The Myrtles

People love a good story, and sometimes the truth isn’t fun enough, even if it has the power to leave behind many spirits. The Myrtles is one such place. The plantation has seen its far share of despair, death, and tragedy, yet none of it is quite what the current residents would have us to believe. The stories about the plantation, while anchored in some truth, have been embellished so much that it’s hard to tell with the truth ends and legend begins. Let’s try to put some truth and intrigue back into the Myrtles.

David Bradford was one of five children born in America to Irish immigrants. In 1777, he bought a tract of land and a small stone house near Washington County, Pennsylvania. He became a successful attorney, businessman, and Deputy Attorney General for the county. His first attempt at marriage came to an end a few days before the wedding, but he would later marry Elizabeth Porter in 1785 and started a family.

As the family grew, they need a bigger home, and Bradford built one in the town of Washington. It became well known for its size and craftsmanship, with a mahogany staircase and woodwork imported from England. Bradford used the parlor of the house as his office where he met with his clients.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get to enjoy his house for long. In October 1794,  he was forced to flee, leaving behind his family. Bradford had taken part in the infamous Whiskey Rebellion, and legend has it, George Washington had placed a price on his head for his role in the affair. The rebellion took place in western Pennsylvania and started as a series of grievances over high prices and taxes force on those living along the frontier at the time. These complaints erupted into violent when a mob attacked and burned down the home of the local tax collector. During the following months, residents resisted a tax they had placed on whisky, and while most of the protests were nonviolent, Washington mobilized a militia and sent it in to suppress them. Once the protest were brought under control, Bradford left on the advice of some of the other main characters in the affair.

Went to Pittsburgh first before traveling down the Ohio River to Mississippi. He eventually settled at Bayou Sara, near what is now St. Francisville, Louisiana. He had been in this area before, traveling here in 1792 to tray and obtain a land grant from Spain. This time, he bought a 600 acre piece of land, and a year later, built a modest, eight-room home near Baton Rouge, which would become the Myrtles. Once pardoned in 1799, he returned to get his wife and five children, and brought them back to the home he had built in Louisiana. Bradford would occasionally allow law students to live with him to study law. One of these men was Clark Woodruff. Clark not only earned his law degree, but married Sarah Mathilda, Bradford’s daughter.

The couple was married on November 19, 1817. For their honeymoon, Woodruff took his new bride to The Hermitage, the Tennessee home of Andrew Jackson. He gained control of the Myrtles once David Bradford died. He expanded the holdings of the plantation and planted about 650 acres of cotton and indigo. He and Sarah had three children, Cornelia Gale, James, and Mary Octavia. Their happiness did not last.

On July 21, 1823, Sarah Mathilda died after contracting yellow fever. The disease spread through Louisiana a lot during those times. Hardly a family in the region went untouched by the despair and tragedy of the disease. Woodruff continued managing the plantation and took care of his children with the help of Elizabeth. Tragedy struck again when James died from yellow fever on July 15, 1824, and two months later, Cornelia Gale died from yellow fever as well.

Woodruff’s life would never be the same, but he did purchase the plantation outright from his mother-in-law. She was elderly at this point, and was happy to see the land go to someone she trusted. She continued to live there until her death. After that, Woodruff turned his attention back to law. He and his remaining daughter moved away and left the land under the control of a caretaker. Woodruff became a judge in District D in Covington, Louisiana. He served there until April 1835. He sold the plantation to Ruffin Stirling on January 1, 1834.

At this time, Woodruff was living on Rampart Street in New Orleans and was the president of public works for the city. Octavia had been sent to a finishing school in New Haven, Connecticut, but she moved back in with her father in 1836. Two years later, she married Colonel Lorenzo Augustus Besancon and moved to his plantation in Oaklawn.

The Sitrlings, the new owners of the Myrtles, were a wealthy family who owned several plantations on both sides of the Mississippi River. Since they were leaders in their community, they had to have a house that befitted their social status. So they remodeled their new home. Stirling added a broad central hallway and the entire southern section. They removed the original walls and repositioned them to create four large rooms that were used as separate ladies’ and gentlemen’s parlors, a game room, and a formal dining room. They traveled to Europe, and imported find furnishings for the house. On the outside, Stirling added a 107-foo-long front gallery that was supported by cast iron posts and railings. The expanded the original roof to encompass the new addition, copying the existing dormers to maintain a smooth line. The addition has higher ceiling than the original house, so they raised the second floor one foot. This nearly doubled the size of what Bradford had built, and this is when the plantation took on the name the Myrtles.

Four years after the project was completely, Stirling died on July 17, 1854 of consumption, or tuberculosis as we know it today. He left everything to his wife, Mary Cobb. She nearly single-handedly ran the farm for many years.

There family was also visited by tragedy. Of the nine Stirling children, only four of them lived to adulthood The oldest son, Lewis, died the same year as his father.  Their daughter, Sarah Mulford’s, husband was murdered on the front porch of the house after the Civil War. The war also wreaked havoc on the Myrtles and the Stirling family. A lot of their belongings were looted and destroyed by soldiers, and since the money was in Confederate currency, it was rendered worthless. To make things worse, Marry Cobb had invested in sugar plantations, which had been ravaged by the war. She would lose all of her property, but she managed to hold onto the Myrtles until her death in August 1880.

Before her death, she hired William Drew Winter on December 5, 1865, the husband of Sarah Mulford, to act as her agent and attorney. As part of the deal, she gave William and Sarah the Myrtles.

The one confirmed murder that occurred in the house was that of William Winter. William and Sarah married on June 3, 1852, and had six children, Mary, Sarah, Kate, Ruffin, William, and Francis. Kate would die at the age of three from typhoid.

By December 1867, Winter was completely bankrupt and the Myrtles was sold by the US Marshal to the New York Warehouse & Security Company on April 15, 1868. Two years later, though, the property was bought back by Sarah as the heir of her late father Ruffin Stirling. Nobody really knows what caused this reversal of fortune, but it seemed like things were getting better.

Tragedy would soon strike. According to the January 1871 issue of the Point Coupee Democrat newspaper, Winter was teaching a Sunday school lesson in the gentlemen’s parlor of the house when he heard somebody approach on horseback. After the stranger called out to him, saying he had business with him, Winter went out onto the side gallery where he was shot. He collapsed onto the porch and died. Those inside were stunned by the sound of gunfire and the retreating hoofbeats, and hurried out to find him. Winter died on January 26, 1871. The newspaper, said that a man named ES Webber would stand trial, but there is no information on how things turned out.

Sarah was devastated and never remarried. She stayed at the Myrtles wither her mother and brothers until she died on April 1878.

Stephen Stirling took over the care of the Myrtles in 1880. He bought out his brothers and maintained ownership until March 1886. Some say he squandered what was left of his fortune and lost the plantation in a game of chance, but it is more likely that it was too deep in debt for him to keep. He sold the land to Oran D Brooks. Brooks kept the Myrtles until January 1889, and after a series of transfers, it was bought by Harrison Milton Williams, a Mississippi widower who bought the house for his son and his wife in 1891.

Williams grew cotton and would become known as an industrious and hard-working man. His family grew to include seven children, and they helped keep the Myrtles running, but tragedy would soon strike.

During a storm, his oldest son, Harry, was trying to gather some stray cattle and fell into the Mississippi and frowned. Harry’s parents were devastated, and turned over management over to their son Surget Minor Williams. He married a girl names Jessie Folkes, and they provided a home at the Myrtles for his spinster sister and maiden aunt, Katie. People would call her “the Colonel” behind her back. Katie was a true southern character. She kept life interesting.

By the 1950s, the land around the house was divided among the Williams heirs and the house was sold to Marjorie Munson, and Oklahoma widow. It was around this time that all of the ghost stories began. They started out innocently enough, but those ghostly occurrence took on a life of their own.

One of the most popular ghost stories is that of Chloe. She was said to be a vengeful slave who murdered the wife and two daughters of Clark Woodruff in a fit of jealous anger. If you’re thinking, “But I thought they died at different times from yellow fever,” you would be right.

But according to legend, the troubles that caused this haunting started in 1817 when Sarah married Clark. Sarah had gave birth to her two daughters and was carrying a third child, when something occurred that still haunts the Myrtles today.

Woodruff has a reputation for integrity with men and with the law, but he was known for being promiscuous as well. While his wife was pregnant, he began a relationships with a slave. This girl was known as Chloe, and she hated being forced to give into his demands, she realized that if she didn’t comply, she might get sent to work in the fields.

Woodruff would tire of Chloe and moved to a different girl. Chloe feared the worst, sure she would be sent to the fields, started eavesdropping on the Woodruff’s family. One day, Woodruff caught her and order that one of her ears be cut off. After that, she always wore a green turban around her head. Everything up to this point may have happened, whether or not the girl’s name was Chloe.

What occurred after is unclear. Some believe that what she did was only supposed to get the family sick so that Chloe could nurse them back to health and earn their gratitude. This way she wouldn’t have to face the fields. Others say that that her motives were more dark and that she only wanted one thing, revenge.

For whatever reason, Chloe put poison into a birthday cake made in honor of the Woodruff’s oldest daughter. Mixed in with the flour and sugar was a handful of crushed oleander. Sarah and the two children had a slice of the cake, but Woodruff didn’t eat any. Before the end of the day, they had all become extremely sick. Chloe attended to their needs In a matter of hours, all of them were dead.

The other slaves, possibly afraid that Woodruff would punish them as well, dragged Chloe from her room and hanged her in a nearby tree before tossing her body in the river. Woodruff closed off the children’s dining room, where the party had been held, and never allowed people to go in there again. That dining room is now the game room.

Since her death, the ghost of Chloe has been reported at the Myrtles and was accidently photographed. You can still buy a postcard with the photo on it. She is often seen in a green turban, wandering around the place at night. Cries of children sometime accompany her.

You have likely figured out that there are a lot of inconsistencies in this story with the actual facts. These stories, though, have been accepted as fact, even though there is no evidence that exists to say that they are true. History actually shows that Woodruff was very devoted to his wife. We already know the issue with the murder of Sarah and her daughters isn’t true because they all died at different times of yellow fever. Lastly, there is no record that the Woodruff’s owned a slave by the name of Chloe.

So how did this story get started? When Marjorie Munson owned the property, she heard some local stories about odd things happening at the house. She started asking around, and that is how the legend of Chloe got started. According to the granddaughter of Harrison and Fannie Williams, Lucile Lawrason, her aunts talked about the ghost of an old woman in a green bonnet. They would laugh about it, and it became a family story. The woman never had a name, and she was an older woman, not a young slave who could have been involved in an affair. Regardless, the story got repeated to Marjorie, and she penned a song about a ghost in a green beret.

As time wore on, the story changed and grew. There is definitely a woman in a green bonnet that haunts the Myrtles, as there is photographic evidence to prove it, but the story people have heard about Chloe is a fabrication.

The Myrtles changed hands many more times in the 1970s, and was restored again under the ownership of Arlin Dease and Mr. and Mrs. Robert F Ward. This was when the story of Chloe was embellished.

A different story that surrounds the house is that three Union soldiers were killed in the house. They were shot to death in the gentlemen’s parlor, leaving behind bloodstains that can’t be cleaned away. The issue is that there is no record of Union soldiers having been killed in the house. The family that lived there at the time deny the story as well. If the bloodstain incident did occur, then it was caused by something else.

There is also a story of a caretaker being murdered in the house in 1927 during a robbery. There is no record that exists that proves this crime to have happened. The only event close to this that might have created this story occurred when the brother of Fannie Williams, Eddie, was living in a small house on the property. He did get killed during a robbery, but it didn’t take place in the main house.

Even the one factual murder that happened in the main house, the killing of William Winter, has been embellished over the years. People have said that after Winter was shot, he stagger back inside and passed through gentlemen’s and ladies’ parlor to the staircase. He climbed just high enough to die in the arms of his beloved on the 17th step. People have heard ghostly footsteps on the staircase. The truth is, those ghostly footsteps could be caused by many other things, but it was not because of this murder.

While we have debunked a few stories, I do believe the Myrtles is very much haunted. There are too many accounts of strange occurrences for them all to be mere coincidences. It’s just not haunted for the reasons that people believe.

There had to be some strange goings on when Marjorie had the house, otherwise she wouldn’t have started seeking out answers. Frances Myers said that she encountered the ghost in the green turban in 1987. She was sleeping in the downstairs bedrooms when she was awakened by a black woman in a green turban and long dress. She stood quietly by the bed, holding a candlestick. She was so real, that the candle gave off a glow. Myers hadn’t heard about the ghost, and was so frightened that she pulled the covers over her head and screamed. She peeked out and reached her hand out to touch the women who hadn’t moved. To her amazement, the woman disappeared.

Even the photo of the green turban woman doesn’t fit the description of a young girl. It looks like an older woman that the Williams described.

There may not have been ten murders that took place in the house, but the house has definitely seen some tragedy. A number of people died from yellow fever. There have also been reports of children playing on the verandah, in the hallways, and in rooms. The small boy and girl could have been the Woodruff children. There has also been a story of a young girl, with long curly hair in an ankle-length dress seen floating outside of the window, cupping her hands and peeking inside. This could be any of the numerous children who didn’t make it to adulthood.

The grand piano will also play by itself, and often continues through the night. When somebody comes into the room to investigate, the music stops.

The Myrtles is now a bed and breakfast, and has been for quite some time. It also offers tours, and it is a popular place among paranormal investigators.

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