Ghosts Abound at 18th-Century Oliver Estate Mar 30, 2020 23:19:58 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Mar 30, 2020 23:19:58 GMT -5
Ghosts Abound at 18th-Century Oliver Estate
Many historical sites, hotels, inns and restaurants today promote their “ghosts” and if they don’t have one, a few invent them. But at the historic Oliver Estate in Middleborough, Massachusetts, those who serve as greeters, tour guides and in other positions at the 18th century Georgian domicile have no doubt the place is genuinely haunted.
Located at 443 Plymouth Street, the pre-Revolutionary home, similar in design to the Wythe House in Williamsburg, Virginia, was constructed in 1769 by Judge Peter Oliver for his son, Dr. Peter Oliver Jr., and his wife, Sally Hutchinson, daughter of Governor Thomas Hutchinson. The home has both first- and second-floor halls and at the time of construction, there were accommodations for the family’s house slaves in the attic, however, a subsequent owner removed these rooms.
By the time of their marriage in 1770, Oliver had been practicing medicine in the area for six years, about which he wrote, “I gradually got a little business but poor pay.” Nevertheless, the family lived well and during their residency, Dr. and Mrs. Oliver, who were Loyalists, i.e., they were loyal to the British crown, entertained several notable personages. Benjamin Franklin spent three days as their guest in the summer of 1773 and today, the southeast parlor is known as the Franklin Room. However, the moniker is of recent vintage for Franklin infuriated both the Oliver and Hutchinson families by leaking personal correspondence from Governor Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver, the doctor’s uncle.
In January 1774, Elisha Hutchinson, Sally’s brother, escaped an angry mob of Plymouth Colonists set on stoning him and sought refuge at the Oliver house. A month later, on February 24, Judge Peter Oliver, who was by that time serving as Chief Justice of Massachusetts, was impeached by the General Court, and in August, he was forced to sign a promise not to exercise his office by what he described as a group of “Middleborough brutes.”
A month later, in September 1774, when Dr. Oliver was offered a commission by General Thomas Gage, military governor of the province of Massachusetts, a throng of angry men assembled outside his home and forced him to sign a similar agreement. Dr. Oliver recorded the incident in his journal:
The Middlesborough people and indeed the Province in general, declare solemnly never to submit to this new plan of government. I thought I was safe with my family out of the reach of threats and insults. I never knew what mobbing was before. I am sick enough of confusion and uproar. I long for an asylum. Today I was visited by about 30 Middlesborough Puppies, who obliged me to sign their Articles. They proceeded and increased their number to 80, and attack’d Mr. Silas Wood, carried him off, and threatened his life if he would not sign their paper to stand by the old Charter.
When a second mob gathered outside the Oliver home in February 1775, fearing for their lives, Dr. Oliver, his wife and their three children, Margaret, Thomas and Peter, ages 4, 2 and 1, respectively, all of whom were born in the house, fled Massachusetts for England, never to return.
After the Olivers were forced out of their home, the house was confiscated by the Commonwealth and its contents auctioned. While serving as governor (1785-87) James Bowdoin occupied the residence when in the area. Eventually, the dwelling was sold at auction and in 1798, it was acquired by Judge Thomas Weston, whose descendants retained possession of the property until 1893.
One of the more notable residents of the old home was Bethania Weston Sproat, who was born, lived and died in the Oliver House. She married Captain Earl Sproat, a farmer and land surveyor, and gave birth to six children, three of whom died within a three-year period. In 1841, an infant girl died at, or shortly after, birth, and that same year, the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Abigail, was scalded to death when a kettle of boiling water fell from a table. Three years later, James, age 5 or 6, succumbed to pneumonia. Captain Sproat, who suffered from tuberculosis, lived until 1864, and Bethania died in 1877 at around age 75. Bethania, her husband and all their children are buried at Middleborough’s Nemansket Hill Cemetery around an imposing family monument (pictured below).
Seventy-five years is a considerable period of time and when people occupy a house for this long, they are bound to leave something of themselves within its protective walls .... Is it any wonder a place with a history like that of the Oliver Estate is haunted?
Those who spend a lot of time in the old dwelling have reported shadowy figures, mysterious noises and objects mysteriously falling or even flying through the air. Chris Andrade, the site’s assistant coordinator, was conducting a tour one day when she came face-to-face with the apparition of a young girl in a closet on the second floor. The ghost, she said, stared at her briefly and then vanished. The encounter lasted no more than a few seconds, but Andrade was disturbed. “This house got under my skin,” she admitted. “There’s just something about it. The house will pick who it wants to stay.”
Christy Parrish, the events coordinator who organizes ghost tours of the Oliver House, considers Bethania Sprout one of the most “vocal” spirits on the premises. “She was born here,” Parrish said. “She lived here. She had children here. And she died here. This was her only home.”
In 2015, a special town meeting was held to purchase the Oliver Estate. “We saw the historic value of the house, but we had no idea what we were going to do with it. We didn’t yet know of its paranormal connections,” explained Select-woman Leilana Dalpe, who is also chairperson of the Oliver Estate Advisory Committee. She then went to work obtaining several cultural and historic preservation grants in order to turn the town’s new acquisition into a money-making attraction.
During the past few years, the Oliver House has attracted not only history buffs, but those with an interest in the paranormal, as well as thrill-seekers who just like a good scare.
Today, many of the old home’s volunteers also are associated with various ghost-hunting groups. “We make an incredible amount of money from this,” Dalpe admitted. “All these volunteers, bless them, because all these tours and events, the funds directly go into the house.”
“We feel a sense of duty not just to preserving its historic significance for future generations, but we also owe it to the energies that reside in the property,” Parrish added, “They all have a story to offer. They have taught us so much and we learn more each time we come back. Over time, the house has peeled back its layers and has let us see more. There are many secrets of history to be covered here and that takes time.”
The Oliver Estate books ghost events year-round ranging from casual tours to full-fledged paranormal investigations. “There’s no question in my mind that it’s very haunted,” insisted Amelia Child, producer and co-host of the podcast Ghost Hunting in New England.
Stephanie Burke, a medium who volunteers at the house, believes people’s paranormal experiences are different and not everyone will have an encounter, even after several visits. “Everything affects the energy in a home. You’re essentially walking into living history,” she explained, indicating such seemingly inconsequential factors as the time of day and year, lunar phases, the attitudes of visitors, the history of the house and the lives of the deceased influence manifestations.
Ghost tours and hunts scheduled for April and May have been canceled because of the coronavirus. Accordingly, please check before visiting.
Sources: Daniel Schemer, The Taunton Gazette, October 27, 2019; Dana Matthews, WeekendWeird, December 26, 2016; Matthew Ferreira, SouthCoastToday, October 29, 2015; Recollecting Nemasket, September 18, 2011; Discover Middleborough; The Oliver Family Tree; and Find-a-Grave.