With only a week to go until the big day we bring you a tale of history and horror.
“The Ghost of a Mad Housewife”
from Spirits of ’76: Ghost Stories of the American Revolution
by Daniel W. Barefoot
Over the long, storied history of the United States, few Americans have been more renowned for their stirring words than Patrick Henry of Virginia….
Most Americans had little way of knowing that when Patrick Henry made some of his famous speeches, he was a troubled man in his personal life. During his service in the First Continental Congress, his wife, Sarah, was struggling with mental illness. She died in February 1775, just a month before her bereaved husband delivered his most famous address. Sarah Henry’s ghost remains in residence at Scotchtown, the expansive home where she and her husband lived from 1771 until her death….
Just months after the Henrys moved in, Sarah gave birth to a son. In the days that followed, she began to exhibit signs of mental instability, a condition that worsened until her death four years later. Few details of Sarah’s illness survive. Speculation has centered on puerperal psychosis, a severe sickness that most often occurs after childbirth.
As his wife’s condition deteriorated, Henry was forced to make a difficult decision about her care…. He decided to keep his wife at Scotchtown, where he could ensure that her needs would receive special attention.
In the last year of her life, Sarah displayed what observers termed “a strange antipathy” toward her family. For her own safety and that of the family, she was “hospitalized” in two dungeon-like rooms in the basement of Scotchtown. A servant was assigned to monitor her behavior until it became necessary to restrain her in a “strait-dress,” a device thought to be similar to a modern straightjacket.
When Sarah died, her body was buried on the estate in an unmarked grave, perhaps out of concern over neighborhood fears and misunderstanding of her sickness. Rumors were rampant that Mrs. Henry had been possessed by devils.
In 1777, just a year after he was elected the first governor of the commonwealth of Virginia, Patrick Henry chose to part with Scotchtown…. Sarah’s ghost, however, has lingered for more than two centuries.
… Staff members at the historic estate… have been witnesses to the supernatural presence of Sarah Henry. An unlocked door leading to the basement has at times been difficult to open, almost as if someone were holding it on the other side. Pieces of historic furniture often move without the aid of human hands. A candle surviving from the days of the Henry family has been mysteriously moved when Scotchtown was closed for the night.
Sarah’s ghost has enjoyed a “tea party,” moving a tea caddy and removing the top of a teapot while the house was empty. Unexplained problems with the house’s alarm system and motion detectors have reportedly brought law enforcement officers to the estate. Very much aware of Scotchtown’s haunted reputation, the police always request that estate personnel be the first to enter the spooky structure.
Before 1958, when the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities acquired and restored the old Henry estate, the dwelling suffered years of abandonment. While it hastened toward ruin, area residents regularly experienced frightening episodes there. During the 1930s and 1940s, they heard strange noises, including chains dragging across the floor.
Likewise, locals observed a female apparition dressed in a long white gown floating about the backside of the house. This ghostlike figure was witnessed by a group of adults and children for thirty seconds until it faded from view.
On Halloween night in 1990, a policeman reported that a neighborhood woman had noticed a light, apparently a candle, shining from a window of Scotchtown. When the lady made her way onto the estate grounds, the light mysteriously went out. Then she caught a brief glimpse of a spectral woman walking past the window, candle in hand….
…During one tour, a docent took a group into the room just above Sarah’s basement quarters. As the tourists were listening to the sad story of Mrs. Henry’s last years, terrifying shrieks and screams came from the “dungeon” where Sarah was confined. The visitors quickly scattered….
Should you tour Scotchtown, pay particular attention to the walls in the basement quarters. They need painting. But try as they might, professional painters have been unable to get even the best-quality paint to adhere to the walls in the two rooms where Sarah spent her last days. It literally burns off the surfaces. No scientific explanation has been offered for this anomaly.
When Sarah Henry grew ill at Scotchtown, she was robbed of the joy of motherhood, the pleasure of living at a magnificent estate, the opportunity of becoming the first first lady of Virginia, the excitement surrounding the birth of an independent American nation, and the companionship of the love of her life. Maybe Sarah’s ghost yet abides at the old Henry homestead, searching for the happiness that should have been hers.
The address for Scotchtown is:
16120 Chiswell Ln., Beaverdam, Va., 23015.
The telephone number is 804-227-3500.
Check back for more terrifying legends in our Haunted Halloween Countdown or pick up one of the spooky books they come from.