The Edgefield Ghost - Greenwood County, South Carolina
The Edgefield Ghost - Greenwood County, South Carolina
The Edgefield Ghost
Overgrown fields are all that remain of the farm
where the Edgefield Ghost terrorized members of
the Izaac Burnett family
The Edgefield Ghost
One of the best known ghost
stories of the early 19th
century, the incident took
place in South Carolina.
A 19th Century Poltergeist
Newspapers of the time
reported that the ghost would
answer questions and imitate
various sounds.
The Edgefield Ghost - Greenwood County, South Carolina
19th Century Poltergeist Incident
Old Road near Haunting Site
The Edgefield Ghost would
not tolerate the reading of
hymns nor the mention of the
name of Jesus Christ in its
presence.
By Dale Cox
One of the most unusual incidents of the
19th century took place in the Edgefield
District of South Carolina in the year 1829.
Largely forgotten today, the Edgefield Ghost
was one of the most publicized hauntings of
the Antebellum era.

The story revolves around members of the
Isaac Burnett family, whio in 1829 were living
not far from today's Sheppard's Crossroads,
which is located on U.S. Highway 25 about
15 miles northwest of
Edgefield, South
Carolina. Other relatives lived near by, as did
members of the Sheppard, Rogers, Hodges
and Andrews families. It was an agricultural
neighborhood closely associated with the
Baptist denomination.

By all accounts Isaac Nuel Burnett was a
stable man, not prone to exaggeration or
flights of fancy. He worked hard building his
farm and taking care of his large family,
which by 1829 included his wife, Hetta (also
spelled "Hetha" and "Hettie"), and seven
children. Among these was a 10 year old girl
named Martha. Born on February 13, 1819,
she was the initial focus of the haunting
which began in October of 1828. The best
surviving account of what happened at the
Burnett home appeared in the Edgefield
Carolinian on July 11, 1829:

...The voice was first heard in October last,
imitating various noises, such as that of the
spinning-wheel, reel ducks, hens, &c. It was
first heard by Mr. Burnett, about twenty yards
from the house, which led him to suppose it
was some of the neighbor’s children, hiding
in the weeds and trying to frighten his
children. It was afterwards heard in the loft of
the house and Mr. B. supposing it to be a
bird, sent a boy up to drive it out, but nothing
could be seen. It thus continued to perplex
the minds of the family for some time, until, at
length, one of the children said he believed
the thing could talk, and commenced asking
questions, which it answered by whistling,
pretty much like a Parrot....

As the conversations between the "voice" and
the family continued, it began to answer them
with spoken words. News of this quickly
spread and neighbors started showing up to
hear the phenomenon for themselves.
Among these was James Sheppard (his
name was misspelled "John Shepherd" in
the newspaper article), who was considered
"a pious and worthy citizen." Sheppard, in
fact, was a state legislator, veteran of the War
of 1812 and in 1850 would become the father
of a future governor of South Carolina. He
was astounded by what he encountered at
the Burnett home:

...To ascertain the extent of its knowledge, he
asked it various questions about most
persons in the neighborhood and their
circumstances, which it answered correctly. It
told his name and the number of children he
had; also, the names of most of the persons
present. He asked what it came there for. It
replied, “Because it had no other place to go.”
It was asked if it have to do the family any
harm, it sad no – it loved the family. It was
asked finally if it loved Jesus Christ, to which
it made no reply, nor answered any more
questions....

The disembodied voice would not
communicate with Sheppard after that, but it
continued to talk with others. The ghost, in
fact, took a particular interest in Martha
Burnett, the 10-year-old daughter of the
homeowner. Unlike the other members of
her family, Martha had no interest at all in
communicating with the spirit. In fact, she
was terrified of it:

...This so alarms her that she generally gets
sick whenever she talks of it, and she has
been known to quit the house precipitately,
when she has heard it alone in the house.
Not long since, however, she quoted to it a
passage of Scripture, which a pious friend
pointed out and advised her to memorize for
that purpose, (1 Tim. 1 xv) and it made her
hold her jaw, but she persisted in quoting the
passage until it hushed, and has not spoken
to her since....

The Biblical passage used by Martha to drive
back the ghost reads, "This is a faithful
saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that
Christ Jesus came into the world to save
sinners; of whom I am chief." As had been
the case with James Sheppard, the ghost
seems to have recoiled immediately from the
mention of Jesus. This became even more
evident when Isaac Burnett placed a Bible in
the area of the loft from which the voice
seemed to originate.
The sound of the voice could immediately be
heard coming down from the loft into the
main room of the house. It told the family it
was going away and when they asked why, it
replied that it could not stay. The ghost
disappeared from the Burnett home for about
two weeks, but made visits to several
neighbors who had previously conversed
with it. Then, after two weeks, it came back.

Growing more concerned about the nature of
the ghost, the Burnett family called on a local
minister, Rev. Hodges, to drive it away.
Hodges visited the home several times, but
the ghost would not speak while he was
present. On May 16, 1829, however, while
visiting a neighbor the minister learned that
the ghost had been speaking that day. He
visited the home with James Sheppard and
the two decided to send one of the young
boys of the family, either 9 year old Daniel or
4 year old Hezekiah, into the house to
communicate with the ghost. Rev. Hodges
and Mr. Sheppard would then listen from the
porch:

...There were but few answers that Mr. H.
could understand, but when interpreted by
the family, who were accustomed to hear it,
he could then trace out some resemblance.
Some words however were pronounced very
plain, such as kitten, yes, no, goose-quill, &c.
The family says, that it generally spoke much
more distinctly and could be better
understood than on this occasion. Mr.
Shepherd says the same. It was understood,
however, to say it knew Mr.H. pronounced his
name tolerably dismal, said it got acquainted
with him there, and that it did not like him.
When Mr. H. spoke, and said, “I have come to
drive you away,” it was understood to reply,  
“Do if you dare.”

Rev. Hodges now engaged in a conversation
with the ghost that witnesses reported lasted
about an hour. Although few details of the
discussion have been preserved, at one
point the minister encouraged the ghost to
whistle a song. It replied that it did not know
any, so Rev. Hodges responded by whistling
a hymn. The ghost replied that this "would not
do" and then "whistled Yankee Doodle very
distinctly."

S
omething either in that conversation or
about that time convinced Mr. Burnett that his
children should no longer communicate with
the spirit and he forbade them to do so. As a
result, by July of 1829, the Edgefield
newspaper reported that, "It is now seldom
heard."

The memory of the Edgefield Ghost faded
over time. Martha Burnett lived until 1860,
when she died at the age of 41. Her father
outlived her by 6 years. Many descendants of
the family still live in Greenwood and
Edgefield Counties in South Carolina.

The haunting site today is unmarked and on
private property at the edge of the Oconee
National Forest. The general area can be
seen along U.S. Highway 25 as you
approach the bridge over Cuffeytown Creek
driving from Edgefield to Greenwood in what
is now Greenwood County, South Carolina.
'Do f your Dare!'
The ghost responded to a
local minister's threat to drive
it away by saying, "Do if you
dare!"
Edgefield, South Carolina
The Edgefield Ghost takes its
name from the historic
Edgefield District of South
Carolina. The actual haunting
site is now across the line in
Greenwood County.
Southern Ghosts & Monsters
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Last Updated: August 13, 2013