiancee, I haven’t been able to find anything giving the story any validity. This doesn’t mean that pieces of the tale aren’t based on truth, but until I find more evidence, I’ll chalk this up to being just another deathly love story.

In May of 1778 Lt. Arthur Barrington of Richmond, Virginia was part of Gen. Washington’s army encamped at Valley Forge. After Arthur and a handful of his fellow soldiers were discovered and chased by the enemy while looking for food, Arthur alone found refuge in a French Creek cave nearly concealed by an overhanging rock. Either a flash of lightning (or as one account claimed, enemy fire) caused that rock to break off and seal Arthur in the cave, he realized his certain fate and penned a letter to his fiancee Virginia Randolph. The following is an excerpt from that manuscript:
I rushed back to the entrance and tried with all my strength to move the stone, but all in vain. I then tried to dig my way out with my knife, but I found the floor of the cave was one solid rock, merely covered with a few inches of sand. Convinced at last that I could never escape without help from outside, I hallooed at the top of my voice, hoping that some one-even the enemy- would hear me. Anything would be better than to be buried alive. But no one came, and I gave up in despair. Throwing myself on the floor, I groaned aloud. At last I grew calmer and even felt ashamed of my first paroxysms of terror. I tried to calm my fears. I prayed Almighty God to spare me with such a death as I feared was before me, and that I might live to see your face once more, or if this might not be so, to teach me how to die as a brave man should. I tried to comfort myself with the hope that my men were still alive and would back to look for me. It was not death that I dreaded so much. I had been near death before, and felt no fear. It was being buried alive and dying alone, so far from you, that filled me with horror.”

Pittsburgh Dispatch, 16 July 1889


  Arthur eventually starved to death in his cavernous tomb. One article claimed that his letter ended with him writing that he thought he die a “raving maniac.”
Back in Richmond, Arthur’s girlfriend fell into a spell of prostration after never hearing from her beloved again. She was either buried in Hollywood Cemetery or “an old family burying ground” with the following inscription on her tombstone, “Died of a broken heart on the 1st of March, 1780. Virginia Randolph, aged twenty-one years, nine days. Faithful unto death.
(Again, I found no burial records or indication that this grave exists.)
In 1889, W.W. Potts and his team of quarrymen discovered the letter in its green bottle and what was left of Arthur Barrington: moldy Continental soldier’s garb, a rusty firearm, and a skeleton. Potts contacted people in Richmond who sent him letters written by Virginia’s mother, Rachael, to someone named Alice Payton from February 1778. Rachael described her daughter’s emotional state after Arthur’s disappearance.
Evening Star [Wash., DC] 15 July 1889

“We all know the end is near, but our darling is so peaceful and calm, willing to wait, yet so happy to know that she will soon be in a better world, that we can scarcely feel our sorrow now, but when she has left us-when we are alone-I think our hearts will break. One morning, about a week since, she said to me: ‘Mamma, all my sorrows have passed away, Arthur died calmly, trusting in God, and I am going to him very soon. I cannot tell you how I know this, mamma, but I feel it is true.’ From that hour her face had been radiant with peaceful joy. She was always gentle and patient and now she is happy. I try to submit, but I think my heart is breaking.”

Arthur’s skeleton was sent to Richmond for interment, where he was finally reunited with his beloved Virginia.
“A Skeleton With A Romance” closes with the following: “Such is the Potts story, published and vouched for by the editor. Residents of French creek were asked to corroborate the story. Some doubted it, while others said they had heard something of it before, reading it in the papers. The story was republished in this city to-day, but doubt is thrown on its authenticity.”


Sacramento Daily Record-Union, 18 July 1889
The Saline County Journal, 25 July 1889