Well, you would think that the Candlelight Tour season at Fort Mifflin would be more than enough “ghost stories” for one year but, alas, I have found another.  In October, November, and December of 1803, a number of people in the Hammersmith area of London claimed they had seen and, in some cases, even been attacked by the ghost of someone who had committed recently suicide. In the early 19th Century, anyone who committed suicide could not be buried in consecrated ground as it was believed that their souls would not rest. While ghost sighting in the 18th and 19th Century were not rare, this one was particularly real.

Several people reported seeing an apparition dressed in white robes walking the streets. One woman, said that she saw something rise up from the tombstones.  When she tried to run, the ghost overtook her, held her in its arms until she fainted.  Her neighbors discovered her sometime later and took her home and put her to bed.   Eventually patrols were set up to apprehend this “ghost” and on the 3rd January 1804 Francis Smith, an excise officer, armed with a gun saw a figure in white. He demanded the identity of the figure and when the figure did not respond, Smith shot the apparition. Here is where it gets interesting because the “ghost” DIED from his wounds.

It was established afterwards that the apparition who died from this shot was a 23-year-old James or Thomas Milwood, a bricklayer, who according to the Old Bailey transcript was wearing: “Linen trowsers [sic] entirely white, washed very clean, a waistcoat of flannel, apparently new, very white, and an apron, which he wore round him; his trowsers [sic] came down almost to the edge of his shoes.”  Think about that next time you wash your 18th Century clothing before a ghost tour 😊.

Francis Smith gave himself up to the police and was put on trial for murder. The jury, however, was sympathetic and gave the verdict as manslaughter but the judge was not happy with this and the jury was forced to revise it to murder.  After passing the sentence of death Lord Chief Baron Macdonald reported the case to the King and the sentence was reduced to a year’s hard labor.  It seems killing ghost is not serious crime in the eyes of the King.

After the trial, a shoemaker, by the name of John Graham, admitted that he was the ‘ghost.’  He had covered himself in a white sheet and walked about in town to frighten his apprentice who was reading ghost stories to his children.  Mr. Graham was not charged with any crimes.

Happy Halloween.  Be careful out there.

Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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