Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Edgefield Ghost: A 19th Century Poltergeist Incident in South Carolina

With Halloween approaching, I thought you might enjoy learning about some unusual Southern ghost stories over the next week or so.

Let me say first that everyone can make their own mind up about ghosts. My interest in them is totally from a historical perspective. I think old ghost stories are interesting bits of our culture as Southerners, especially those handed down from long ago.

Perhaps the best known such story of the early 19th century was the strange case of the Edgefield Ghost, so named because it appeared in the Edgefield District of South Carolina. The story dates back to 1829 and it was widely reported in America's newspapers that year.

In brief, the ghost first made its appearance when Isaac Burnett heard strange sounds near his one-room house in a rural area near what is now known as Sheppard's Crossroads, a small community about 15 miles northwest of the town of Edgefield. At first the voice imitated normal sounds heard around the farm, a spinning wheel, ducks or hens clucking. Over time, however, it began to communicate with members of the family.

The ghost took an unusual interest in Martha Burnett, the 10-year-old daughter of the homeowner. Unlike the other members of her family, however, Martha had no interest in communicating with the strange voice. In fact, the ghost terrified her. She consulted with a friend who recommended that she memorize a Bible scripture to repeat to the ghost any time it attempted to communicate with her. This led to a confrontation between the two, but the strategy worked.

Others, however, continued to communicate with the strange spirit. Among those who talked with it in 1828-1829 were a Baptist minister, a physician and a state legislator. One thing that quickly became apparent about the ghost was that it became angry and withdrew anytime someone mentioned Christianity or Jesus Christ.

To learn more about this bizarre and well-documented story, please visit

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