Thursday, October 17, 2013

Those Places Thursday: Ghosts of Brentsville Courthouse and Jail

Brentsville Courthouse
Photo: Carolyn G. Lynn
Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre is located at 1229 Bristow Road in Bristow, Virginia, approximately three miles from the Bristoe Station Battlefield.  The 28 acre site includes the fully restored Courthouse, one of the oldest in the United States.  It served as the county seat from 1822 until 1892 when the court was moved to Manassas.  Public auctions frequently occurred in front of the Courthouse doors, including the sale of real estate and slaves, and during the Civil War Confederate units were formed here (notably, Co. A., 4th Virginia Cavalry and Co. A, 49th Virginia infantry). 

In addition to the Courthouse, the site includes the Brentsville Jail which housed a wide variety of miscreants, from town drunks to murderers, both male and female.  The gallows, built behind the Courthouse, were well within sight of the prisoners in the jail awaiting their final reckoning.  Several inmates are known to have successfully escaped from the building’s confines, often by setting fire to the cells.  In 1872, the jail was the scene of a sensational  murder when commonwealth attorney James Clark, awaiting trial for abducting and then abandoning 15 year old Fannie Fewell, was shot in his cell by the young lady’s brother.  Clark died three days later of his wounds.  (The brother, Rhoda Fewell, was later acquitted of the murder.)

After Manassas became the county seat and there was no longer a need for a Brentsville jail, the building was repurposed and underwent a series of renovations, at various times serving as a women’s dormitory, private residence, and office building.  Now closed to the public, it is currently being restored to its 1822 heyday as a county jail.

With a rich history of crime, punishment, and murder, are the Brentsville Courthouse and Jail haunted?

In the Courthouse, there are tales of a phantom figure seen standing by the window of the Judge’s office on the second floor and the sound of phantom chairs sliding across wooden floors when no one is upstairs.

The June 14, 2004 issue of the Prince William News & Messenger relates the story of a time when the jail served as the County Clerk’s office.  A secretary who was alone in the building “saw a woman outside dressed in Civil War clothing.  The woman came up the sidewalk … and said ‘Where’s my soldier? … They said he’s back here.  I’ve come for my soldier.’  Then the woman vanished.”

Another legend tells of a different secretary who looked up from her desk on the second floor of the jail to find a young African American male standing in front of her.  The youth asked her for his shoe buckles.  In the moment that she glanced away, he vanished.  Could this have been the shade of a former inmate looking for the return of the property that had been confiscated during his imprisonment?

Still another eyewitness describes having turned to look at the jail and being startled to see the face of a female slave looking back.  Is this the spirit of Agnes, who was imprisoned there and later hanged behind the Courthouse for the murder of her master, Gerard Mason?

Whatever activity is (or isn’t) going on in the jail, it has enticed investigations by several paranormal groups, among them The Atlantic Paranormal Society (“TAPS”) which featured the building in an episode of Ghost Hunters.

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Spectral Stories at Historic Brentsville
October 18, 2013 – 7:00pm until 9:00pm
$5/person and free for children under six
Details:  703-365-7895

Do you love scary movies and hearing ghost stories?  Join site staff for a fun filled evening spent around a campfire as you hear spooky stories about Historic Brentsville and other haunts in and around Prince William County.  Apple cider and cookies will be provided.

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