Famous Ghosts of Colonial Virginia
Evelyn Bird Legend of 'Lady in White'
and Phantom Coach of Carter's Hall Intrigue
By Priscilla Williams
Westover, where the 'Lady in White,' called the ghost of unhappy
Evelyn Byrd, is said to appear in the gardens
Many Virginians are familiar with the lovely old estate, Westover, the
ancestral home of the Byrds, which overlooks the James River about 35
miles below Richmond, but not every one knows the ghost legend of the
old mansion. Westover was built in 1726 by Colonel William Byrd 2d. He
had been educated in England, and he was so accomplished and so
handsome that he became known as the Black Swan.
The ghost legend, however, is of his lovely daughter, Evelyn, who had
not only inherited her father's gracious bearing but was a great
beauty as well. She was presented at the Court of George I when she
was 18, and it is said that she was the toast of the English nobility.
This is easily understood after seeing the lovely portrait of her
painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller. It was the statesman, Lord Chatham,
who said on meeting her that "he no longer wondered why young
gentlemen were so fond of going to Virginia to study ornithology since
such beautiful Byrds were there."
It was while she was in London that she met and fell in love with
Charles Mordaunt, the grandson of the Earl of Peterborough, but he was
a Roman Catholic and the colonel was a staunch Protestant, and so, so
the story goes, the lovely Evelyn was hurried back to Virginia, to her
home on the James.
She had many suitors in Virginia, but Evelyn remained true to her love
in London, and 10 years later she died of a broken heart. A few weeks
before she died, evidently realizing that she would not live very much
longer, she promised her friend, Anne Harrison, as they were walking
in the garden together that she would return. And she has kept her
promise. The following spring as Mrs. Harrison, who lived on the
adjoining plantation, Berkley, was again walking in the garden, she
"saw her friend dressed in white, dazzling in ethereal loveliness,
standing beside her own grave. She drifted forward a few steps, kissed
her hand to the beholder, smiling happily and vanished.
* * *
Other people have seen the ghost of the lovely Evelyn from time to
time, usually walking in the garden. On one occasion, a guest at
Westover awoke in the middle of the night to find a woman in white
standing at the foot of her bed.
Another time, when there were guests in the house, one of them awoke
in the night and went to the window. While standing there looking out
into the night she saw the ghost of Evelyn Byrd walking in the garden.
The apparition, however, did not wish her to remain at the window, and
it raised its head and arm and beckoned to her to go back into the
room. She obeyed the command for the gesture was imperative, but she
felt no fear, for it seems the lovely Evelyn is a gentle ghost and
never startles nor frightens her beholders.
At Carter's Hall, the first master of the old mansion returns in his
coach with the coachman and footman sitting high on the box. Carter's
Hall was built soon after the Revolution by Colonel Nathaniel Burwell,
who moved to Clarke County from the magnificent estate, Carter's
Grove, just below Williamsburg, and on the site commanding a beautiful
view of the Blue Ridge Mountains built his new home.
Carter Hall, Clark County, where the phantom coach-and-four pays visits
Colonel Burwell was married twice. His first wife was Susanna Grymes
to whom he was devoted, and indeed so great was his grief when she
died that he felt he could not bear his bereavement alone. Looking
about him for a suitable companion with whom to share his loss, a
happy inspiration came to him, and a few months after her death, he
mounted his great coach and went down to Rosewell, the home of Colonel
John Page, where he asked his friend to send for his half-sister, Mrs.
George Baylor, that he might marry her. The widow was young and
beautiful, and as Marguerite de Pont Lee suggests, 'possibly this fact
occurred to the master of Carter's Hall even in the hour of his
deepest bereavement. " The widow came, but she rejected him. Her
rejection, however, meant little to the colonel. "Lucy," he said, "you
do not know what is good for you. Your brother John and I arranged it
all before you came," and apparently that settled it for they were
married. After the ceremony, the bridegroom told his bride, "Now,
Lucy, you can weep for your dear George, and I can weep for my beloved
And now, according to tradition, the old colonel comes back in his
lumbering coach. It is not known whether it is with his beloved Sucky
or the fair Lucy that he returns, but the present owners of Carter's
Hall say that on several occasions they have heard a vehicle arrive at
the door and have later discovered that nothing was really there.
Once when guests were at Carter's Hall, and they were all sitting
around an open fire in the dining room, they heard the sound of a
carriage being driven to the door. Not expecting anyone and wondering
who it could be, all of them went to the door. Not expecting any one
and wondering the house an old-fashioned coach with two large horses
and a coachman and footman sitting in the box. [sic] They could see
some one sitting in the coach. The footman jumped down, opened the
door and let the steps down, but no one descended. He then put the
steps up, closed the door and jumped to his seat beside the coachman.
As the old coach disappeared into the night, the crack of the whip was
* * *
Another lovely old mansion with an interesting ghost legend is Castle
Hill in Albemarle County. It was built in 1765 by Dr. Thomas Walker, a
prominent physician of that day. The small panes of glass and the
brass door locks which were brought over from London are still in use
in the older part of the house.
There is an interesting bit of correspondence between Dr. Walker and
Colonel Bernard Moore which was written when Dr. Walker's son wished
to "pay his addresses" to Colonel Moore's daughter, Elizabeth.
May 27, 1764
My son, Mr. John Walker, having informed me of his intention to
pay his addresses to your daughter, Elizabeth, if he should be
agreeable to yourself, lady and daughter, it may not be amiss to
inform you what I feel myself able to afford for their support in case
of an union. My affairs are in an uncertain state; but I promise 1,000
pounds, to be paid in 1766, and the further sum of 2,000 I promise to
give him; but the uncertainty of my present affairs prevent my fixing
on a time of payment, the above sums are all to be in money or lands
and other effects, at the option of my son, John Walker. I am, sir,
your humble servant,
Colonel Bernard Moore, Esqu.,
in King William."
The reply to his letter was as follows:
May 28, 1764
You son, Mr. John Walker, applied to me for leave to make his
addresses to my daughter, Elizabeth. I gave him leave and told him at
the same time that my affairs were in such a state that is was not in
my power to pay him all the money this year that I intended to give my
daughter provided he succeeded, but would give him 500 pounds more as
soon as I could raise or get the money; which sums you may depend I
will most punctually pay to him.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
To Thomas Walker
Castle Hill, Albermarle County, Va.
* * *
John Walker later married Elizabeth Moore, and they had one daughter,
Mildred. Castle Hill, however, was inherited by Dr. Walker's youngest
son, who married Jane Byrd Nelson of Yorktown, and it is their
descendent, Amelie Rives, the novelist, who now owns and lives at the
beautiful Castle Hill with her Russian husand, Prince Pierre
Troubetzkoy, a well known portrait painter.
There are really two ghost legends of Castle Hill. One is that some
ancestress, reflecting perhaps the lavish hospitality of former days
when Jefferson and Madison were entertained there, floods the
atmosphere with a "marvelous psychic perfume of roses" when the
present mistress, the Princess Troubetzkoy, entertains.
At other times, people have heard footsteps, noises of furniture being
moved in the night and even voices. The other legend is that in one
room the ghost of one of the Princess' great grandmothers appears to
people she does not consider in touch with the atmosphere at Castle
Hill and demands that they go away. On one occasion, a young man was
awakened in the night by a charming young woman who stood and gazed at
him saying over and over again, "You must please go. You must go away.
You must not stay here." The young man had planned to stay several
days, but the next day he appeared pale and agitated and said he must
leave that day. He later declared that he would never again sleep in
* * *
And still another mansion, with not only one ghost but many ghosts who
dance and revel in the night, is White Marsh in Gloucester County.
During the Colonial period it was owned by the Whiting family, but
after the Revolution it became the property of Thomas Reade Rootes. He
left it to his second wife who left it to her daughter by her first
marriage, Evelina Matilda Prosser. She married Philip Tabb of
Toddsbury and they made their home at White Marsh. Later, as long as
the Tabb family lived there, her ghost, dressed in an old-fashioned
costume of black moire with a white fichu about her neck and a leather
key basket, such as the mistress of a plantation carried, on her arm,
was a familiar figure in the old mansion, where she was frequently
seen by members of the family.
White Marsh, Gloucester County
But more interesting is the ghost dancing at White Marsh. After the
death of his parents, Mr. Philip Tabb who lived in Baltimore, placed
White Marsh in the care of Mr. James Sinclair and came down only
during the hunting season. One night when Mr. Sinclair was returning
to the house, he found the entire house lighted. He immediately
thought that Mr. Tabb had come down and began to wonder how he would
manage. He carried his horse on to the stable, however, but when he
returned all the lights were out. Still thinking Mr. Tabb was there
and expecting to find his things in the hall, he went in only to find
that nobody was there.
The next year, Mr. Franklin Dabney had charge of the place. One night
when he returned late, he not only found every window ablaze with
light, but he heard music and the sound of dancing. He tied his horse
and ran up the steps to join in the fun, but as he opened the door the
lights went out and the music ceased!
Labels: Holidays, Just For Fun