Ghosts of Ferry Plantation House
The ghosts of Ferry Plantation House make the property one of the most haunted sites in Virginia. At last count, the number of spirits occupying the parcel has reached 11, and undoubtedly they each have a story to tell.
The house was built in the 1600s and named Ferry Plantation as one of eleven stops of the ferry that ran up and down the Lynnhaven River transporting everything from goods to people and animals. The signal used to summon the ferry operator was done with a cannon back in those days.
The plantation is built on land cleared by local Indians in the 1500s, most likely the Chesepian. To this day, there remain artifacts of the existence of the Native Americans that populated the peninsula.
Native Americans and Witchcraft
Colonial Virginians had a genuine concern for Witchcraft before they even set foot on American land. They had strong beliefs in the Devil’s powers and his presence in the New World. It’s believed these concerns were manifested by Jamestown Colonists, whose perception of Virginia Indians was a belief they were devils or, at the very least, devil worshippers.
The Jamestown colonists often referred to or described the Indians as being more like a devil than a man and made sounds like wolves or devils. They found the Indians seasoned with the Devil and compared them to the English Witches they believed in.
Some believed that the Indian’s religious beliefs and rituals were from being the Devil incarnate or in the flesh. Another belief was the unfamiliar personal appearance of the Indians was in connection with the English philosophy and theology that links the body and soul. The belief is that the outward appearance was evidence of the internal state of the soul.
Criminal Witchcraft and Trials
With deep-rooted Christian faith, the Europeans believed that the natural world was a place that could be shaped by supernatural forces. Witch trials were prominent within the English Colonies for centuries, and a law was passed by Parliament criminalizing the practice of Witchcraft in 1542. When men and women settled the English colony at Jamestown, Witchcraft was a punishable offense.
Due to court records being destroyed by fires during the American Civil War, it’s impossible to know precisely how many witchcraft cases were heard in Virginia and when. However, some two dozen known cases are dealing with Witchcraft in Virginia’s colonial days.
Most of these cases were a result of slander and gossip that were defamation suits of false accusers. The only Virginia law passed specifically addressing Witchcraft wasn’t intended to abolish the practice of Witchcraft. Instead, the forbiddance of accusations against persons termed as witches and filing charges against them. The fine was payable by 1,000 lbs of tobacco with further punishment if deemed necessary.
In criminal witchcraft cases, England’s witchcraft law of 1604 was upheld in Virginia Courts. This was a statute that was passed by James I called “An Act against Conjuration Witchcraft dealing with evil and wicked Spirits.” Most cases in Virginia were the charge of maleficium, causing harm to people or property by supernatural means.
Joan Wright of James City County is the earliest witchcraft allegation on record in Virginia in 1626. The accusations came from neighbors who testified against her for having caused the death of a newborn infant, crops killed, and livestock killed, as well as accurately predicting the deaths of other colonists. Wright was acquitted even though she admitted to having knowledge of witchcraft practices.
When crop failure, misfortunes, deaths, and illness had no apparent cause, Witchcraft was a logical explanation. An eccentric or different person was often made the scapegoat, and all but two were women.
Grace Sherwood, tried and convicted of Witchcraft
The most famous witch trial in colonial Virginia is that of the case of Grace Sherwood. Accused by her neighbors in 1698 of having bewitched their pigs to death and the failure of their cotton crops. One neighbor went so far as to claim that Grace had come into her house one night and left through the keyhole or crack in the door like a black cat.
Eventually, after the rumors and accusations continued, Grace was brought to trial in General Court in 1706. After a lengthy investigation into the allegations, the court justices decided to test Grace to see if she was a witch. A practice called ‘ducking’ with her hands and feet bound together, she was tossed from a boat into an area of the Lynnhaven River known as Witch Duck Creek. If she sank, it was confirmation of her innocence.
Water being a pure element, it would mean she was accepted by it. However, if she floated, she was presumed guilty. Sherwood managed to free herself from the binds and floated to the top. She was convicted of Witchcraft and spent 7 years in prison.
Grace Sherwood’s ghost is said to be one of the ghosts of Ferry Plantation House. This was the Princess Anne County Courthouse of her trials, the waters she had mercilessly been dumped, and the water served as the final Judge and Jury for her case. She is said to be buried under one of the large trees on the plantation.
Sally Rebecca Walke’s Ghost
Although Grace Sherwood is the most popular spirit that lingers around the Ferry Plantation House, others have found their final solace in the afterlife that roam the property.
In 1751 William Walke built the Walke Manor on the plantation. His daughter Sally Rebecca Walke lost her fiancee John in the war and is said to roam the plantation as if she is waiting for him to return home. In 1836 she planted a magnolia tree in his memory, and she is seen wandering around in the gardens.
An artist Thomas Williamson (1830-1888), was the son of Thomas and Ann Walke Williamson, who lived at the manor. He can be seen at the top of the stairs painting. In the 1800’s he painted a watercolor of the Walke Manor and plantation from memory.
Henry, the ghost of a former slave
There are stories of an old African-American ghost that comes up from the basement. The ghost walks across the room and kneels in front of the wall, intently doing some long ago chore. A few minutes later, the man would get up and leave the room back down into the basement. Years later, when renovating the room, a fireplace was found behind the wall.
It’s been discovered through paranormal investigations that his name was Henry, and he had lived on the third floor in the slave quarters. He lived his entire life on the plantation and was content with his life, had nowhere better to go, and loved “goin’ fishin’ !”
The Shipwreck at Ferry Landing
Shipwrecks were common in the colonial days, whether by storm, ice, collisions, strandings, or poor judgment. The force of nature or lack of control could run ships ashore. However, the most feared of all was a fire. A fire could rip through a wooden vessel and destroy it in a matter of minutes. Shifting sandbars could leave ships stranded with the waves pounding their sides, and they would soon break apart, tossing the crew and its cargo into the bay.
The stories go that there was a shipwreck at Ferry Landing that resulted in lost lives. A shipwreck listed in Wikipedia says it’s recorded 0n January 1st, 1811, the ship Lucy wrecked in Cape Henry.
The ghosts of those lost souls hang around the plantation to this day and are seen by many.
Other Ghosts of Ferry Plantation House
A Lady in White roams around the house who reportedly died when she broke her neck, falling down the stairs in 1826.
Staff members stated that two children, a boy, and a girl, have been seen on the 2nd-floor landing pressed up against the wall.
Paranormal Investigators favor the spirit of a little boy named Eric, who fell from a low window somewhere around 1850. He may have been the little boy on the staircase landing.
Former owners Charles and Isabella McIntosh lost their 5-year-old daughter in 1860. Perhaps she is the little girl ghost at the top of the stairs.
These and many other ghosts flood the land and buildings all over the commonwealth of Virginia, rich with history from centuries ago.
Read more of the 10 top haunted places in Virginia Beach, VA. here and plan a trip to see firsthand where hauntings take place.
Witchcraft in Colonial Virginia – Encyclopedia Virginia
Ferry Plantation House in Virginia Beach
Shipwrecks | Chesapeake Bay Program