The term “plantation” conjures one image in most people’s minds: a sprawling Southern estate complete with white columns, wide verandas, and mint julep cocktails served by uniformed attendants. However, not all plantations are located in the South. These opulent estates can be found just about anywhere, even in Northern climates that aren’t exactly conducive to growing cotton or any other lucrative cash crops. But thanks to the presence of several Old plantation houses throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions — not to mention their spooky history — they have become prime locations for paranormal enthusiasts looking to explore some of the most haunted old plantations in America.
The History of Old Plantations.
Plantations have a long history, dating back to the beginnings of the New World. In the 16th and 17th centuries, plantations were agricultural estates where crops like sugarcane, rice, and tobacco were grown. During this period, the majority of plantations were located in the Caribbean, Central America, and along the southeastern coast of the United States. With the rise of New England’s textile industry in the 18th century, plantations in the North began to shift away from agriculture. As the Industrial Revolution spread across the country, plantations in New England shifted into manufacturing, processing raw materials like cotton, wool, and flax into finished products like textiles, paper, and rope.
Hale Mansion and the Dark Side of Innocence.
Hale Mansion in Beverly, Massachusetts, is a beautiful example of a Northern plantation house. Now a bed and breakfast, this brick Federal-style mansion was once the home of the Hale family, whose prominence in Beverly society is reflected in the name of the town itself. But Hale Mansion’s history is not all sweetness and light. In fact, it has a dark side of innocence. The Hale family had two daughters, Anna and Sarah, who, as was common for women in the 19th century, were educated at home by their governess. Of course, this was also a period when women weren’t allowed to vote, weren’t allowed to go to college or have careers, and could be married off to men they had no say in once they turned 18. This is the awful side of innocence, when women were robbed of the opportunity to leave their mark on the world.
The Ruins of Beaudéduit.
Beaudéduit, also known as the Ruined Duarte, is a ruined plantation in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. It was built in the 1750s by Don Andrés Ponce de Leon, who obtained the land along with his wife in a land grant from the Spanish government. It stayed in the Ponce de Leon family until the Battle of New Orleans in the early days of the War of 1812. The British attacked and burned the plantation, and the family never returned. The ruins of Beaudéduit are said to be haunted by the ghost of Don Andrés Ponce de Leon searching for his wife, who had died before the battle.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site: A Ghostly Gathering Place.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site in Massachusetts is a place where the past and present seem to collide. Visitors can explore the restored buildings of Salem’s historic waterfront, learn about the people who lived and worked there, and even take a tour of the USS Salem — a World War II-era vessel that’s now a floating museum. Salem Maritime is also a hotbed of paranormal activity, with the spirits of sailors, merchants, and even Salem’s infamous witches lurking in the shadows. Some of the most haunted places at the site are the John Pickering House, the Nathaniel Hoyle House, and the George Pickering House, where visitors can learn about Salem’s maritime history and also hear about its haunted past.
Smith-Stevenson Mansion: Servants and Slaves Dwelling Together.
Built in 1778, the Smith-Stevenson Mansion in West Chester, Pennsylvania, is another example of a Northern plantation house. A National Historic Landmark, this beautiful colonial-style mansion was built by William Smith and purchased in the 1790s by Daniel Smith, who then modified the home to suit his tastes. The mansion has also been home to a number of enslaved individuals, including a circa 1810 woman named Phoebe who worked as a housekeeper, as well as a slave named Ben, who served as a valet and coachman. In fact, the house has been cited as one of the few remaining Northern plantations where you can still hear the sounds of a Southern-style plantation, including the sound of a woman’s frantic cries coming from Phoebe’s old room on the third floor.
Woodward’s Mansion: An Unexpected Inheritance.
The Woodward Mansion in Holmdel, New Jersey, was built in 1798 by Dr. John Woodward, who had been New Jersey’s first surgeon general. The two-story Federal-style brick mansion was later owned by the First Presbyterian Church of Asbury Park until it was purchased in the 1960s by the Rinehart family, who turned it into a private residence. Unfortunately, the Woodward Mansion was struck by lightning in July 2003, causing a fire that left the structure a total loss. It is said that Dr. Woodward’s ghost still haunts the grounds, and that his voice can be heard when there is a storm.
Sumner Hill Ruins: A Tragic Love Story.
Sumner Hill, also called Hillside, was a plantation in Virginia Beach, Virginia, that was built in 1810 and purchased in 1852 by William Ballard. He and his wife Margaret lived at the plantation until Margaret’s death in 1887, followed by Ballard’s death in 1889. Ballard’s will specified that after his death, the plantation be torn down and that its bricks be used to construct a new church. Ballard’s wishes were never fulfilled, and the ruins of Sumner Hill still stand to this day.
Fairview/Shaw Mansion: A Family Divided.
The Fairview/Shaw Mansion in Wheeling, West Virginia, is another Northern plantation house that has witnessed a great deal of tragedy. Built in 1798 by William Fairview, the mansion later became home to the Shaw family and was purchased by the Fairview/Shaw Historical Preservation Society in 1982. Fairview/Shaw Mansion is said to be haunted by the ghost of an unknown woman, possibly Mrs. Shaw herself, who has been heard singing in the mansion’s ballroom. Other visitors have reported seeing a little girl in the mansion’s basement who, when approached, vanishes.
Rhoades Music Box.
Rhoades Music Box in Pennsylvania is another plantation where tragedy and the paranormal seem to go hand in hand. Built in 1891 by David Rhoades, this plantation was later purchased by the Swain family, who opened a furniture store on the property. During the store’s operation, employees reported hearing the sound of music coming from an old wooden box. When they opened the box, they found a music box that had been there for decades. The music box is now on display at the Pennsylvania Heritage Museum of the Southern Alleghenies, where it continues to play the same tune heard all those years ago.
The history of America’s plantations begins with the cultivation of sugarcane in the Caribbean and ends with the manufacturing of rope in New England. It is a history marked by both prosperity and oppression, with Southern plantations existing as microcosms of white Southern society, simultaneously supporting and marginalizing enslaved Africans. While the ghosts of the Southern plantations haunt us, Northern plantations remind us that the North is not immune to the legacies of slavery and racism. If you’re interested in exploring some of the most haunted old plantations in America, there are several excellent places to start. From the ruins of Beaudéduit to the Rhoades Music Box, these plantations represent America’s storied past and, at the same time, present a glimpse into the darker side of our nation’s history.