Church Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories told at Pumpkin Balooza 28 Oct 2018
by Bob Perrine Church Historian

(1) A long time ago when our church was very small some Indians paid a visit to our church. In that time Indians couldn’t read or write, so when the chief of the Indians   saw the little boys and girls in our church reading and writing, he asked Sarah Thoroughgood, the wife of our first church founder, if he could leave his 5-year-old son with Sarah so she could teach him to read and write. Could that be a lesson to you? Would your Mom and Dad leave you with someone else if you couldn’t read or write? Next time you’re at church look for the plaque about Adam and Sarah Thoroughgood.  Anyway, in those days most people were afraid of Indians, but not Sarah. She readily agreed to take in the little Indian boy in. Sarah had a very strong and forceful manner over both men and women just like famous women in history. Can you name one? Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross; Florence Nightingale was founder of modern nursing; Mother Teresa helped starving children; Pocahontas helped the Jamestown settlers; Joan Of Arc was a famous French woman; Cleopatra was a famous Egyptian ruler; Indira Gandhi fought for independence in India.

 What did Sarah Thoroughgood look like? No one knows, but from descriptions,
here is a portrait of a likeness showing a 1650 Virginia woman.
Well the Chief left his son behind for Sarah to raise him teaching reading and writing and even arithmetic. But that’s not the end of this story. You see in early times of our church people stayed after church and had picnics and a fair in our cemetery trading goods like crops and animals. People used this time to socialize with their neighbors who they only saw at church because back then neighbors usually lived far apart on plantations. Now this story didn't take place in this cemetery. It was down the river a bit in our first small church at Church Point. If you go there you’ll see a monument dedicated to our first church. Does anyone know how many churches we’ve had?...... That’s right, this is our third church.  
Now getting back to our story, there was a man named William Moseley who had come from England just a few years before the Indian boy was left with Sarah. He used to be rich but then he had to escape from England during a war. William and his family were only able come here with nothing but some valuable jewels. During this open fair in our first church cemetery, he traded his valuable jewels to Sarah for some of her cows and then on this very same Sunday he traded those cows to the Indian Chief for tobacco plants. You see, the Chief and his tribe had stayed there at the fair after Sarah brought them into church and baptized the little Indian boy.
In a few years Sarah died when the Indian boy was still young, and William turned those tobacco plants into a large field of tobacco and got rich. As for the little Indian boy, after Sarah died the Chef’s son was taken in by the Indians who had traded tobacco plants for William’s cows. You see the Chief who left his son behind lived far away and didn’t know Sarah had died. Well this tribe that got the cows and now the Indian boy, showed the boy how to look after those cows.
Many years later after those Indians and the boy grew up and died, there was a legend about the Indian boy becoming a cow herder. In the legend late at night the at Church Point the ghost of the Indian boy rides on top of a cow through the cemetery now out in the river. Even people who didn’t see this strange sight, say they could hear the Indian boy and cow - mooooo and whahoowa.


Colonel Edward H. Moseley (1743 - 1814) 6th generation descendant of
William Mosely (1601-1655): oldest grave in the cemetery with remains
 


(2) Back in those early days before there were cars there was a famous preacher, Rev. Anthony Walke. I’m sitting near his grave. Rev. Walke divided his time between preaching in our church and the hunt. Do you know anything about how our folks of old hunted fox and deer?...riding on a horse with dogs chasing after the fox and deer...... Not only was Rev. Walke noted for preaching very good sermons, but more exciting was his love of fox and deer hunting. When he came to preach in our church Rev. Walke would come riding up on his horse Silverheels and tie him to a rail out front of the church along with the other horses that some of the people came to church riding. Even if Rev, Walke was in the middle of preaching, when he heard those hunting horns, he would immediately stop preaching and hurry off on his horse Silverheels, not to be seen again until late in the day. In those days our church people didn’t go home right away. They made a whole day of it. After church they’d spread out their picnic blankets in our cemetery eating and gossiping until Rev. Walke returned from hunting to finish his sermon. Now some folks say they have seen the ghost of Rev. Walke come out of his grave right here, float over to the stables that were just over there, mount his ghost horse Silverheels and float around the cemetery delivering the last part of his sermon to whoever happened to be around. If you’re around late at night, you might hear the last part of his sermon…Man’s Passions teacheth him that moderation is to be observed in all the gratifications of life.” And why did he preach this?

 


This picture was taken sometime before the church was rebuilt and is a view of the north front corner.
Stables used by past parishioners remained and can be seen in the rear of the church.

Reverend Anthony Walke (1755 - 1814) 
(3) Behind Rev. Walke’s grave is his son’s, David Walke.  It’s the tallest gravestone in our cemetery. He was always getting into trouble with his drunken ways. After Rev. Walke died, David used his father’s house for gambling parties. Do you know where Rev. Walke’s house used to be? Well it was close by and today a famous building stands in its palace called the Ferry Farm Plantation House. You can go there because its open to the public. Now getting back to our story. At one of David’s gambling parties, being very drunk, David tipped over an oil lamp and burned the plantation house to the ground. Written on his tall grave stone just over there David admitted with shame that he fell far short of living a life the Ten Commandments tells us to do. Do you know where our Ten Commandments are?.....on our large wooden board called a reredos at the front of our church.  Can anyone tell me one of the ten Commandments?
•Know that God is the only god.
•Be careful with God's name.
•Do not worship statues.
•Keep Sunday a special day.
•Honor your father and mother.
•Do not kill anyone.
•Do not steal.
•When you get married honor and love each other forever.
Now go over to David’s tomb and put your ear on to the tomb stone, especially where it says, “living in strict obedience to …commandments.” You might just might hear a mournful cry of his many wrongs, asking for final forgiveness so his soul may rise to heaven from the tomb.

David M. Walke (Jan 26, 1800 – June 9, 1854),
the most formidable gravestone being the tallest grave stone in the cemetery.

(4) William Dixon died a long time ago and was buried back there near a tree. As years past, his grave stone became partially covered in that tree as it grew. His wife, Sarah Dixon’s grave was for many years thought to have been swallowed up by that tree, but recently her grave stone was found in some rubble in the church shed. After replacing Sarah’s grave stone, it had a piece missing and not only that, it has broken off and fallen over. Some folks say they have seen Sarah’s spirit floating around our cemetery late at night looking for that missing piece and even trying to put her stone back in the ground.


William Dixon (1807 - 1853) partially buried in a tree. 
Next to his stone is Sarah Dixon (1812 – 1873).
The marker was broken off until part of her stone was found.
In the foreground is the gravestone of Fannie Williams – (1829 - 1901)

(5) One day many years ago Blackbeard, the most famous pirate of old, and his men were having a jolly ole time at the Pleasure House, a tavern that served beer and wine, a place at the end of Pleasure House Road. Blackbeard always sent one of his men down a trail along the Chesapeake to look-out for approaching ships that Blackbeard and his men could pirate. Do you know what pirates do when they pirate a ship?.... Now when the lookout pirate spies a merchant ship coming into the bay, he runs back and warns Blackbeard. One day a ship came into the bay carrying valuable jewels. When spotting the pirates, the ship’s Captain quickly loaded these valuable jewels into a small boat and with three of his strongest men quickly rowed up the Lynnhaven toward our church. The remaining crew was left to deal with the pirates. When Blackbeard boarded the ship and questioned the crew, he threatening to kill all of them if they didn’t tell where all the valuable things on the ship were. Afraid for their lives, they admitted that the ship’s captain had rowed away in a small boat with valuable jewels.  So Blackbeard and a couple of his men gave chase in a row boat attached to their Pirate ship and soon caught up to the Captain. As Blackbeard stood over the valuable cargo of jewels, he and his men were alerted by the sound of cannon fire. Looking out he saw two-armed local militia boats bearing down on him. With no time to spare, Blackbeard and his men hastily jumped to shore and buried the treasure in our graveyard and escaped up a path, today’s Witchduck Road. Knowing exactly were Blackbeard was headed, the militia men caught up with him at the Pleasure House.  They cut off Blackbeard’s head and mounted it on a poll and placed it at the end of the trail his men used to look out for ships to pirate (today called Lookout Road). After the militia had left the Pleasure House, Blackbeard's men took Blackbeard’s headless body back to our graveyard and buried him in the same hole they’d hidden the treasure. There they got into an argument as to how to split up the jewels, so they decided to go back to the Pleasure House and gamble for the jewels - winner take all. Getting quite drunk they bragged about what they had done, but realizing they had spilled the beans, they said that if anyone were brave enough to go looking for the jewels and find they hole they had dug they would also find the body of Blackbeard. They said Blackbeard’s headless ghost would come out of his body, come up out of the grave and slice them up with his knife. Their boasting got Blackbird’s men all killed but then no one was brave enough to go looking for the jewels as the tale his men told about a headless Blackbeard coming out of the grave kept people away from looking. The treasure remains safe in the Old Donation Cemetery’s old grave section because no one is allowed to bury anyone in this old section. They have to be buried in either the Wall Columbarium, the Inground Columbarium, the Memorial Garden (Scattering Garden) or the Full Casket Burial Ground. If you want to follow the same path Blackbeard took, it’s easy, because those places have names that mark where Blackbeard and his men traveled. Drive up Pleasure House Road to the Lynnhaven River where the Pleasure House once stood and then go down Lookout Road, named after the trail one of Blackbeard’s men went down to look for ships to pirate; and then drive over to Blackbeard Road where folks will tell you Blackbeard’s treasure was buried on a small island out in a lake next to Treasure Island Drive. Does anyone know the name of that lake?.....(Lake Joyce) 

Edward Teach (1680 –1718), better known as Blackbeard

(6) Grace Sherwood married many years ago in our first small church at Church Point. She had three children and lived a peaceful life helping her husband in the field down in Pungo. When her husband died, there was no one to defend her from a jealous neighbor, Elizabeth Hill. She used the most damning accusation of the time, witchcraft, and turned the whole church against Grace.  She was marched into the church, made to stand on a stool and ask forgiveness for being a witch.  She steadfastly declared, “I be not a witch. I be a healer.” That’s because she grew herbs to help sick people in the church, but no one spoke up for her in her defense. So, she was marched down the road, that road out front to be later called Witchduck because that’s what happened to her down at the end of the road at a spot in the river later to be named Witchduck Bay. Ducking was a way people in those days believed if one was a witch, the holy waters would not accept a witch and spite a witch up out of the water. They threw Grace into the Lynnhaven to test her for witchery. Grace was an excellent swimmer and was able to untie her binds and swim to shore, but the church folks believed the waters had rejected her proving she was a witch. They marched her back to the jail house, the one standing where our present church is. There she spent many years until it was torn down and our church built over the jail.  Each July 10th, the day she was ducked, folks putting their ear to the church floor can still hear, “I be not a witch. I be a healer;” and according to local residents, a strange moving light, said to be Grace's restless spirit, still appears each July 10th over the spot out in Witch Duck Bay where Sherwood was tied up and thrown into the water to test her for witchery.

Grace Sherwood - the Witch of Pungo (1660 – 1740)

But there’s also other spirts out there in Witchduck Bay making their presence known each year on that same night, July 10th. Some folks believe its three soldiers looking for their ship. Those three souls started showing up a little over a hundred years after Grace Sherwood's restless spirit began making her yearly July 10th appearance with that strange light out in Witchduck Bay. Here’s their story. Less than a month after America declared war on England (the War of 1812), three of our church men, as members of the Princess Ann County Militia, sailed on the ship, the Dash, helping to capture an English ship off Cape Henry, the first English ship captured in the War of 1812, and it happened on July 10th exactly a hundred years after Grace Sherwood was ducked on suspicion of being a witch. All three are buried in the Old Donation Church cemetery right over there, and every year on July 10th, the day they captured the English ship, some folks believe their spirits rise from their graves and gather down at Witch Duck Bay scampering aboard their sailboat the Dash. Folks that have felt their presence hear “man the cannon” or “bring her about.” What a coincidence!... the same day of the month, July 10th, Grace Sherwood was ducked there at Witchduck Bay 100 years before the Dash captured a British ship. Some say Grace’s moving light leads our three patriot souls to their boat, the Dash, each year, because the folks who believe she was a great sailor, also believe the legend about Grace Sherwood sailing one night to England in an egg shell and bringing back a sprig of Rosemary the next morning, a sprig which started all the Rosemary growing today in Virginia Beach! If you are over in our herb garden where Grace Sherwood’s memorial stone is, see if you can see which plant is the Rosemary.

.
Jno. (John) Brownley – (1780 - Sep 28, 1819) 
John Henderson - (1769 – 1825)  
Pvt. Anthony Walke – (Feb 1778 - Sept 13, 1820) (Great Grandson of Colonel Walke I)

(7) Just after our third church was built, our present church, rich people built pews up high in the church. They got there on a catwalk hanging on rods from the roof. All that remains today are the windows those rich people cut in the walls to provide air and light. Look over at the church and see if you can see those two tiny windows up high in the wall. Next time you’re at church, try sitting under one of those windows. I’m sure you’re hear those feet – tramp, tramp, tramps - the ghosts of the people walking to their seats up there in those hanging pews.


Small windows cut to light the four hanging pews (two on each side of the church)

(8) Many years ago, Old Donation closed its doors because most people had moved to Kempsville (then called Kemp’s Landing). During that time folks moved away because the local river, the Lynnhaven, became filled with sand and became hard to sail in. You see, coming to church by boat was the way most folks got around because there were few roads and the ones that were, were muddy when it rained and made dust clouds when it was dry. But down at Kemp’s landing the Elizabeth River was deep and ships could easily sail up and down it, so they built a church there called Emmanuel.
Now getting back to our story. Even though our church had no people, the folks who once worship here and went to Emmanuel made yearly trips from Emmanuel to Old Donation to hold a service, even after it caught fire and mostly burned down. On one occasion the folks brought a small portable organ with them.  As “Onward Christian Soldiers” was struck up on that small organ, the folks marched around the walls of the burned-out church. Today there are some in our choir who tell stories about hearing that first organ striking up “Onward Christian Soldiers” in the walls of our church. Now whenever you’re over at the Angle Desk in the church office look closely at the picture hanging up there on the wall. Miss Frances Hoggard is playing on her organ that day over a hundred years ago in the ruins of the church. When you find her in the picture, put your ear up to her in the picture and see if you can hear the music of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Some folks are sure they can hear it.
 

Thurmer Hoggard IV (1819-1902) organized yearly trips to our burned-out church

Pictured above organist Miss Frances C. Hoggard strikes up “Onward Christian Soldiers
 in the ruins of Old Donation Church on September 11, 1901.
 
(9) Pembroke Meadows Neighborhood Park has a small amphitheater dedicated to Elizabeth Nuckols. Here’s her story, one that will give pause for anyone brave enough to venture into the forest alone out behind the day school and Alfriend House. They warned Elizabeth time and time again to stay away.  It was her asthma.  It was triggered by leaves and grass and trees and dampness…and yet… she looked back at the playground, at her friends at Pembroke Elementary School playing during recess.  I’ll just walk through the path in the woods at Pembroke Meadows Neighborhood Park quickly to prove that nothing bad will happen.  I will be brave.  Nothing can happen.  She placed one foot in front of the other.  Was it her imagination, or did it get darker with each step she took?  And what was that black form slithering on the path ahead.  She was breathing hard, but it was from fear, she was sure.  Continuing to place one foot in front of the other, she saw a tree stump, sat down on it and pulled out the sandwich her mother had packed for her lunch. As the sounds of the schoolyard faded and when she had finished the first half of her sandwich, that black form she had seen earlier on her walk, slither across her foot. She screamed and jumped up to run, but the branches seemed to close in around her blocking her way out.  She couldn’t breathe.  Her heart beat wildly.  Suddenly, she fell and all went dark. Now there are folks who have walked in that same woods at night and say they can hear Elizabeth singing, “If you go down in the woods today, you're sure of something out of the norm, perhaps a black slithering form.”  Elizabeth’s warning to those with allergies, or anyone else, was not to wander alone in an enchanted forest full of dark souls. There is a path behind our grave yard leading into the forest and on to Elizabeth Nuckols’ small amphitheater. What’s there to be afraid of, it’s only a forest in Pembroke Meadows Neighborhood Park, but then very few people have ventured there. I bet you didn’t know there was a park behind our church with an enchanted forest between the grave yard and that small amphitheater dedicated to Elizabeth Nuckols. Best we keep it that way – right?
The Elizabeth Nuckols Outdoor Learning Center. On the wall are 165 bricks with donors’ names from 1999 – 2003.  At the entrance (other side from your walk) a plaque reads:
In memory of Elizabeth E. Nuckols, May 11, 1983 – October 24, 1995. Heaven needed an angel and chose Elizabeth. ‘Life is not measured in years but by the love we touch.’”

Paths in Pembroke Meadows Neighborhood Park woods


(10) Diana Talbot Walke Parks (1887 – 1975) joined Old Donation just after the 1916 reconstruction. She originated the church Christmas pageant in 1926, the annual Oyster Roast and Bazaar in 1934, and the Altar Guild, for many years serving as its chairman until 1971. Folks in charge of the alter guild following her lost touch with Diana’s placement of the Eucharistic Elements (the silver bread paten, wine chalice, finger bowl and towel). After Diana’s death in 1975 the elements were mysteriously re-positioned during the night the way Diana preferred them. Each Alter Guide chairperson talked about Diana shuffling about believing Diana’s ghost remained watch over the Eucharistic Elements.

Diana's grave rests next to her husband
Rufus Parks in the Old Donation Cemetery

Diana Talbot Walke Parks, (1887 – 1975)

(11) When Reverend Robert Dickson (1716-1777) became Rector in 1748 he took over running a free public school for orphan boys, and for the next 28 years invested his energies in seeing that the orphan children became prosperous respected citizens. Kris McTague saw a program celebrating Reverend Dickson at a service held sometime in the 1920’s noting that he was buried under the altar; but that bulletin, the only historical source confirming his burial, has been lost. There have been more than a few church members claiming they hear boys talking and laughing when the church is completely empty. Others hear calls to “Father Bob,” with an answer from the altar, "Here I am," but then no one is there. A church that for 60 years (1856 – 1916) sat crumbling and vacant in the woods had more than enough time to gather many ghosts, especially hundreds of orphan boys who passed through the halls of Old Donation.


Rev. Dickson's plaque hangs on the back wall of the church.

(12) Captain Jonathan Saunders I (1726 – 1765) and his son Captain John Saunders II (1754 - 1834) engaged in quarrels over freedom from Great Britain leading up the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Many feared that without the authority of the British government, the church would no longer weld its Anglican tithing tax authority and the purchase of commissions in the army or navy. Young Saunders chose to be a loyalist, siding with the British, and joined the Queen's Loyal Virginia Regiment in opposition to his father, a staunch American patriot. After the war Captain Saunders II sailed to England and in 1789 to New Brunswick, Canada where he lived out the rest of his life.
On Captain Jonathan Saunders I gravestone in our cemetery, one part of the epitaph reads that he was a “tender father.”  Dying at the age of 39, was he tormented by the loss of his son to the British Loyalists, the forces he and his fellow American Patriots had fought against? If you put your ear to his gravestone, you might here his ghost lamenting,
My son, oh my son, why have you forsaken your father and your country?”
The epitaph of Captain Jonathan Saunders I reads:
 
“SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF 
CAPT. JONATHAN SAUNDERS 
who was a person of great piety and a most 
humane Disposition 
being beneficent to all 
as far as his ability Reached 
An easy unoffensive, obligating behavior 
adored all his actions 
was a kind Husband 
tender father a sincere friend 
he died universally Lamented 
on 21st January 1765 
                                                          in the 39th year of his age.”





(13) The Time Capsule. In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War (1775–1783) there persisted bitter arguments between church member patriots who applauded the new independent nation and those loyalists who saw Anglican British church laws come apart from the loss of political power, wealth, and social prestige made possible by English control over the Virginia Colony.
Captain John Saunders II (1754 - 1834) 
Photo from the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, Virginia

One loyalist, Captain John Saunders II, joined the British army during the war and eventually ended up in Canada. Legend has it that his Canadian heirs were part of the folks from Emmanuel Church in Kempsville who made annual pilgrimages to the burned out ruins of Old Donation Church to keep the county from confiscating the land. One of the Emmanuel Church folks who assembled at the 1916 dedication of the rebuilt church had an 1888 Canadian penny to be included in a time capsule. The capsule was placed in a cavity of a cornerstone and inserted in the northeast corner of the church.  The discovery that an 1888 Canadian penny with a picture of Queen Victoria in the time capsule was  found out one hundred years later when the time capsule was opened on 16 Sep, 2016. Were Captain John Saunders’ heirs responsible for the switch or was it a person still loyal to England? We do know that some hard feelings remained well after the Revolutionary War as heirs of loyalists still harbored ill toward the new young nation. Could all that moaning and growing in the church walls have been from the souls of Patriots who knew the face of English Queen Victoria was on a penny and not Lady Liberty? Everyone thought it was the creeks and cracks in the old church walls which did come apart in 1960.
Well, this wrong would certainly be corrected when new items were placed in the time capsule and placed back into the corner of the church 20 Dec, 2016. But no, instead a 2015 Canadian two-dollar coin with the face of English Queen Elizabeth was part of the items replaced. No one inserted a George Washington coin or, for that matter, any American coin. Now how did that happen?
If you hear continued groans within the walls of the church, they might just be those Patriots, like Reverend Anthony Walke III (1755 - 1814), William Walke (1762 - 1795), Captain Thomas Walke IV (1760-1797), Colonel Edward Hack Moseley I (1717 - 1783), and Colonel Edward H. Moseley  Jr. (1743 - 1814) waiting for the next one-hundred years when a coin with an American Patriot on its face might be placed in the time capsule. 
The 1888 Canadian penny found in the time capsule with face of English Queen Victoria

This 2015 Canada Toonie, a two-dollar coin, was donated for the time capsule by Andy Bygden, a Canadian citizen, employed by James D. Klote & Associates, to organize and energize our Capital Campaign for construction of more space needed for our growing church. 
The cornerstone placed 11 Oct 1916, removed 16 Sep 2016, and replaced 20 Dec 2016             at the northeast corner of Old Donation Church
(14) Reverend Richard Jeffrey Alfriend (1860 – 1923) built a new small congregation and then help raise funds to rebuild Old Donation which had been unoccupied in ruins for 60 years (1856 – 1916). He then served as rector at both Kempsville Emmanuel and Old Donation. When he died in 1923, he was buried in the center aisle of Old Donation. He and his wife, Mary Emily Hume (June 10, 1869 – October 22, 1952) had eight children, five girls and three boys.
Emily Hume (1869 – 1952) age 83
Eliza Prentis (1889 – 1904) age 15
Margaret Bland (1891 – 1968) age 77
Richard Jeffrey (1894 – 1971) age 75
John Samuel (1897 – 1974) age 77
Virginia Blair (1901 – 1983) age 82
Mary Blair (1903 – 1995) age 91
Theodoric Bolling Sr (Thee) (1906 – 1987) age 81 
After his last child died in 1995, there are folks who claim Rev. Alfriend's ghost would wander around the church grave yard in search of his eight children, but their graves are not there and are scattered in many places outside of Virginia Beach. Late at night you might hear someone calling out for Emily, Eliza, Margaret, Richard, John, Virginia, Mary, and Thee (Theodoric).  When Thee was young, Rev. Alfriend often read to him, Jack and the Beanstalk. That’s why you might hear his call ending with “Thee-fi-fo-fum, I want to find my son's bones, so I can rest in peace.
 
Reverend Richard Jeffrey Alfriend (1860 – 1923)
(1-14)  Bob Perrine, Church Historian, 30 Oct 2016
(15) (William Huber writes about George’s Arm.) George Woodhouse has his plaque at the back of Old Donation Church. In part it reads “A brave soldier of the CSA [Confederate States of America].” When the Civil War started about a hundred and fifty years ago George joined the Confederate Army. During the war he was shot in the arm causing him to lose it. He packed it in sawdust and salt and went back to Old Donation Church. There he buried his arm in the church graveyard.  In later years he was one of several to help with the restoration of the burned-out church. While he was helping cut down trees that had grown up inside the church ruins, he often thought about his arm and really missed it, and on several occasions, though he’d dig it up, but that would have been silly. It had probably decayed and was full of worms. George died in 1915 at the age of 75 while helping with the restoration of our burned-out church. He was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Norfolk, many miles from his arm's final resting place in the Old Donation cemetery. Now some people say they have heard strange noises coming from George’s grave. They believe the scratching and knocking on his wood casket is George trying to come out and find his arm.  And some folks say they can see an arm pulling itself out of the ground in our cemetery and most likely headed for Elmwood Cemetery.