Murder At Belle Grove (Cedar Creek VA)

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#1
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The battle of Cedar Creek is sometimes called the Battle of Belle Grove because much of the fighting took place around this plantation. General Ramseur was taken to that house after he was wounded during the battle and his friend General Custer came to visit him there before he died. The house has been preserved and is open for tours and they will tell you all about the history but they won't talk about this. This is what I discovered while doing research at the Archives of Handley Library in Winchester VA. There are accounts of the trial and old newspaper clippings available for anyone to see.

Just before the start of the war a man named Benjamin Cooley purchased Belle Grove. He was not married at the time but the domestic side of things was run by a very capable slave named Harriet Robinson. She told people that she would not tolerate a mistress at Belle Grove. The woman was also known locally for having a terrible temper and it was said of her that she would 'kill you as soon look at you.'

Benjamin married a woman named Hetty from MD and Harriet took an instant dislike to her. (Some reports say she witnessed Hetty Cooley beating her son and that was the real source of her hatred). The two women were constantly threatening and berating each other. Harriet would not obey her. She would only take orders from her master. One white woman reported having to separate the two women during an altercation in the hallway which involved a broomstick and this woman had to threaten Harriet to get her to leave. A free woman of color reported that Harriet talked to her about ways to poison her mistress and that she would not care what happened to her. Why Benjamin Cooley allowed this go on is a mystery. His wife begged him to sell Harriet but he would not. Of course there was talk that she was his mistress but there have been later theories proposing that she might actually have been a relative.

There was a free black man in the area whose last name was Robinson who was a relative of Harriet's. He was known for 'stirring up trouble' among the 'coloreds' in the area. What he did to 'stir up trouble' or if this had anything to do with Harriet's attitude the recorders did not say but it was apparently important enough for it to be mentioned.

Hetty was known to suffer from 'fits'. Apparently she had had epilepsy.

One afternoon when a neighbor was visiting Hetty left the parlor to attend to something. Time went by and Hetty did not return. I think the neighbor might even have fallen asleep waiting for her. Hetty still did not return and knowing that Hetty had 'fits' the neighbor went searching. No sign of Hetty. She called on the slaves nearby to help and one of them heard moaning from the smokehouse. They forced open the door and Hetty was found there, her feet propped up in the fire. . She was bruised and looked as if she had been rolled in ashes. They assumed at the time that she had tried to reach one of the hams tied to the ceiling of the building, had suffered one of her 'fits' and had fallen into the fire, had been knocked out and tried to drag herself away in her confusion. However when the doctor came to attend to her he saw at once that her wounds were not consistent with a fall. The woman had been beaten so severely she later died of her wounds.

Some of the men did some amateur detective work and found blood in a small room off the downstairs kitchen and found drag marks along the grass outside the back door and blood leading to the smokehouse. They concluded that whatever had happened to Hetty happened in the kitchen and she had been dragged to the smokehouse. Reports of Harriet's hatred were brought forward and she was arrested, tried and convicted and sentenced to hang. Harriet was quite open about her hatred of Hetty and about having committed the crime. She and Hetty had had an argument, got into a fight and Harriet 'lost it'. She dragged her mistress' body to the smokehouse in broad daylight and I suppose no one noticed or if they did they didn't say anything.

Harriet was never hanged for the crime. No one knows what became of her. The theory is when the Union was in control of that section of the Valley they freed all the black prisoners and she simply followed them north out of the state. Another theory says that upon the approach of the Union Army all the prisoners were taken south to Richmond and she died of natural causes in the prison there. No one knows. She just...disappeared. All we know is there was no hanging.

Benjamin Cooley married again and had children (a huge crowd came to his second wedding) but like many he could not afford to keep the farm after the war. He moved a few counties to the south where he lived for the rest of his life. Once again no one knows why he didn't get rid of that troublesome slave.

Since this is the 'haunting' section we have to mention that the ghost of Hetty is often seen at Belle Grove apparently reliving the last moments of her life. She is seen in the hallways, in the kitchen, outside walking down a path and in an upstairs window. I've looked for her and have of course never seen her but there is a famous story of a man who owned a carpet business who came there one Sunday to deliver a carpet. They were met by a woman in period dress who took them down the hall and showed them where the carpet was supposed to go. He said she didn't look ghostly...but she made absolutely no sound when she walked. She moved silently. When it was time to go they looked around for her to tell her they were finished but they could not find her. The next day he called and told them about his experience the day before. The director told him that the house was not open on Sunday. There was no one there to open the place for them. He kept insisted that a woman let them in and the carpet was there for evidence. The museum director told him that he apparently had experienced an encounter with the ghost of Belle Grove.
 

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Joined
Oct 14, 2014
Messages
769
Location
Virginia
#3
I've heard that ghost story before. Still never been to Cedar Creek yet. Definitely on my want to do list.
I had 'heard' about it growing up. A lot of the facts got twisted around as they do when people repeat something. They can't help but add their own spin to it. When we took field trips there as kids we used to scare each other about the 'ghost'. We had gone to visit the house after the re-enactment several years ago. That triggered my memories and I decided to do a little digging and find out the real story.
 

Northern Light

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#4
I had 'heard' about it growing up. A lot of the facts got twisted around as they do when people repeat something. They can't help but add their own spin to it. When we took field trips there as kids we used to scare each other about the 'ghost'. We had gone to visit the house after the re-enactment several years ago. That triggered my memories and I decided to do a little digging and find out the real story.
Like you, I find it odd that the husband did not do something about this situation. She must have had some kind of fearsome hold on him! Either that or he was afraid of her temper! Thanks for posting.
 

Old Bay

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Culpeper, VA
#5
I had 'heard' about it growing up.
You and me both. :wink:

I've a family I'm close with that tell a lot of ghost stories, and this was one of the ones the youngest daughter liked to tell. She really likes Belle Grove and the story of the 'white lady'. This is a lot more in depth than anything I had heard previously, for sure.
 



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