Bacon’s Castle: America’s Oldest Brick Residence and the Ghosts that Haunt It
What a difference a few decades can make. When colonists arrived at the site that would become Jamestown, Virginia, they encountered a pristine wilderness. By 1665, the colony would boast its own castle.
Bacon’s Castle, 465 Bacons Castle Trail, Surry, VA 23883, is the oldest brick residence in America. Built in 1665 by colonist entrepreneur Arthur Allen, it is now a historic preservation site managed by Preservation Virginia. How Allen came to immigrate, where he originated, why he chose to leave England, and the source of his wealth are all mysteries. What is known is that in 1650 he acquired the patent on 200 Surry County acres in exchange for transporting himself, three servants, and his future wife Alice Tucker to the colony.
Allen’s rise to prominence in the colony was swift. One must assume that he arrived in Virginia in possession of at least a portion of his wealth for by 1652, Allen had been appointed a Justice of the Peace for Surry County. It is believed that he was among the merchant-planters who populated the English colonies during the 17th century. He was styled “Arthur Allen, merchant” in a recorded 1656 deed. He was possibly the wealthiest man in Surry County at the time. In 1661, he bought an additional 500 acres upon which he would build his grand mansion. The names of the designer, builder, and workers do not appear in any surviving records, but it is known that the Allen family moved into the residence in 1665 when Arthur was 57 years old. Sadly, Arthur’s joy was short-lived. He died in 1669 three months after writing his will leaving the estate entail to his only son, Arthur Allen II.
The story of Bacon’s Castle might have continued as simply the tale of America’s first grand house had it not been for Nathaniel Bacon and his rebellion. We will not go into the rather complicated details of Bacon’s Rebellion (full history here), but a brief summary of late 17th century Virginia history shows unrest among colonists brought about by economic upheaval from serious competition in the tobacco market, recent manpower losses in military struggles with the Dutch, rising prices of English goods, and a year of really terrible weather. The colonists sought a scapegoat and settled their sights upon the usual victims, the various local Native American tribes. Attacks and raids prompted
retaliations on both sides. Within a short period, the colony’s governor, Sir William Berkley, had a crisis on his hands and took measures to get control of the situation. In so doing, Gov. Berkley found himself pitted against Nathaniel Bacon, leader of a band of disgruntled traders who felt the governor was unfair and acted against their interests in favor of his cronies. During this period, Bacon demanded among other things that Berkley give him a military commission, which was refused. At one point in his conflict with Berkley, Bacon became so enraged that his demands were not being met that he marched on Jamestown and burned it to the ground.
This brings us to Arthur Allen, Jr. and his part in Bacon’s Rebellion. Allen was a firm supporter of the governor while his brother-in-law and some of his neighbors were Bacon allies and minions. On September 18, 1676, the rebels, led in part by Allen’s brother-in-law, attacked Allen’s home and occupied it. They remained until a company of Royal Marines routed them three months later. While in possession of the house, the rebels destroyed crops, killed livestock, wreaked havoc on the interior, and stole many of Allen’s fine possessions before decamping on December 27. Bacon’s Castle gets its name from the period of the rebels’ occupation.
Like many places with long histories, Bacon’s Castle has seen its share of tragedies. Some people believe these sad events left paranormal evidence in the form of spectral fireballs, disembodied voices, and floating heads. In fact, so much paranormal activity has been reported that in 2014 Preservation Virginia created tours specifically for horror enthusiasts. Spirited History, a radio program and blog devoted to investigating the supernatural in historical places, and The Center for Paranormal Research and Investigation have both sent teams to do extensive investigations into the hauntings at Bacon’s Castle.
CPRI’s chemist Brad Bradley said this about their team’s findings: “We throw out about 99.9 percent of the activity we encounter in our work as not being paranormal, but the activity at Bacon’s Castle, we can’t debunk. We have yet to find a location that has more activity than Bacon’s Castle and we do research all over the state.” Among [the center’s] documented observations: audible voices, screams, knocks and footsteps; a doorknob turning and opening a door; mysterious lights; knocks in response to questions; sudden fragrant scents; and physical touches.
There have also been reports of visitors and guests hearing gunshots ringing through the house and seeing blood stains leading up the staircases. Perhaps these are echoes from the period of the Baconians’ occupation? Researchers believe that much of the haunting may be contributed to the restless souls of former salves. Like so many wealthy families of their day, the Allens lived in great luxury while their 300 or so slaves were crammed into 18 drafty wooden cabins with little to no furniture. The conditions were deplorable and the slaves’ lives were tragic and brutal. One poignant occurrence is repeated in the home’s kitchen. A young slave girl is seen and felt as she reaches out and touches visitors, perhaps in supplication requesting help.
Another haunting tells of a young woman who loved the wrong man. Her father forbade the relationship, but the girl was determined to see her beloved. One night, she planned to sneak out of the house to meet him, but her candle accidentally came too close to her dress. It caught flame and she was burned to death. In one of the upper story windows, a love letter is etched into the glass. Could this be the girl still trying to communicate with her young man? We will probably never know the source of or reason for that etching.
For information on visiting Bacon’s Castle, you may follow this link: Preservation Virginia, Bacon’s Castle
- Russell, Lia. “Getting Back to Paranormal in Surry.” The Virginian-Pilot. Oct. 18, 2014. Web. Nov. 28, 2018. https://pilotonline.com/news/local/article_d5a192a3-87d0-5917-9135-8e34eb3f12a1.html