The American Revolution isn't over for many lingering ghosts.
There's an old saying: all beginnings are hard. This was definitely true of the United States of America, born in a bitter break with our mother country Great Britain. It's not surprising that the American Revolution, a time of divided loyalties, grim fighting, and early deaths, has produced ghost stories.
In fact, New England and the mid-Atlantic states, the settings of the American Revolution, are full of ghost stories. Until 1995, the state of New York required sellers to disclose any hauntings to home buyers. Revolutionary soldiers are seen marching in many parts of these states, and a particularly haunted area is said to be around Nyack, New York.
Ringwood Manor in New Jersey was the home of General Robert Erskine, who was the geographer for George Washington's army. Later he ran an ironworks on the grounds. He's buried near the manor house, and it's said that at dusk he sits on his grave, looking at the pond beyond. There are also French soldiers buried nearby, who fought for the American cause. They, too, come out a night and walk alongside the pond, speaking in French.
It's only natural that a story of doomed lovers would come out of a war that pitted neighbor against neighbor. A British colonel fell in love with a young woman whose family supported the American cause. One night at their secret trysting place, the young couple heard the sound of drumming nearby. The drumming grew louder, and then seemed to pass right by them, but they couldn't see anyone.
The colonel feared it was a bad omen. But in spite of that the two decided he would desert the British army and they would marry right away. They told the young woman's father about their plan, and he agreed they could be married in his house, since he liked the colonel.
So a minister was sent for. As the wedding began, everyone there heard the sound of drumming, and then heard the drummer walk right through the room, but no one saw him. Suddenly, British soldiers burst into the house and arrested the colonel. A servant had been paid to betray him, and he was shot for desertion.
During the war, a British couple boarded a ship in Boston Harbor, hoping to live in peace in England. But before the ship set sail, it was hit by a cannon ball, and the young woman was fatally injured. Before she died, she asked her husband not to bury her at sea, as she never liked the water. So he brought her on to land and buried her under a sand dune; he meant to come back and give her a proper burial, but was never able to. She's been seen walking along the beach, with a strange ashen face and blood streaming from the back of her head.
Another love story also resulted in a haunting. In Connecticut, Elisha Benton and Jemima Barrows were in love, but her family disliked him. Elisha jointed the Continental Army, hoping to win their approval. He was captured by the British and held on a prison ship, where he contracted smallpox. Elisha was exchanged for a British prisoner, and taken home to Connecticut, but by that time he was dying. Jemima went to care for him, not heeding the danger to herself, but soon he passed away; Jemima came down with smallpox and also died. Ever since then they've been seen wandering about the Benton homestead, looking for each other. Sometimes at night they're heard crying out to each other.
There were other dangers besides war and disease in those days. This story was written by Mrs. Emma Phillips in 1938; her father told it to her, and it happened to his great-grandfather. Great-grandfather was a stagecoach driver in Pennsylvania. He had a friend, a Jewish peddler, who often rode with him. In those days many innkeepers were criminals who robbed and murdered their guests, and a rumor sprang up that the peddler carried a small fortune with him.
One night the peddler stayed over at an inn, and the next day when great-grandfather came to pick him up the innkeeper said he had left already. Great-grandfather went on, and never saw the peddler again. About a year later, he was driving several men at night, when a strange blue light appeared ahead of them. It scared the horses, and hovered until it moved to a tree by the side of the road, then disappeared. The next day the men all went to the tree with shovels and pickaxes, and dug up the body of the peddler.
Well-known figures in the American Revolution have stayed around after death. Alexander Hamilton served as an officer in Washington's army. He was a congressman and Secretary of the Treasury, and founded the Bank of New York. But he's probably most famous for being killed in a duel with Aaron Burr.
Hamilton disliked Burr's ambition and mistrusted Burr's principles. He published so many attacks on Burr that, fed up, Burr challenged him to a duel. On a summer morning in New Jersey in 1804, Burr fired a fatal shot at Hamilton.
Hamilton was taken to his doctor's house at 27 Jane Street in New York, but died soon afterwards. In the 1960's Jean Karsavina, a writer and artist, lived in the house. She reported hearing footsteps and creaking, and doors opened and closed by themselves. The toilet even flushed by itself. Several times she saw a blurred shape. A tenant in the same house once saw a man in eighteenth-century clothes, who looked very much like Hamilton, walk into her room, look at her, then disappear.
George Washington himself has been seen at Mount Vernon, Woodlawn, a nearby plantation, and even the battlefield at Gettysburg. He appeared there riding a glowing white horse and carrying a flaming sword. He hasn't been seen in the White House, but that's probably because he never lived there.
Thomas Paine wrote, "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace." And hopefully, the ghosts of the Revolutionary War will also find peace.
Picture from Wikipedia Commons
Hans Holzer, The Ghost Hunter, Fall River Press 2005
Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 58, No. 228, April-June 1945