Oct. 31st 2012

With today being Halloween, I thought I would share some ghost stories about some of the places we have talked about in the blog.

So gather around for some stories I found from the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg.

If you dare….


(From our blog: This was the location of the dual between cousins – Posting Family Feud – published in June)

Fredericksburg, Virginia

Chatham was built in 1771 by William Fitzhugh and named after his classmate, Sir William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. The Georgian mansion became noted for its owner’s hospitality during colonial times, but played an even more significant role during the Civil War when it served as a Union headquarters. Walt Whitman and Clara Barton nursed the Union wounded there.

High on a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock River and the city of Fredericksburg stands Chatham. The mansion has hosted many important people, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the Marquis de Lafayette. The spectral apparition haunting the estate is none of these illustrious figures, however. The ghost of Chatham is an English girl who returns in memory of a lost love. Dressed all in white, she walks upon her favorite path at the estate in fulfillment of a deathbed vow.

She was brought to Chatham by her father, who wished to sever the young woman’s romance with an English drysalter. Despite the enjoyable social life of the Virginia estate, the girl pined for her lover. The young drysalter followed her to America, however, and the lovers secretly planned their elopement. Finally the chosen night arrived. The young man silently moored a boat on the Rappahannock and cautiously placed a ladder against his love’s window. But instead of climbing down into the arms of her beloved, the young woman found herself enveloped by General George Washington. A guest at Chatham at the time, the general was informed of the elopement plans by a servant.

Washington had the drysalter arrested on that fateful night, and returned the girl to her father’s custody. Taken back to England by her father, the girl ultimately married someone of a more suitable social standing. But she never forgot her true love or the events at Chatham, and vowed to walk her favorite path on the anniversary of her death.

Several visitors and residents of Chatham have watched the English woman as she makes her anniversary journey on the path now known as Ghost Walk. Always seen between noon and midnight, the lady in white has visited Chatham once every seven years since her death on June 21, 1790.


(From our blog: This is one of the Historic Homes we have visited – Posting Kenmore Plantation – published in September)

Kenmore Plantation

Kenmore was built in 1752 by Col. Fielding Lewis for his bride, Betty Washington Lewis, only sister of George Washington. One of the most successful planters in Fredericksburg, Lewis lost part of his fortune when Virginia’s government failed to reimburse him for financing the Fredericksburg Arms Manufactory during the Revolutionary War. Lewis died in 1782 and the estate was eventually sold out of the family. The Georgian mansion and gardens are now restored to their colonial splendor, and one of its rooms is considered to be among “The 100 Most Beautiful Rooms in America”.

Betty Washington Lewis
sister of George Washington

Some people say the ghost of Fielding Lewis is haunted by his financial problems. Other theorize he returns to Kenmore simply because he cannot bear to leave his beautiful plantation – even in death.

Fielding Lewis

No one can be sure why Col. Lewis haunts his 18th century estate, but that he often returns cannot be denied. From the sound of heavy footsteps echoing through empty halls to fireplace andirons mysteriously crashing to the floor, Lewis has made his ghostly presence known to many visitors to the mansion. And Kenmore’s former master has been seen as well as heard.

His apparition usually appears in an upstairs bedchamber where Lewis attended to business matters. There the ghostly Lewis, attired in Revolutionary clothes, has been seen standing and reading a document he holds in his hands. The Colonel has also been seen in the same room, busily studying his accounts, with a look of deep concern in his eyes.
A man who sacrificed his fortune to the cause of American independence, Col. Fielding Lewis may still be troubled by his financial difficulties, as he wanders the rooms of his beloved estate.


(From our blog: This is the plantation that William Bernard took his new wife and children to after the death of Fannie Hipkins-Bernard- Posting A Father’s Love – published in June)

Mannsfield Plantation
in ruins after the Civil War

This 18th century stone mansion survived more than a century o f American change and turmoil until it was burned accidentally by Confederate forces during the Civil War. It was built in 1749 by Mann Page, a delegate to the House of Burgesses. The Mannsfield property adjoins the Fredericksburg Country Club, which is not open to the public.

“The South Will Rise Again,” is a familiar saying. But for the Confederate soldiers who haunt Mannsfield, the South never died. During the Civil War, Mannsfield was occupied by both Union and Confederate forces. The estate served as hospital and headquarters for both armies at different times. But it is the ghostly men in gray who return to haunt Mannsfield. Several nearby residents have sighted the apparitions of the Confederate soldiers as they congregate beneath the estate’s large trees.

The greatest number of ghostly visits occurred, however, while a clairvoyant woman was living in a nearby home. Regularly, the woman saw the uniformed men as they stood guard, tended to their horses, or cared for wounded soldiers. Perhaps these spectral Confederates who still haunt Mannsfield are awaiting the resurrection of the South.


(From our blog: This is the tavern across the street from the Schooler House B&B – Posting Weekend at the Plantation – published in August)

The Rising Sun Tavern

The Rising Sun Tavern recreates tavern life of the 18th century, when a tavern was the center of colonial life. Built in 1760 by George Washington’s brother, Charles, as a home, the building began its role of a tavern in 1792. It served as the city’s post office and stage coach stop. Originally known as the Eagle Tavern among the most patriotic symbols of early America, the tavern continued to operate under several keepers until 1827, when its liquor license was revoked.

Charles Washington
Brother of George Washington

Although its days of challenging and lively political discussions and games of cards and chess over pints of ale are past, the Rising Sun Tavern is still a lively historic attraction and its ghostly inhabitant maintains the spirit of cheer and mischief that once thrived at the tavern. For instance, one tavern guide found that the ghost delighted in unplugging the lights in an upstairs room. Tired of having to replug the cords, she finally cried, “Come on now, stop it!” As she turned to leave the room, the guide suddenly felt herself slipping to the floor as the tavern ghost pulled the rug out from under her. The lights remained plugged in the rest of the day, however.

Another hostess was coming down the stairs early one morning when she felt something tugging at the hem of her dress. She looked to see if her colonial gown was caught on something, but found nothing amiss. As she tried to proceed down the steps, however, she felt herself held tightly in place. Long a believer that the tavern’s ghost was its last owner, John Frazier, she exclaimed, “All right, John, let go!” Immediately she felt herself freed as the ghost let go of her dress hem.

Evidently the ghost is a playful apparition, for he delights in pulling the mob caps from the tavern hostesses’ heads. He also moves objects, such as candles, from their regular storage places. The tavern ghost may also be filled with the Christmas spirit since he delights in pulling his pranks during the holiday season.

Stratford Hall

Stratford Plantation
Historic Haunts

This is the family plantation of the Lee Family and Robert E. Lee. Last weekend I attended their Historic Haunts event on Saturday. It was open to people of all ages. With spooky games for the kids, food and drink and a ghost tour of the Great House, fun was to be had by all.

I was on the first ghost tour at twilight. Our tour guide was a kind gentleman dressed in colonial wear. He guided us around the grounds of the Great House and through it with our flashlights as the only source of light. Along the way we met up with other staff dressed in either colonial wear or costumes that wouldn’t be too scary for the young ones.

The stories we heard told of ghostly appearances of men, women and children that called this grand plantation home. After a walk through the Great House and boxwood garden, our tour ended at the family cemetery vault, which no longer has remains in it. It was a great time hearing the stories and seeing the plantation as the sun disappeared.

Once I returned to Belle Grove Plantation, I had a surprise waiting for me on my cell phone. During the first story, just before entering the house, I decided to video tape the guide telling the story of the ghostly visitors of Stratford Hall. Brett had not been able to attend and I wanted him to see what I got to see.

When I played the video on my phone, the tape started out fine. It was nice and clear, in full color. As the story moved along, the color of the video seemed to go to a gray color. It started out light at first. Then all of a sudden it when completely gray. But what was surprising was that the video started jumping around as if something was cause some kind of electrical disturbance. As suddenly as it came, it left.

So what could it have been?

Did one of the ghostly visitors walk in front of my cell phone as I taped the guide?

Who knows. But it does make you wonder.

We are just days away from the Silent Auction deadline!

Get your bids in soon!

Deadline is Friday, November 2nd at 11:59pm Eastern

Get your piece of Virginia History and help us preserve the history at Belle Grove Plantation!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 46 Comments »

Family Feud

Jun. 27th 2012

Wikipedi Hamilton Burr Duel

There is one more story I want to tell you about before we move on to a new family at Belle Grove. This story involves Francis Fitzhugh Conway, son of Captain Francis Conway, founder of Port Conway and his wife Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway. This story takes place several years after the Conway’s had already sold the plantation to the Hipkins-Bernard family in 1791.

After Captain Francis sold Belle Grove, he and his family moved to a plantation in Caroline County called Mount Scion. This plantation had been in his family for some years, have been built by his father, Francis Conway on a piece of land that was part of a land grant to his grandfather, Edwin Conway. In 1794, Captain Francis Conway passed away. Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway would remarry to Colonel James Taybil, date unknown.

Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway

Another person involved in this story is William Thornton. William was a cousin of Francis Fitzhugh Conway. Their connection was through Francis Thornton, who married Alice Savage and was the second owner of Belle Grove. William’s Great-Great Grandfather, Rowland Thornton Sr. was Francis Thornton’s brother. Francis Thornton was Francis Fitzhugh Conway’s Great-Great Grandfather.

The incident in question was a duel between cousins. This form of dueling started in Early Modern Europe. It general started with an offense occurring to which the offended would demand “satisfaction” from the person who had caused the offense. The person who was offended would signal his displeasure with an insulting gesture such as throwing a glove down before the other person. This is where the phrase “throwing down the gauntlet” come from.

The two parties would then select a second to represent them and a field of honor would be determined. The weapon would then be selected. The seconds would later check the weapons before the duel and then make sure the rules were followed. The offended would then select the conclusion of the duel. This could be one of the following out comes:

  • To first blood, which means the duel would end as soon as someone was wounded, even if the wound was minor
  • Physically disabled opponent
  • To the death

In the case of pistols being used as a weapon, there would be one round of shots fired. If neither were hit, the challenger would have the right to stop the duel or to continue until one or both parties were wounded. It was considered barbaric to shoot more than three times so few duels ever went beyond that.

The story of Francis Fitzhugh Conway and William Thornton occurred in December of 1803. The offense involved the affections of another cousin. Now I have read this story and the name of the cousin has been different in a few of them. The first story I read states the name of the cousin was Lucie Madison. The other name I saw as Nellie Madison. In doing some research, I have concluded that Lucie was far too young to have been the object of affection. At the time of the incident, Francis was 31 years old, William was 25 years old and Lucie would have been only 3 years old. On the other hand, Nellie Madison would have been 19 years old and a more appropriate age. Nellie Madison was the daughter of James Madison’s brother, Ambrose Madison, making her James Madison’s niece and cousin of both Francis and William.

National Park Service – Chatham Manor

The offense occurred in Fredericksburg, Virginia at Chatham Manor. Nelly was visiting the manor for Christmas and there must have been a Christmas party that both gentlemen were invited to. Both gentlemen had arrive on horseback and had had their horses stabled. To impress Nellie, Francis had purchased a new bridle (some stories say saddle) and had planned to unveil it that evening to Nellie. Francis had made the mistake though of boasting about the purchase before hand to which William heard.

When it came time for the gentlemen to leave, the horses were brought out. But to Francis’s surprise, the groomsman had switched the bridles. William’s horse had the new bridle on and it made a great impression on Nellie. Francis quickly accused William of the deed stating that he had bribed the groomsman to make the switch. William’s denials only aggravated the disagreement. Feeling offended, Francis challenged William to a duel. The duel was settled to occur at Alum Spring with pistols. John Spotwood Wellford, William’s half brother acted as his second. It is not known who acted as Francis’s. – Alum Springs Duel Path

The site they chose is a narrow pathway between a rock cliff and a pond. There was only one round of shots fired. Both shoots found their mark. Both gentlemen were wounded in the lower abdomen.The pistols belonged to Robert Patton, who after the duel threw them into the river opposite of the old mill. William was able to make it back to Fredericksburg to his stepfather Dr. Robert Wellford’s home. In fact, one of the witnesses stated that William did not even know he was wounded until he reached home and found blood in his boots. It is unsure if Francis died on the spot or if he was taken back to town and died. William lingered for two days and then died. According to family tradition, William and Francis both dead from their wounds the same hour. It is also said by family tradition that William had a miniature of Nellie Madison on him at the time of his death.

It is said that Nelly would never speak of the incident with anyone as would anyone connected with her. Her feelings for either of the gentlemen were never known. Nelly would later marry Dr. John Willis.

Family tradition says that Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway had a premonition of the death of her son. She woke and told of a dream of a man riding up on a white horse to give her the news of her son’s death. Shortly after she walked to the window to see the messager riding up. She fainted at the window.

William Thornton was buried on Willis Hill, but sadly no markers can be found for him. Mary Thornton, sister of William, cut a lock of William’s hair and placed it in a gold locket with the inscription “William Thornton, born 24 September 1778, died 27 December 1803. You that have lost a Brother pity me”. It is thought that Francis was laid to rest with his father in the family cemetery on Mount Scion.

A few days later the Virginia Express Newspaper in Fredericksburg, Virignia ran this article:

“Thursday, December 29, 1803

With infinite regret, we communicate to the public, an event, the most distressing in its nature, and fatal in its consequences of any within the compass of our recollection. On Monday last Mr. William Thorton and Mr. Francis Conway met, in consequence of a previous misunderstanding, in the neighborhood of this town, and sorry are we to announce that the event proved fatal to both parties. By their untimely fate two weeping Mothers are left to deplore the loss of two dutiful sons, their children two affectionate brothers, and society two most promising citizens. The surviving relations are in a situation easier to be imaged than described. We sincerely regret the frequency of a custom so prevalent in our country, and hope the melancholy catastrophe, here related, will prevent others from endangering their own lives, or embittering the days of their surviving relations.”

Two months later the Virginia Hearld newpaper carried a notice that a brace of brass-barreled pistols were found near Alum Spring. It was undetermined if they belonged to Francis and William or could have belonged to another duel that occurred there.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 20 Comments »