Southside Saloon and Bistro 1301 Chestnut Street Chattanooga, Tennessee
Until quite recently, Chattanooga was a city whose ghosts were ill documented. Jessica Penot and Amy Petulla’s recent book, Haunted Chattanooga, has helped to fix that. I’ve only just gotten my copy of the book and will review it as soon as I’ve finished reading it. It doesn’t seem to include this location, though it’s noted that many stories were not included in this book due to space constraints. Therefore, I’m also quite happy to see this recent article. Adding locations to my list always is a joy!
The Southside Saloon and Bistro is located in an unassuming brick building in downtown Chattanooga. A bit over a century old, the building was built initially as a saloon while the upstairs included cubicles for use as a brothel. Over the decades, the building has seen a number of other uses including use as a bottling company. Some spirits still linger here as well. The article mentions three ghosts believed to remain in the building including a man whom the staff has nicknamed George. Activity has included apparitions, swinging pots and other moving objects.
So, next time you’re in Chattanooga, check out the Southside Saloon and Bistro for good food and a variety of spirits.
The Meridian Star 814 22nd Avenue Meridian, Mississippi
In my most recent check of news, I didn’t come across any articles of interest. Recently, however, I’ve discovered just how many wonderful newspapers put their archives online for free. Thank you! Until recently, I’ve been paying to use an online clipping service, but now with some free archives, I’ll be sure to check there first. Anyway, with little recent news, I moseyed on over to some Mississippi newspapers to see what I could find. Lo and behold, The Meridian Star has a free archive! And, even better, there’s an amusing article about the newspaper’s own offices being investigated.
Dr. Alan Brown, one of my paranormal writing heroes, is a resident of Meridian and has written about TheMeridian Star building. According to him, not only is the newspaper building haunted, but the Pigford Building next door and Peavy Melody Music across the street from the newspaper are also haunted. These are all covered in his 2002 book, Haunted Places in the American South.
But back to the newspaper, local lore tells of one death in the building when a worker was caught under a hydraulic lift in the newspaper’s shop. Another death occurred when a man fell from a second story window (in the Pigford Building?) into an alley that once ran beside the building. Though, it’s not known if any of these deaths are related to the activity that takes place within the building.
In one particularly intriguing story, an employee working late in the building walked to the break room. As she passed through an older section of the building, she was overcome with a feeling of dread. She looked around and saw a toddler walking a few feet away. She immediately looked around for the parents, but when she looked back towards the child, it had vanished. She spent a few minutes looking for the child but found no one. She returned to her office where another colleague was working and told him of what she had just seen.
The same colleague, a sport editor, had also had an odd experience. Walking through the pressroom very early one morning, he felt a chill and witnessed two filmy figures hovering near the ceiling above him. After a few moments, the figures ascended into the ceiling. A reporter had a similar experience a few weeks later.
The article I discovered, from 2006, tells of investigators from a group called Observations who investigated the office one Sunday afternoon. The group spent four hours investigating and did capture an orb on video near the press. One of the investigators mentioned that the orb moved very slowly and deliberately, unlike the movement from dust or an insect.
This article is one of a handful I’ve discovered from this Mississippi newspaper. Please tune in again for more on the mysteries of Meridian.
Brown, Alan. Haunted Places in the American South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2002.
Brown, Ida. “Ghost hunters probe The Star for paranormal activity.” The Meridian Star. 23 April 2006.
When I was doing summer theatre a number of years ago, one young actor with little musical experience found himself cast in the pre-show choir. After a few days of relentless rehearsals and hours of trying to acquaint himself with music theory he blurted out, “Singing’s hard!” much to the delight of the rest of the choir.
I can honestly say, “Blogging’s hard!” Not that I expected it to be easy, but it’s definitely much more involved than I imagined it to be: keeping up with other blogs and bloggers, research, writing, more writing, organizing, editing, catching up with the blogs you missed out on because you were researching and writing, posting entries, more researching and writing followed by more catching up on blogs, Facebooking (I cringe that that is now a verb), Tweeting (I cringe again), more catching up and everything endlessly cycles through. Oh, and I forgot the worry and stress that I get when one or more of those things fall behind or isn’t accomplished.
Today is Southern Spirit Guide’s first birthday and just a few days ago I finally reached 100 posts. I’m very surprised I’ve even gotten to this point. When I started this blog a year ago, I had that all too common worry that this would turn out like so many other projects I’ve embarked upon: unfinished. There’s always a fear that I will start with grandiose plans and only see them through halfway. So far, though, this blog has not fallen victim. In fact, it recently gave birth to another blog. Oh God, they’re breeding and multiplying, run for your life!
I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and plan to continue another year and see where this leads me. There is an ultimate goal in mind of a book, though the actual subject still remains unclear. I definitely have tons of research I can rely on, though I find that the more research I have, the more I need. At least I usually feel that way.
Ok, I’ve patted myself on the back enough, there are some people I need to thank as well. I’ve said my thanks in a few previous posts, so I’ll be brief about it. My family and friends are very dear to me and have put up with endless discussions of ghosts, ghost stories and even accompanying me to haunted places. The bloggers who have so graciously helped me along: Jessica Penot, Courtney Mroch, Sharon Day and Pamela Kinney, without their support, this blog would be dead, not just about the dead. Finally, my readers and fans, thank you for reading, enjoying and commenting. Thank you! You all mean the world to me.
Ok, now what?
Well, I have some thoughts for the future. I’m slowly working to make sure that I have good coverage for each state. Georgia, my beloved home state, is still leading with the most entries. I’d like to catch most other states up, especially Washington, DC and West Virginia which I’ve seemed to ignore. I’ve discovered a good deal more information on West Virginia that I can use in the near future.
There are some entries that I really would like to revisit, revise and expand. I started doing that with the haunted college and university building entry but I got distracted halfway through.
Dear readers, if you have any suggestions, please leave comments or email me. In addition, if you come across information that may be helpful in my research, please let me know!
A paranormal researcher and writer is really like a gardener. They tend to stories that have been cultivated by others: they add and correct facts, update reports of paranormal activity and generally tend to these stories. They also seek out seeds of information and work to grow these into full stories. If a story isn’t tended it may simply pass into the realm of legend.
Pamela K. Kinney works hard tending the large garden of ghost stories that is found in and around the Historic Triangle of Virginia. Her recent book, Virginia’s Haunted Historic Triangle: Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, & Other Haunted Locations, covers a region that has served as a cradle of the nation and a burial ground for so many who fought to create and preserve this union. Here are found battlefields and plantations, taverns and churches, historic hotels and Holiday Inns; all with a palpable sense of deep history. This is a region where spirits swarm over the land, reminding us of the lives they once lived.
This spiritually fertile ground has been well tended by other authors from the aristocratic Marguerite DuPont Lee in her Virginia Ghosts (first published in 1930) to the prolific L. B. Taylor, Jr. and his many volume Ghosts of Virginia. Kinney endeavors to tend stories that were first documented by these authors, adding new reports of activity and her own impressions and experiences at each of these locations. She covers such notable hauntings as Shirley and Berkeley Plantations, Williamsburg’s Ludwell-Paradise House and Peyton Randolph House, the Yorktown Battlefield and Fort Monroe.
But Kinney does a good job tending to much lesser known locations as well, including the modern hotels along Richmond Road, Rosewell Plantation and Bluebird Gap Farm. I was particularly impressed by her chapter on the Crawford Road Bridge in York County. It’s a somewhat forgotten place with a chilling history. I know this is my first introduction to this story and I cannot locate another published source on this location. Kinney has taken a location that’s poorly documented online and grown a wonderful chapter on it.
Not only does Kinney cover the spiritual side of the area, but she includes chapters on sasquatch sightings, UFOs and the Cohoke Light. She’s created a marvelous guide to the supernatural in this extraordinary region of Virginia. With her previous books on Virginia ghosts, Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths and True Tales and Haunted Richmond, Virginia, I hope Pamela will continue her marvelous work in this state’s spiritual garden.
Virginia’s Haunted Historic Triangle: Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, & Other Haunted Locations by Pamela K. Kinney, published by Schiffer Publishing, $19.99.
While visiting Charleston a few weeks ago, I took a quick day trip to Georgetown, just up the coast. The drive from Charleston passes numerous roadside stands selling traditional sweetgrass baskets, marshes and haunted plantations like Hopesewee and Hampton. Driving into Georgetown on Highway 17, the first glimpse of the city is decidedly industrial. Turning towards town, the view changes quickly to broad, residential streets with sunlight dappled by the moss-laden ancient oaks that line the streets.
The main street, Front Street, passes through a downtown of lovingly restored old commercial buildings filled with small shops, cafes and restaurants. Just beyond the buildings, the Sampit River slowly winds its way towards communion with Winyah Bay. The residential streets beyond are lined with beautifully restored homes and the whole effect of the town is marvelously drowsy and quiet. The town seems lost in an aged and blissful dementia, unaware of time and the rush of the outside world. So many of Georgetown’s stories are just as timeless.
Georgetown is recognized as the third oldest city in South Carolina, though this is argued as the Spanish settled the area in the early 16th century, thus making it one of the oldest cities in the New World. Officially, the city was founded by the English in 1721 and served as a wealthy port city and center for agriculture in this fertile region. Initially, wealth flowed in from the trade in indigo, but following the American Revolution, cultivation of indigo was supplanted by rice which grew especially well in this wet, marshy area. By 1840, almost half of the rice produced in the United States was grown in this region and Georgetown became the largest port for the exportation of rice in the world.
The Civil War brought horrors to the country and a blockade to Georgetown’s port, though the war did not scar the city like its neighbor Charleston. With the loss of slave labor, many of the large plantations in the area struggled to produce the vast amounts of rice that had been produced before the war. Rice, once the port’s main export was replaced by timber and an International Paper plant gave a much needed boost to the local economy following the Great Depression. With such a large an intact historic district, the city has been able to capitalize on its heritage and now attracts tourists and retirees.
Many of the area’s ghosts have been documented by Elizabeth Huntsinger, now Elizabeth Huntsinger Wolf, in her three volumes: Ghosts of Georgetown, More Ghosts of Georgetown, and Georgetown Mysteries and Legends. Many of these stories appear to be old legends though a few have modern postscripts with activity that has been recently reported. Please note that many of these homes are private residences; please respect the owner’s privacy.
Beth Elohim Cemetery 400 Broad Street
The second oldest Jewish cemetery in the state, the Beth Elohim Cemetery contains graves of many of the most prominent citizens of Georgetown, including three of the six Jewish mayors. The legend associated with this graveyard involves Pauline Moses who, with her best friend Eliza Munnerlyn, had planned to be wed on the same day at the same time, though in different locations. Both girls contracted yellow fever and died a few days before the wedding. Subsequently, girlish laughter heard emanating from this cemetery as well as the cemetery of Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church just across the street, where Munnerlyn is buried, is thought to be theirs.
Bolem House 719 Prince Street
Possibly the oldest home in Georgetown, recent evidence has been discovered indicating that the Bolem House was originally constructed as a tavern. With the influx of sailors into the port, Georgetown would have had at least a few establishments to house and serve them. Residents of the house have since occasionally heard and seen the revenants of some of these long dead sailors. Huntsinger describes the surprise of a family member when he encountered a sailor on Christmas of 1993. The family member went into the kitchen and “encountered a very old man in an old-time sailor’s outfit, and he appeared to have no teeth. The man wandered around the kitchen, then into the hallway, never saying anything and looking somewhat displaced.” He asked the rest of the family if they had seen someone and they had not. Hopefully, the poor sailor will soon figure out where he needs to be.
Cleland House 405 Front Street
Among the oldest homes in Georgetown, the Cleland House was built in 1737 and has seen a whole panoply of American history, some of it even passing over its thresholds. Among the notable visitors to this house are German Generals von Steuben and de Kalb; French General Gilbert de Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, who all aided the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and American Vice President Aaron Burr. The home was originally built facing the Sampit River, but later on the front door was placed facing Front Street.
The story behind this house reads very much like an old fashioned ghost story. Anne Withers, possibly related to John Withers who is listed on the historical marker in front of the house as one of the owners, had fallen in love with a dashing sea captain. After one of his voyages he returned to Georgetown and presented his fiancée, Anne, with a rare gift, an ancient Egyptian bracelet. The bracelet featured a series of scarabs, stylistic representations of dung beetles which symbolize the heavenly cycle of life. The blushing bride saved the bracelet to wear with her wedding dress. On her wedding day, she placed the bracelet on her wrist and carried on with her other preparations. Just as she was about to descend the staircase, the bride let out a scream and collapsed, dead.
When her family rushed to her side, blood was dripping from underneath the bracelet. When it was removed, the scarabs were found to have tiny legs that had dug into the bride’s pale flesh. The heartbroken sea captain left Georgetown soon after and in London had the bracelet examined by a chemist. The chemist discovered that the legs on the scarabs had been rigged to open by the warmth from human skin and each leg contained poison that would be injected into the hapless victim. He surmised the bracelet had been made to afflict the person who stole the artifact from a tomb. Ever since Anne Withers’ wedding day death, her form, still wearing nuptial white has been seen in the garden of the Cleland House.
DuPre House 921 Prince Street
This house has in the recent past served as a bed and breakfast, but there was a large for sale sign in the yard when I visited a few weeks ago. An internet search doesn’t say if the inn is still open. I do hope that the little girl and the mother who have resided there since before the Civil War are okay. Guests in this home constructed around 1740 have reported seeing and hearing a woman and small girl who may have been victims of a fire in the house in the 19th century. In addition to occasionally smelling smoke, occupants have come face to face with the two spirits and have heard childish giggling and singing. At times, small footprints have even appeared in freshly vacuumed carpet.
Harbor House Bed & Breakfast (Heriot-Tarbox House) 15 Cannon Street
Atop a bluff overlooking the Sampit River is the important Heriot-Tarbox House with a distinctive red roof that can been seen from Winyah Bay. Constructed around 1765, the house was later the home to a prosperous merchant who constructed the warehouse across the street along with a dock for merchant ships. It was here that the legendary Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of United States Vice President Aaron Burr and wife of South Carolina Governor Joseph Alston stayed in 1812 before her ill-fated journey to New York. Her ship, the Patriot, disappeared during the voyage and spirits identified as her have been seen walking the coastline from here to North Carolina. Legend holds that her ghost has been seen in front of the house and near the warehouse just across Cannon Street.
A later resident had a daughter, who, like so many other local daughters, fell in love with a sea captain. Her disapproving father asked that the ship be anchored off the coast to protect his daughter, but the house’s position allowed the daughter to signal to her lover with a lantern in one of the top windows. The couple never married though the woman continued to hang the signal lantern hoping for her lover’s return. By the time the Civil War, her parents had died and the woman lived as a spinster surrounded by a pack of loyal dogs. She used the lantern hung in her high dormer to signal to blockade runners after the Union bottled up the bay. Not long after the war, the spinster grew more and more reclusive and one evening her dogs were heard baying through the night. Concerned neighbors broke into the house to find her body surrounded by her beloved dogs. Her wraith is still supposedly seen followed by spectral dogs while the light still appears in the dormer window.
According to Huntsinger’s version of this story the high dormer was later used during Prohibition to signal to rum runners. Part of me wonders if perhaps the story of the lantern in the dormer window is a product of the rum runners; a reason for locals to not question the odd signal light. Ghost stories are sometimes used to keep the curious at bay; perhaps this is at work in this house on the bay.
Henning-Miller House 331 Screven Street
This lovely, circa 1760 (some accounts state the house is circa 1800, which would make this story false), home boasts a helpful spirit on the staircase. During the American Revolution, British soldiers often imposed themselves on the hospitality of both Tory (British sympathizers) and Patriot families alike. The family living in the Henning House was Tory, but had a daughter with Patriot sympathies. Throughout the South Carolina Low Country, the British had chased Patriot hero, Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion through the swamps and marshes. One evening as the British were sleeping upstairs, of their officers overheard the daughter talking downstairs of Francis Marion being in town. He rose quickly and in his rush tripped on the stairs breaking his neck and killing him instantly. Since that incident, anyone losing their footing on the same stairs has felt a hand keeping them from meeting the same fate as that young British officer.
Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church 300 Broad Street
Opened in 1747, the marvelous church of Prince George Winyah has served the citizens of Georgetown for centuries. For the legend surrounding the churchyard, see the above entry on the Beth Elohim Cemetery. I’ve also posted pictures in my other blog, The Southern Taphophile.
Pyatt-Doyle House 630 Highmarket Street
This 1790 home is home to what appears to be mostly residual activity. It is noted that when a rocking chair is placed in one bedroom, it will rock on its own. Some visitors have even witnessed a woman holding a baby sitting in the chair. Others have heard the sound of footsteps throughout the house.
Rice Museum and the Kaminski Building
633 Front Street
Georgetown’s Rice Museum, documenting the history of rice cultivation in the South Carolina lowcountry, is housed in two historic buildings on Front Street: the Old Market Building with its landmark clock tower and the adjacent Kaminski Building. The Old Market Building once housed, as the name implies, the local market selling produce, livestock and slaves while the upper portions housed the town hall. Over the years the building has served as a jail, a printing shop and the town police department. The Kaminski Building, constructed in 1842, the same year as the market, served as retail space for many years. With so much activity over the years, it’s hard to imagine that these buildings wouldn’t contain a ghost or three. Footsteps, particularly those of someone with a peg-leg have been heard in the art gallery in the Kaminski Building. Elizabeth Huntsinger, author of Ghosts of Georgetown and More Ghosts of Georgetown, points out a particular antique sideboard in the museum that may even be associated with the spirit of a slave woman.
Strand Theatre 710 Front Street
The plot of land on Front Street has been occupied by a cinema since the Peerless Theatre was constructed there in 1914. The current building opened as the Strand in 1941. The Strand closed as a cinema in the 1970s and in 1982 the Swamp Fox Players, a local community theatre company took over the building; slowly restoring its Art Moderne glory. Almost immediately, company members began noticing the sounds of footsteps in the balcony. During a performance of an original show, Ghosts of the Coast, based upon a series of ghost stories and other haunting tales, actors leaving the theatre began to notice odd cold spots and the sounds of whispers began to emanate from the backstage area. The actors quickly summoned a local ghost hunter who blamed the occurrence on a scene in the show involving a hoodoo spell. While the cold spots and whispers have since ceased, the footsteps continue.
Waterman-Kaminski House 622 Highmarket Street
Just next door to the Pyatt-Doyle House is the even earlier Waterman House, built around 1770. This house is home to two separate legends. One speaks of a little boy whose family left him in the care of the home’s owners while they journeyed north during the summer. The family was lost at sea and the little eight-year-old soon fell sick with grief and died in the house. His pitiful spirit is still seen occasionally.
The other legend concerns a young woman who fell for a faithless sea captain. He returned from a trip and presented his love with a vial of exotic perfume. After he left, the young woman watched him from a third floor window. On his way back to the port, he entered a tavern and soon emerged with another young lady on his arm and they entered a local inn. Distraught, the young woman drank the contents of the vial and died. Her sad spirit is said to still watch from the window on summer evenings.
Barefoot, Daniel W. Spirits of ’76: Ghost Stories of the American Revolution. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2009.
Bethesda Presbyterian Church Russellville, Tennessee
Pardon my absence, please. Initially, I was busy working on some new articles, but after lightning struck and killed my router and Internet; my time for work was limited. I’m getting back to work now. Since I haven’t done a good newsbyte in awhile, I’m doing one now; and boy, it’s a doozy.
You may notice that I have not included the exact location of this church, there’s a good reason for that. After recent events, I have a feeling the people working to protect Bethesda Presbyterian Church really don’t want ghost hunters around. According to an article and video from KSDK in St. Louis, Missouri, the church was vandalized recently by teen “ghost hunters.”
This is utterly ridiculous. Unfortunately, these teens have given real ghost hunters and others with an interest in the paranormal a bad name. Two teenage boys spent time in this historic church overnight burning candles on floors that once held wounded from the Civil War. Windows were shattered and they spray-painted and toppled a number of monuments in the adjacent cemetery. As the idiots did leave a bicycle on the property, the police were able to apprehend these young hooligans.
Reading about such an event makes me livid, especially when “ghost hunting” is involved. A ghost hunter should have utmost respect for the places they investigate as well as for the dead. Part of that respect for the dead is by protecting the places where they once walked or are buried.
Please do check out the video for some wonderful shots of this historic structure. The reporter does state that the church is on the “National Registry of Historic Landmarks.” This is incorrect. It is called the “National Register of Historic Places.” There are places that are known as National Historic Landmarks, but that is a step up from the National Register and reserved for those places of national importance.
Throughout the South history creates layers. In some places there are literal layers that an archaeologist may sift through, in other places those layers can be formed through names; names that may span the centuries from the present day to another historical layer many centuries earlier. The Charleston Battery is one of those places with a few layers of names. I’ve encountered so many different names for this location; I’m not sure which is really correct. Wikipedia calls it The Battery and says that White Point Gardens is a part of that. I’ll just stick with that. A Post & Courier article from 2001 adds that even the use of “Gardens” (plural) as opposed to “Garden” (singular) is inconsistent. Nevertheless, the jumble of names adds to the layers of history that have accrued here.
In April of 1670 when the 93 passengers aboard the Carolina first sailed into what would be called Charleston Harbor, they were greeted by the tip of a peninsula at the point where two mighty rivers came together. The ship’s captain knew one of the rivers as the Ashley, as he had accompanied the earlier expedition that had named the river for Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, one of the colony’s Lord Proprietors. The local Native Americans called the river Kiawah (which is now applied to a barrier island south of the city), and the Spanish had called it the San Jorge. At the tip of this peninsula was a Native American oyster shell midden, or trash heap. Over time, this point would be called alternately Oyster Point, or White Point, for the sun-bleached oyster shells piled there.
Initially, the settlers landed and began to build their city, named for King Charles I, on the opposite bank of the Ashley River on what would later be called Old Town Creek. Colonel William Sayle, the colony’s first governor saw the strategic importance of the peninsula’s tip, however. “It is as it were a Key to open and shutt [sic] this settlement into safety or danger,” he stated in a letter to Lord Ashley, and he began to grant land to settlers in this area. In 1679, it was decided that Oyster Point and the Cooper River side of the peninsula was a much better place for a town.
Throughout its three hundred some-odd years of existence, White Point Gardens has seen a variety of uses. It has been covered with shacks and tenements, served the defense of the city, been created as a pleasure park, and as a place for execution. Walter Fraser, Jr. in his Charleston! Charleston! The History of a Southern City, describes a storm surge sweeping over White Point during the Hurricane of 1752, with the poor people escaping their shacks there for more substantial shelter. Following the hurricane, the White Point remained “a desolate Spot” until 1770 when the low marshy areas were filled in and elegant homes began to be built there along with a sea wall on the eastern side created with palmetto logs. This held until 1804 when it was swept away by another hurricane and it was replaced with a wall of ballast stone.
It was in the space created here that open-air concerts were given during the summer months. When the British blockaded Charleston Harbor during the War of 1812, fifteen guns of large caliber were placed along the White Point aimed at the harbor and the point began to be known as The Battery.
Following the war, this pleasant point was planted with oaks and gained the name White Point Gardens during a major period of building in the late 1830s. When English actress Fanny Kemble, who married Georgia cotton planter Pierce Butler, visited the city she delighted in the promenade and the “large and picturesque old houses.” Fraser notes that in the 1840s, African-Americans were not allowed to use the park between five and ten in the evening.
From this promenade and roofs of the pretentious mansions lining the battery, the citizens of Charleston witnessed the first shots of the Civil War as Confederate attacked Fort Sumter in the harbor. Gunfire from ships during the war destroyed some of those mansions, but they were later rebuilt even more ostentatiously. The tradition of promenading along the seawall and under the sprawling live oaks continued into the 20th century. The 1941 Works Progress Administration guide to the state of South Carolina describes the scene of “Charleston children, guarded by white-turbaned Negro ‘maumas,’ play[ing] among monuments and guns that recall the city’s war-torn history of more than 250 years.”
Today tourists stroll the Battery and under those oaks. They may pass a stone monument reminding them of the fact that they stand on an execution ground. In fact, this spot may still be haunted by those who hung here in 1718, when Charleston was still a small colonial port. Over the course of five weeks that year some 49 men were hung here for piracy.
As the colonies grew, piracy became a major problem for trade and many of the up and coming ports. Around late May or June of 1718, the notorious Edward Teach, or Blackbeard as he is more affectionately known, blockaded Charleston Harbor. Among the first ships he captured was a London-bound ship called the Crowley loaded with a number of prominent citizens. Word was sent to the Royal Governor that these people would be summarily executed unless the port offered up medical supplies. The governor complied and the citizens were released, though lightened of their purses, valuables, and even their clothes.
In response, Governor Robert Johnson asked the Lord Proprietors for assistance, but received no response. When pirates again appeared in the waters near Charleston in August, a group of local merchants banded together and under the command of William Rhett, they set out to stop this threat to their business. In the waters of North Carolina, they encountered pirate Stede Bonnet refitting his ship in the Cape Fear River.
Stede Bonnet wasn’t born into a life of crime. The son of a wealthy English family on the island of Barbados, Bonnet had had a fairly successful life which enabled him to buy his way into piracy. It was the usual custom for pirates to begin their work by seizing a ship that they then used to prey on other ships, Bonnet, however, bought his ship, the Revenge. He also hired his crew and paid them regular wages. Due to lack of experience in sailing or piracy, Bonnet had to hire someone to command his men. After terrorizing shipping off the Virginia coast, Bonnet sailed for the pirate’s paradise of Nassau in the Bahamas. There, he met Blackbeard and decided to join forces.
After a night of maneuvering sloops back and forth to gain advantage in battle, the sun rose on the morning of September 27, 1718 with Bonnet sailing his one sloop, he had combined all of his men into one ship from three, towards the three sloops under Colonel Rhett. Nearly all the ship ran aground during the battle with a rising tide eventually freeing Rhett’s vessels, while Bonnet’s sloop, the Royal James, remained stuck. The Royal James was quickly boarded by Rhett’s men who outnumbered the pirates. In a last ditch effort, Bonnet ordered his gunner to blow up the ship’s powder stores, but this suicidal act was prevented by Bonnet’s men who surrendered instead. Rhett returned triumphantly to Charleston with Bonnet and twenty-nine of his men in chains.
In Charleston, Bonnet’s men were imprisoned in the Half-Moon Battery where the Exchange and Provost Dungeon were later constructed, and still stands today. Because of his gentlemanly upbringing, Bonnet was imprisoned with his boatswain, Ignatius Pell, in the home of the town’s Provost Marshall. Shortly thereafter, Bonnet and Pell, accompanied by a slave and a Native American, escaped the house possibly disguised as women, at least according to legend. The group however, wasn’t able to go very far and had only gotten as far as Sullivan’s Island, north of the city, when they were captured. Bonnet and his men were put on trial before Vice-Admiralty judge, Nicholas Trott and found guilty.
Bonnet’s own men were hung at White Point, two days before his trial, and their bodies left dangling from the gallows before the bloated, decaying corpses were cut down and unceremoniously dumped in the marsh just off the point. Those same marshes that would later be filled in for the building of homes. Reportedly, Bonnet begged for clemency and turned much of the Charleston female population to his side, so much so that the governor had to delay the execution seven times. Even Colonel Rhett offered help by escorting Bonnet to England for a new trial, but Judge Trott’s decision stood firm.
During the time between Bonnet being found guilty and his execution, 19 other pirates were found guilty and hung at White Point. Bonnet’s day of execution finally dawned on December 10. Walter Fraser describes the scene:
…manacled and clutching a nosegay of wildflowers, [he] was taken in a hurdle to the place execution near White Point where the once bold pirate appeared terrified and near collapse. The executioner dropped the noose over his head and around his neck and then Bonnet was ‘swung off’ the cart. He died an agonizing death of strangulation, the invention of the gallows that would break the victim’s neck being years away.
His body was left hanging for a few days then unceremoniously dumped in the marsh with the remains of his men and his pirate brothers where they were eaten by crabs, riddled with maggots, and pecked by the gulls.
Over the course of five weeks, forty-nine pirates swung from the gallows at White Point. Within a couple months, pirate Richard Worley and nineteen of his men met the same fate. While the leaves of White Point Gardens’ oaks calmly sway in the ocean breeze, their roots are feeding on the blood of pirates.
There is a legend that the spirits of these pirates still stalk Battery Park and White Point Gardens. Denise Roffe includes a story of a couple who encountered an apparition hanging in midair beneath the oaks of the park. Alan Brown mentions that the spirits have been witnessed standing under the oaks and screaming at passersby. He notes that if one looks out on the bay from the foot of Water Street, where Vanderhorst Creek once met the waters of the Cooper River, when the moon is high, they may see the bloated faces of the long dead pirates just under the water’s surface. Like so many Charleston ghost stories, this story may be mostly legend, but it is grounded in a marvelous history.