Williamsburg, Virginia is one of three locations, the others being Jamestown and Yorktown, that form the Historic Triangle of Virginia. These three locations tell the story of the nation’s colonial development from its first settlement to the defeat of the British at Yorktown, ending the American Revolution. Williamsburg was founded as Middle Plantation, a fortified plantation in 1632. When the capital of the Virginia Colony was moved there in 1698, it was renamed Williamsburg. The city was at the heart of much of the anti-British movement in the South that led to the American Revolution.
With the loss of status as a capital in 1780, Williamsburg reverted to being a small provincial town. The town remained a sleepy, provincial town until the dream of Episcopal priest, the Rev. W. A. R. Goodwin began to take shape and return the town to its colonial appearance. With such a concentration of historic structures, these were preserved and more modern structures removed and replaced with recreations of the original structures. This recreation of colonial Williamsburg, now under the control of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is now one of the premier tourist attractions in Virginia.
Of course, with such a concentration of historic structures, Williamsburg has a good deal of paranormal activity. Some of the hauntings in Williamsburg are well documented such as the Peyton Randolph and Wythe Houses, but others aren’t. It is my belief that these hauntings are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll be certainly working on trying to find more about the hauntings of Williamsburg.
College of William & Mary Campus
Built in 1723 with funds provided by English scientist Robert Boyle with the intent to spread the Gospel to the Indians, the Brafferton Building saw many young Native American men pass through its halls and sleep in its rooms. Now serving as the college president’s and administrative offices, the building may still have the spirits of these young Native Americans still roaming it. When the building served as a dormitory for both students and faculty, reports came out of the building of footsteps late at night accompanied by the sound of sobbing and even the sound of Indian drums. Over the centuries the school has been in operation, students have seen the site of a young Native American running bare-chested and barefooted near this building. This building sits near the Wren Building featured later in this entry and across from the President’s House which is haunted by the spirit of a French soldier.
416 Francis Street, East
Built around 1764 (deed books and other records for Williamsburg were destroyed during the Civil War so houses usually cannot be dated exactly), this house was occupied by Colonel John Chiswell when he was accused of murder in 1766. While free on bail awaiting trial, Colonel Chiswell died mysteriously in the house. Now used as lodging, stories have surfaced from this house of people being awakened by spirits touching and talking to them.
461 East Nicholson Street
According to Dennis William Hauck’s Haunted Places: The Nation Directory, the old Williamsburg Gaol is haunted by the ghosts of two women who are heard in animated conversation on the second floor of the jailer’s quarters.
207 East Duke of Gloucester Street
Built around 1755 possibly on the site of a much earlier house, the Ludwell-Paradise House was also the first house purchased for restoration by Dr. Goodwin and his partner in the venture, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. In 1805, the house was occupied by Lucy Paradise nee Ludwell. Stories of the former London socialite’s odd quirks quickly spread through town. Among them, Lucy’s penchant for bathing several times a day and her habit of borrowing new hats from other ladies in town to compliment her own dresses. She was also known for conducting carriage tours from a carriage on her back porch that was rolled back and forth by a servant. In 1812, she was committed to the state’s mental asylum, the nearby (and still extant) Public Hospital, where she died two years later. When the house was occupied by one of the vice presidents of the Colonial Williamsburg foundation, they reported hearing the sound of someone running bathwater and bathing on the second floor. Evidently, Lucy continues her eccentric rituals.
139 York Street
Some believe the spirit found in the Nicholson house is that of an itinerant musician, Cuthbert Ogle who is known to have died in the house shortly after arriving in town. Among the scant evidence of Ogle’s existence is an advertisement in the local paper announcing his arrival in 1755 and that he would be teaching “Ladies and Gentlemen to play on the Organ, Harpsichord or Spinet.” A little less than a month later, records indicate that Ogle was dead leaving a little money and a few things. Residents of the house have spoken of feeling a male presence in the house, being tapped on the shoulder by an unseen force and a mysterious scratching coming from the walls of the house.
500 East Duke of Gloucester Street
At the foot of Duke of Gloucester street stands the stately Old Capitol building. The third capitol to stand on this spot, this structure witnessed the some of the first contractions in the birth of the nation. According to Michael Varhola, there are many ghost stories associated with this building, but the main one that he describes is the legend that at the stroke of midnight on July Fourth, the spirits of Patrick Henry and other Revolutionary leaders assemble once again. A fanciful legend at most. I have covered the spirits of the Old Capitol in depth in a separate article.
302 Francis Street, East
Sheila Turnage documents an odd experience a family had while staying in the Orrell House. While the entire family was watching TV one evening in the living room of this house, they heard the sound of water running in the bathroom. The father went into the bathroom and turned it off. Upon returning to the living room the sound of water was heard once again. Returning to the bathroom, the water was found to be running again. Again, the father turned it off and returned to the living room. Once again the water turned on and the father turned it off. After hearing glass breaking in the bathroom, the father returned to find that a glass had been removed from the medicine cabinet, removed from its plastic wrapping and then thrown to the floor. Turnage also notes that activity had not been previously reported in the house.
Peyton Randolph House
100 West Nicholson Street
The Peyton Randolph House is one of the best-documented houses in Williamsburg in terms of its spiritual activity and may also be one of the most active locations in the area. Built around 1715 by Sir John Randolph, a member of the House of Burgesses, the house was passed to his son, Peyton who would serve as speaker of the House of Burgesses and later, first president of the Continental Congress. Since his ownership the house passed through many hands and was the scene of many deaths, perhaps some that have left a spiritual imprint on the house. Former residents, as well as guides and docents, have reported numerous odd sounds as well as apparitions including a man in colonial dress.
Public Records Office
433 East Duke of Gloucester Street
When the Capitol burned in 1747, many of the colony’s records were destroyed. Legislation was later passed to construct the Public Records Office or Secretary’s Office to house and protect records. Construction began in 1748 and the building was used for records until they were moved to the new capital, Richmond, in 1780. Since that time, the building has served a variety of purposes including as a residence. Legend tells us of a family occupying the building in the early twentieth century whose myopic daughter was killed when she stepped in front of a carriage. Since that time, her spirit has been seen lingering around the building she once called home. This article has been broken out into a separate article.
410 East Duke of Gloucester Street
In order to recreate Williamsburg as it appeared before the American Revolution, much of the city had to be completely rebuilt as was the case with the Raleigh Tavern. Opened in 1717, this respected tavern served as a meeting place for many involved in the creation of the nation as well as the first meeting site for the fraternity Phi Beta Kappa. In 1859, the old tavern burned and was not rebuilt. When Colonial Williamsburg purchased the site it was occupied by two brick stores which were razed and after finding the remains of the tavern’s original foundation, the tavern arose once again in its original footprint. The building reopened in 1932 and apparently many of the tavern’s spectral residents resumed their parties. Reports of these spectral parties surfaced first in 1856 and have continued since.
College of William & Mary Campus
Known as the oldest functioning academic building in the nation, this structure is at the heart of one of the most venerable institutions of higher learning in the nation. As noted earlier, this building has two other haunted structures nearby: the Brafferton Building and the President’s House. Possibly designed by English architect, Sir Christopher Wren, construction on this edifice began in 1695. As one would expect of a building so old, there is evidently some spiritual activity including odd sounds that resonate throughout the structure. Daniel Barefoot in his Haunted Halls of Ivy, describes a professor whose lectures was interrupted by odd noises from the floors above. When the professor and his class investigated, no sources was discovered.
101 Palace Green
In Williamsburg, it seems that the more important the history of a location, as that of the Payton Randolph House, the more likely it is to be haunted. Such is the case with the George Wyeth (rhymes with “with”) House. The home of George Wyeth, patriot leader, Continental Congress leader and one of the Virginia signers of the Declaration of Independence, this large, Georgian house has seen much historical activity in its eight rooms. There are numerous reports of spectral activity as well including people being tapped on the shoulder by an unseen person, apparitions seen throughout the house and even a docent feeling hands trying to push her down the stairs.
- Barefoot, Daniel W. Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern Colleges and Universities. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2004.
- Brafferton (building). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 November 2010.
- Colonial Williamsburg. George Wyeth House. www.history.org. Accessed 6 November 2010.
- Colonial Williamsburg. Ludwell-Paradise House. www.history.org. Accessed 6 November 2010.
- Colonial Williamsburg. Peyton Randolph House. www.history.org. Accessed 6 November 2010.
- Colonial Williamsburg. Raleigh Tavern. www.history.org. Accessed 6 November 2010.
- Colonial Williamsburg. Wren Building. www.history.org. Accessed 6 November 2010.
- Hauck, William Dennis. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
- Stephenson, Mary A. Chiswell-Bucktrout House Historical Report, Block 2 Building 17 Lot 253-254. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library. 1959
- Taylor, L. B., Jr. The Ghosts of Tidewater…and nearby environs. Progress Printing Co., 1990.
- Taylor, L. B., Jr. The Ghosts of Williamsburg and Nearby Environs. Progress Printing Co., 1983.
- Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnatti, OH: Clerisy Press, 2008.