Patrick Henry was known to be quite the modest man. His houses were not large or elaborate, yet one stands apart from the others. The largest of his privately owned homes, Scotchtown, which still stands today, remains a place filled with history, as well as a its share of mystery. Historically, it was in this Hanover County home that he prepared his arguments which he’d deliver in Richmond, on March 23, of 1775. The arguments, which would become known as his famous “Liberty or death” speech. It was here he took the oath of office as the first governor of the state of Virginia.
Regarding the mystery, whether one choses to believe it or not, an internet search of haunted sites in Virginia, will often identify Scotchtown, the home of Patrick Henry, from 1771 through 1778, as a place of heightened supernatural activity. Owned and maintained by Preservation Virginia, fascinating stories abound regarding the deaths of occupants within the spacious confines of this nearly 3,000 square foot mansion. Possibly, the most famous resident to pass away at Scotchtown would be Sarah Henry, the first wife of our Patrick Henry. Tragically, Sarah succumbed, after a 3 year bout with mental illness, under circumstances that, if you believe much of what you hear today, may appear to be more dramatic and sinister, than when they actually occurred.
Little did I ever imagine I’d have the opportunity to spend a night, alone, in the home of my 5th great-grandparents, Patrick and Sarah Henry. On Tuesday, May 5th, 2015, that’s exactly what happened. The plan had been established, and yes I was nervous as my 8 hour drive took me closer and closer to the historic home located in rural Beaverdam, Virginia. I would arrive after midnight, technically on Wednesday morning. And whether I chose to believe in ghosts or not, the stories of sounds and strange voices, of things moving on their own, would creep into my mind. But yet, I was excited, beyond belief, as I prepared myself mentally to sleep in an original home of the American patriot, Patrick Henry.
Before settling into the house alone for the night, Lynn Price, who interprets Scotchtown, gave me an incredible night tour. I saw the mansion in a way most never get a chance to see. By flashlight, we covered the main floor, with its 8 rooms and as many fireplaces. We then climbed the narrow stairs to the large, single room attic, with 2 huge chimneys protruding through the space. The final stop was the lower level, or basement, which includes the room, where my great-grandmother lived out her final months. “Sarah’s room” now displays a mannequin, complete with an 18th century style “straight-dress”, similar to the one she wore when she died in the late winter of 1775.
Now alone in the house, with my flashlight in hand, I did one more final peek in each of the four rooms that are open to the public. I’ll admit, inside the dark house by myself, my nerves were edgy. No, I was not going do a solo visit to great-grandma Sarah’s basement room. I chose to set my sleeping bag on the floor in the main hall, which bi-sects the house. Four rooms to my left, which are currently closed to the public, and four to my right. I had a door in front of me, which faced toward the house where Lynn was staying, and a door behind me, which faces towards the front yard. It was near 2am and now time to climb into my sleeping bag and try to sleep. (Below: sleeping bag in the hall)
In a situation like this, one hears every little creak an old house makes. Every buzz of an insect. But one also feels the history that fills the hall. I imagined George Rogers Clark visiting Governor Henry to secure gunpowder for his exploration into the northwest. I could imagine Patrick Henry himself walking the hallway, his shoes striding along the same boards which I now laid upon. I couldn’t help but think about, dear Sarah, or Sallie, as he called her. While still aware of the sad and sometimes horrific stories which have been told for years, I was by no means gripped with fear. I simply thought about her living in the space below where I slept. At least she was home, and not confined to the public hospital in Williamsburg, which by today’s standards, was a torture chamber.
As I got more and more comfortable, the clock was moving forward. As I lay still in the complete darkness of the nearly 300 year old house, I felt a special connection. I was sleeping in the house where Patrick Henry slept. Where both Patrick and Sarah slept. Where two of their daughters, Martha and Elizabeth, from whom I also descend, lived and slept. While others do occasionally sleep in this house, even in the basement, I felt special, I felt privileged. I felt as if I was home. I felt comfortable. I felt tired. It was now approaching 4am. I needed to sleep as I was set to perform as Patrick Henry for a group tour in just a few hours.
Then the darkness was suddenly broken by the light of a flashlight. The silence was broken by footsteps, faint voices and the sound of a hand on the front doorknob. But honestly, that remains an unsolved mystery. I will answer one question though. Yes…if given another opportunity, I’d sleep there again, alone in a heartbeat.