As was mentioned in my last blog post, there is a famous haunted mansion that is connected to our family, the Cowgill's. (Cowgill's are ancestors of the Pollock/Norton/Brown families, pronounced Coe-gull). The Woodburn Mansion became and is now the Governor's Mansion in Dover, Delaware.
There are several ghost stories associated with Woodburn Mansion, which I will relate along with a little history.
Woodburn Mansion was built in 1798 by Charles Hillyard III. It was sold for $2,812 on May 8, 1814 to Martin W. and his wife Mary (Hilllyard) Bates from Charles Hillyard III's estate.
The first story comes from the website of Woodburn The Governor's Residence.
"The first documented ghost appeared about 1815 about 25 years after the house was built. Dr. and Mrs. Martin Bates, the owners at the time, were entertaining Mr. Lorenzo Dow, a well-known itinerant Methodist preacher. One morning at the breakfast table, Mrs. Bates asked Mr. Dow to begin the meal with prayer. Mr. Dow hesitated and asked if they should wait for the other guest in the house. Surprised, Mrs. Bates explained there were no other guests. Mr. Dow described in detail the gentleman he met on the staircase. The older gentleman supposedly wore a powdered wig, knee britches, and a ruffled shirt. This description bothered Mrs. Bates a great deal because it was an exact sketch of her father, Mr. Charles Hillyard III."
"Mr. Hillyard, the builder of Woodburn, has been seen by others since Mr. Dow. Mr. Hillyard, according to Dover history, was known to enjoy a strong drink. If a glass of wine is left downstairs at Woodburn during the night, an empty glass in the morning indicates Mr. Hillyard has been on the prowl again."
"Mr. Frank Hall, another owner of the house, claimed to sometimes pass Mr. Hillyard on the stairs and described him as others had in the past."
"Governor Tribbitt’s wife, Jeanne, regularly checked the stairway for Mr. Hillyard’s presence. She even left wine out for him a number of times with no results. She noted, “I made sure that I didn’t tell my husband I was doing this, or he would have drank the wine just to tease me!”
Daniel Cowgill, Sr. bought Woodburn Mansion from the Bates family for $3,000 on August 4, 1825. I am not sure at this time the exact lineage of Daniel and his relation to my line, but I am proud he played such a role in American history!
This ghost of Woodburn Mansion is a southern slave raider who died hanging from a tree that still stands. When Dan Cowgill, a Quaker man, owned Woodburn, it was a stop on the Underground Railroad. One night, a group of slave raiders came to the mansion, and as Mr. Cowgill chased them away, one attempted to escape by climbing the large poplar tree in the front yard. He slipped, unnoticed, and got caught in a knot in the tree, where he hanged until his death. To this day, you can still hear screams and shackles, as this evil man must relive his death frequently, as his own personal hell.
"The Ghosts of Woodburn have a love of good wine. One owner stated that he would fill an antique decanter with wine every night but the next morning he would find it empty. Governor Charles Terry Jr. stated he saw an apparition of a man in a white wig helping himself to a decanter of wine in the dining room and another was suspected of helping himself to the vintage wines in the cellar. A former governor's wife, who is a professed light sleeper, has heard on occasion footsteps going up the stairs, at an hour when no one else living could be responsible. Another pleasant ghost who occasionally floats and glides around is dressed in a Revolutionary War costume." - courtesy of HauntedHouses.com
The following is a timeline of Woodburn Mansion until the mid-1966's when Woodburn became the official residence for the Governor of Delaware:
Sep. 15, 1877 – Edward H. Wilson marries Coralee Cowgill, granddaughter of Daniel Cowgill, in the Great Hall at Woodburn.
1885 – Woodburn is sold to Edward Warner and Sara Howell Wilson, parents of Edward H. Wilson, for $1.
1886 – Rear wing of Woodburn is added.
1912 – Sallie B. Holmes, Edward Wilson’s sister, sells Woodburn to U.S. Senator Daniel O. Hastings for $12,000. Hastings added the wraparound brick porch.
Jul. 24, 1913 – The current state flag is adopted.
Sep. 12, 1918 – Sen. Hastings sells Woodburn to Mr. & Mrs. Frank Hall for $18,000.
Sep. 1953 – Frank Hall sells the house and one and one half acres for $35,000 to Thomas and Elsie Murray, and the remaining land is sold to the Elizabeth Murphy School for $25,000.
1965 – Woodburn becomes official residence of the governor of Delaware under Governor Charles L. Terry, who oversees interior alterations and renovations. Murray Family sells Woodburn to the state of Delaware for $65,000 for use as the Governor’s official residence. In addition to the purchase price, the State also appropriates $70,000 for renovations and repair work.
Feb.1966 – Woodburn opens for tours to the public after undergoing renovations.
Dover Haunted Houses URL: http://www.hauntedhouses.com/states/de/woodburn_mansion.htm
Woodburn The Governor's Residence; The Woodburn Ghost
Woodburn The Governor's Residence; The Timeline
Only in Your State; The Story Behind Delaware's Most Haunted House is Beyond Terrifying
My name is Vicky, and after researching my family history since 2000, I have found amazing stories that need to be told. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!