Williamsburg is one of the oldest cities in Virginia and the country. With its roots running deep into centuries passed, the city went from a small colonial town to the bustling historic city we see today. To some, Williamsburg might be just another haunted city but it’s truly unique in its history. Williamsburg is a bit of a living history museum, with most of the structures in the city surviving from when the city was just in its infancy. That means most buildings in Williamsburg are over three-hundred-years old. Three centuries! Williamsburg has seen the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and even prohibition when most of its taverns and pubs shut down legal operations and started to be frequented by less-than-savory characters in its speakeasies.
Surviving colonial structures have been restored to as close to their original as possible, with later buildings being constructed to fit the appearance of the rest of the city. Visitors to Williamsburg are instantly transported to 19th-century America, inundated with historic architecture and phantoms of the past — figuratively and literally.
In Williamsburg, previous residents and their ghosts still roam. Reminders of the history that is held deep within the city’s streets, seeping into the brick and mortar of each and every building. Walk through the parkways and alleys of this town, look into the lead paneled windows and think of all those that watched the world go by through them before — maybe you’ll even catch a glimpse of something other than your reflection.
Without further adieu, let’s get into the most haunted locations in Williamsburg — the churches, houses, and cemeteries that have given Williamsburg its wildly haunted reputation.
THE PUBLIC HOSPITAL
Your everyday public hospitals were once also used to house those needing extensive psychiatric care. ‘Public Hospitals’ were America’s first mental asylums, providing treatment to countless patients around the country.
Williamsburg’s public hospital was no different — it saw hundreds of patients, doctors, and families coming and going. In its early history, the hospital was tainted with the mistreatment of its patients, some being treated worse than inmates in the state’s prison system. Patients endured cruel and unusual punishments, long periods of isolation and confinement, and their small, barred cells had only a single window for light to peek through.
Patients were shackled to the walls and slept on the floor or on dirty straw-filled mattresses if you can call them that. On top of their horrific living conditions, patients were forced to take immense amounts of drugs. Some were dunked in cold water with their hands and feet bound in order to rid their bodies of their disorders. Others were jolted with currents of electricity to remove ‘negative energy’ from their scared and abused bodies.
How could this have happened? What is the timeline of Williamsburg’s public hospital?
During the long history of the public hospital, various treatments were tried. These all appear to be the same that were implemented at various other institutions across America. Some of these treatments are strange and ineffective at best, and deadly at worst.
In 1841, John Minson Galt II became the public hospital’s superintendent and changed the conditions of the asylum dramatically. He worked in the hospital for over twenty-one years tirelessly to improve the lives of the patients he thought should be treated with care and respect.
Unfortunately, the Battle of Williamsburg started shortly after he started and Galt was forced from the hospital when Union soldiers took it over.
This devastated the humanitarian, and many believe that he took his own life in the anguish of his forgotten patients.
He overdosed on laudanum, a very strong opiate, and was found dead in his home located on the hospital grounds. The compassionate healer had ingested such a massive amount of the medication that many vessels in his brain had burst, leaving a large pool of blood on the wooden floor. Soon after his death, the Lee family moved into Dr. Galt’s former home.
Mrs. Lee wrote, “I could do nothing to get the blood stain out of the floorboards. No amount of scrubbing would remove it. We finally had to pull up the soiled portion and replace it with fresh wood. I was shocked to find the very next morning, the stain somehow made its way onto the new flooring! My children are frightened. They wake me most every night claiming a man is in the upstairs room where Doctor Galt died.”
Years after the Lee family left the former Galt home, it was torn down. However, there is evidence that the ‘good doctor’ still remains on the grounds where he lived and worked.
When the home was torn down, locals believed that Dr. Galt’s spirit just moved over to the neighboring asylum.
BRUTON PARISH CHURCH
The Bruton Parish Church is the oldest surviving building in Colonial Williamsburg with construction completed in 1683 — over 300 years ago. It served as a makeshift hospital during the Civil War and later became a mass burial site for about one hundred soldiers killed during the Battle of Williamsburg.
Surrounding the church is a gorgeous cemetery with graves marked from the 17th century all the way up until the 20th century. Each grave carries its own story and the story of the person buried beneath it. From unknown Confederate soldiers to one of the church’s colonial reverends and his wife who died too soon, the adjoined Bruton Parish Church Cemetery is truly a melting pot for the dead.
The Bruton Parish Church is located in the restored area of Colonial Williamsburg. It was established in 1674 by the consolidation of two previous parishes in the Virginia colony and remains an active church today. The building was constructed somewhere between 1711 and 1715 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970. It truly is a shimmering example of colonial religious architecture.
Reverend Robert Hunt served as the first chaplain of that primitive chapel all those years ago. He was described as an honest and courageous man, even bringing harmony and acting as a peacemaker when men would quarrel.
When learning about the history of the church, one will find some pretty strange stories surrounding it. Remember the colonial Reverend we mentioned earlier? The one buried in the adjoined cemetery with his wife? Well, when Reverend Jones and his wife were expecting their first child, complications arose during labor and the doctor informed him that his beloved wife would not survive their baby’s birth.
While she was on her deathbed, he proclaimed his undying love for her and told her he could not live without her by his side. He asked her to wait for him so that they could be together in heaven, and had her buried in the church cemetery.
Three months later, Reverend Jones was riding into town in a carriage with a tombstone he had made for her grave. During this time, witnesses saw his wife roaming the church and cemetery grounds, even sitting in one of the church pews, plain as day. The only problem is, she was dead and buried months ago.
Not only was Reverend Jones bringing a tombstone to mark his late wife’s grave, but he would arrive with someone else — his new wife.
Almost immediately upon the arrival of Reverend Jones, people continued to see the apparition of Mrs. Jones in the church and the graveyard, only now she was seen crying and wailing, angry over his broken oath to her.
To add insult to injury, Reverend Jones had his new wife’s grave plot placed between him and his first wife. The Joneses are still buried in the Bruton Parish Church graveyard.
Also known as the Ludwell-Paradise House, the Ludwell House was the first place that Reverend Goodwin obtained when they launched Williamsburg’s restoration project. It’s got unmatched Georgian brick architecture which was constructed for Philip Ludwell III in 1755.
The home has remained a private residence since Philip owned it. Philip was a prominent Williamsburg resident — he owned the Green Spring Plantation in James City County and was well-traveled, visiting London frequently.
While Philip lived a full life with many trials and tribulations, successes and tragedies, the tale of the Ludwell House focuses on his second daughter.
In 1767, Philip’s health failed him — he passed away in London, leaving Lucy Ludwell, his second daughter to inherit the Ludwell home. Lucy was living lavishly in London (say that five times fast) with her husband John Paradise (hence the name) so the Williamsburg home was rented out to residents when the Paradises weren’t staying in it. While she was in London, the home etched a colorful history and bore witness to the American Revolution and a handful of colorful tenants.
John Paradise was a linguist and scholar, as well as a friend to many, including Thomas Jefferson. Even with all of that success, he and Lucy were financially unsuccessful. As a result, his death in 1795 left Lucy destitute — she soon packed her bags and returned to her Williamsburg home.
Lucy was a member of London’s social elite. She was unconventional and a bit eccentric, but her social savvy allowed her to gain many friends and colleagues. After she was left with nothing when her husband passed, her return to her childhood home was a fresh start — but you can’t take London out of the girl. Her old life followed her and she continued to fascinate those around her. With time, people became more and more unforgiving of her unusual behavior. She was a suspected thief that wandered around the streets with servants as if she were royalty. It took some time, but the people of Williamsburg eventually decided that Lucy needed to be put away. They committed her to the Public Hospital and ripped her from her house, trapping her within the asylum walls for two years.
Now, we all know of the atrocities that occurred in asylums of Lucy’s day — this one must have been particularly bad, because after two years of living in it, Lucy committed suicide.
Her ghost is said to haunt the upper floors of the Ludwell home, endlessly wandering the halls and using the tub to bathe over and over again. The sound of running water and footsteps are most often reported. Lucy is known to have bathed multiple times a day, perhaps she was suffering from some sort of OCD, however, we’ll never know for sure.
It’s sad, really, that Lucy was so heavily judged for her strangeness — was she actually a threat to society, or was she just an eccentric lass with an imagined life.
Remember Revered Jones and his broken promise to his wife? The Jones Cemetery sits as a reminder of the hurt that Rev. Jones caused his wife. With his and his first wife’s graves separated by his second wife, one can see the betrayal laid out before them. Witnesses are said to see the spirit of Jones’ first wife wandering the grounds of the cemetery and sitting in the adjoining Bruton Parish Church’s pews.
Some even hear the church organ playing late into the night and even the disembodied cries of Reverend Jones’ broken-hearted first wife are heard echoing the cemetery around dusk.
In this two-story brick prison located near the east end of the city of Williamsburg, the incarcerated woke up to their fellow occupants — bloodthirsty pirates and traitors to the country abound. When Williamsburg became Virginia’s capital in 1699, city officials realized the need for a jail. Initial specifications kept the building small and simple, it was never intended to house thieves or murderers.
At its inception, then, the Public Gaol only had three rooms: two for inmates, and one for the gaoler. But officials soon realized that the city’s population of wrongdoers was larger than they’d estimated; a thirty by twenty foot building simply could not support all the runaway slaves, thieves, tories, and spies that had been sentenced to be put behind bars. An exercise yard was therefore added in 1703, a “Debtor’s Prison” in 1711, and then a separate brick dwelling for the jailer, or gaoler, in 1722.
Unsurprisingly, the jail was an inhumane environment with freezing cold cells, terribly unhealthy food, typhoid outbreaks and ‘Gaol Fever.’
The Public Gaol was infamous for its inmates — including Blackbeard — yep, you read that right. The terrible Edward Teach, a.k.a., Blackbeard the Pirate. After Blackbeard and his crew were captured, they were taken to Williamsburg to stand trial and were held in the public gaol in 1704.
These days, the spirits of inmates are said to still be locked up in the jail. The apparitions of two women are commonly seen lurking in the jailer’s quarters upstairs with the sounds of their animated conversations and heavy footsteps heard echoing down below.
PEYTON RANDOLPH HOUSE
Williamsburg’s Peyton Randolph House is notoriously active with ghosts. It boasts more than just a couple of titles including the most haunted home in America, the most original house in Williamsburg, the most haunted place in Williamsburg, and the most haunted home on the entire east coast.
The Peyton Randolph House is featured on nearly every ghost tour around Williamsburg and remains one of the most infamous structures in the town. Freak accidents, murders, war, and mysterious natural illnesses have claimed about thirty lives in the home since it was built in 1715.
Some buildings in Williamsburg are well over 200 years old, making it the perfect destination for history buffs. But one building in Williamsburg is famous for this and more sinister reasons.
The Peyton Randolph House has quickly become one of the most popular haunted destinations in town. This historical site attracts history buffs and those with an affinity for the strange.
Of course, as with almost any building in colonial Williamsburg, there comes hauntings. As for the Peyton Randolph House, voices are heard inside, objects move on their own, and visitors, including the famous French General of the American Revolution Marquis de Lafayette, have felt hands touch them or even push them, sometimes down a flight of stairs.
In 1824, Lafayette returned to Williamsburg, where he had spent some time during the Revolutionary War. During his tour through the US, he stayed at the Peyton Randolph house in Williamsburg. He wrote:
“I considered myself fortunate to lodge in the home of a great man, Peyton Randolph. Upon my arrival, as I entered through the foyer, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It nudged me as if intending to keep me from entering. I quickly turned, but found no one there. The nights were not restful as the sounds of voices kept me awake for most of my stay.”
The Kimball Theatre was once known as The Ware House during the Civil War. It was owned by a recently widowed woman named Mrs. Ware. In the aftermath of the Battle of Williamsburg, the once peaceful streets of this colonial city were littered with wounded men and bodies of the dead. The combined loss on both sides exceeded 4,000. Mrs. Ware had taken in a wounded Confederate soldier she had found outside her home and did her best to care for him.
He later died inside the home. She covered his body respectfully and called for help. When a Union contingent arrived, her home was commandeered and used as a field hospital. The Ware House was one of fifteen private residences used as a hospital in the aftermath of the battle.
Mrs. Ware welcomed the men in and informed the officer that she had a dead Confederate soldier in her home. As the commanding officer inspected the body, he slowly peeled back the blanket covering the man’s face to find the mangled remains of his younger brother. The two Virginia men had joined opposing sides at the outbreak of the war. The surviving brother was shocked and heartbroken to discover that his brother was cut down in the same battle. The surviving officer was later killed in the war. To this day, two men wearing Civil War uniforms are seen wandering through the grounds that was once the former Ware house and Civil War hospital.
The story surrounding this marketplace happened shortly after the Civil War in Williamsburg’s Merchant’s Square. Along Henry Street was a small, white home that belonged to the Moore family. Thomas Moore inherited the home from his older brother who had been killed in the war. Thomas had a reputation as a womanizer and one day he came across a lovely lass named Constance Hall. Constance and Thomas spent every day together gallivanting through town, and enjoying each other’s company.
Their relationship was no secret — and it continued on for three months until Constance’s husband caught wind of the affair!
Mr. Hall, believed to have been away during these three months, found out upon his return to Williamsburg. He was furious. He stormed into the Moore Home, killed Thomas, and left. The neighbors then saw him return to the home with Constance, whom he had threatened and forced to help him hide the body. The couple hid Thomas’s body in the basement and were seen exiting the front of the home. Neighbors knew something was wrong when they had not seen Thomas Moore for several days. The police entered and searched for Thomas in his home. They eventually found his body in the basement. The Hall couple were the immediate suspects and placed under arrest. Mr. Hall confessed to the murder in exchange for setting his wife Constance free. Mr. Hall spent the rest of his life behind bars. Constance, ostracized and whose reputation was tarnished, immediately fled Williamsburg and was never heard from or seen again. As for Thomas Moore, he spends the rest of his afterlife roaming the streets and stores in Merchants Square.
His apparition is reported wandering around the streets of Merchants Square and also in the Moore home.
GEORGE WYTHE HOUSE
The haunting tales of the George Wythe House begin in 1753 when it was constructed for the enjoyment of the colonial elite. The brick mansion was given as a gift to George from his father in law. George Wythe was America’s first law professor and a mentor to President Thomas Jefferson. The home served as a headquarters to General George Washington and the French Lafayette before the Battle of Yorktown.
The hauntings here involve a past resident, Ann Skipwith and her husband Sir Peyton Skipwith, the two were friends of the Wythes. During the late 1770s, the Skipwiths enjoyed extended visits at the home with the Wythes until 1779 when Ann Skipwith died — her body was then buried in the Bruton Parish graveyard, laid to rest and almost all but forgotten by time…
So, what are the three most prominent and most told stories about Lady Skipwith and her death?
The First Story
The first tells that Ann died during a miscarriage and spent her last moments in George’s arms.
The Second Story
The second story is even more tragic and claims that Ann took her own life in the bedroom she shared with her husband. This version paints George as a womanizer. One night at a ball down the street at the Governor’s Palace, the couple had a heated argument in which Ann accused George of having an affair with her sister. She ran home completely devastated and committed suicide in the marital bedroom. After her death, George is said to have married Ann’s sister, and many believe that Ann’s jealous soul remains in the home.
The Third Story
The last story says that Ann’s husband left her side at the ball and was flirting with other women in attendance. Ann ran from the ballroom, George caught sight of her and followed her out. She ignored him, leaving the palace. He decided to stay at the party and did not follow her home. Storming into the carriage, she lost one of her red shoes and returned to the Wythe house with one shoe, where she ran up the stairs and slammed the door. At the Wythe House you may hear the sound of a woman running up the stairs, the sharp clack of a heel followed by the sound of a dull thud as from a bare foot.
Ann was miserable in her marriage, and as a colonial woman, had no escape from her situation. It is possible that taking her life would provide the only true freedom from life with her husband, in which case suicides were underreported during colonial times as it brought dishonor on a family. It is also possible that Ann’s husband killed her and attempted to cover it up with childbirth as cause, to marry her sister. Regardless of the reasons, Ann’s ghost is said to still wander about the Wythe home and gardens, appearing as a full-bodied apparition to visitors. One visitor claims to have witnessed Lady Skipwith’s wardrobe door open all on its won.
Colonial Williamsbug is a living reminder of what America once was. The ghosts that haunt the city are not-so-living reminders of what the city once was — a melting pot of all types, veterans of the Civil War, slaves returned as freed men and women, men who contemplated the freedom of America and signed a document to solidify it, and where a British-ruled colony found emancipation from a controlling government. If you’re lucky enough to visit this historic city, make sure you keep an eye out for the spirits of the people who made America what it is today!
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