A colonial-era home sits on a quiet plaza in America’s most historic town, but storytellers say something sinister lurks inside.
Without the misfortune of dying right before the Declaration of Independence, Peyton Randolph (1721-1775) would be considered one of our country’s most prominent founding fathers. He was elected president of the First and Second Continental Congress, before dying of a stroke while dining with Thomas Jefferson. His home, expanded and modified over the intervening decades, still stands in Colonial Williamsburg.
The Georgian-style house, at least the western wing at the corner of Nicholson and North England Streets, was built in 1715 by William Robertson. Sir John Randolph, Peyton’s father, purchased it in 1721 and willed it to his son, who took ownership at the age of 24. John had built a second house, what became the east wing, in 1724, and Peyton connected the two homes with a spacious hall, though the east wing still had to be accessed from outside.
Peyton’s sister, Susannah Beverley, lived in the home until her death circa 1754, and Peyton’s window retained it after his death. It served as temporary headquarters to French general Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau during the Siege of Yorktown in 1781. It was sold at auction in 1783, and served as a military hospital at the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862 during the American Civil War.
By the early 1900s, the historic house had fallen into disrepair, so during restoration in 1939 the east wing had to be torn down and reconstructed. The house was designated a National Historic Landmark and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. It opened for tours in 1968.
The Peyton Randolph House retained its original pine floors, walnut paneling, and brass hinges and locks, but some visitors insist it retained something immaterial as well. It’s been called the most haunted house in America, possibly the most haunted on the East Coast, and certainly the most haunted in Virginia, but no one is quite sure why.
Is it cursed by a slave woman named Eve, or haunted by the agonized souls of Betty Randolph’s other slaves? Do the ghosts of two children who died at the home play in its halls? Or how about Civil War soldiers who succumbed to their wounds? Or is it because American Indian graves were disturbed during the building of the Colonial National Historic Parkway tunnel? Any of these explanations is enough to satiate the curiosity of believers.
The hauntings at the Peyton Randolph House date back to its earliest days. Famed French general Marquis de Lafayette, who helped win the battle against Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, stayed there during his 1824 tour and reportedly described feeling a phantom hand on his shoulder and being awoken by disembodied voices during the night.
According to Colonial Williamsburg Hauntings (2016), the official Colonial Williamsburg Ghost Walk companion, the most active phantoms in Peyton Randolph House are those of the Peachey children, Sally and Mary. T.G. Peachey owned the house after the Randolphs, and he and his family are buried somewhere on the grounds. One security guard reportedly heard the laughter of children and the sound of tiny feet running across the floor as he locked up for the night. Others have seen the apparition of a child in an upstairs window.
In one disturbing incident, another security guard found himself locked in the basement while making his rounds. He felt something grab his legs and hold fast, not releasing him until he radioed for backup. While there is no evidence Peyton Randolph’s wife, Elizabeth, mistreated their slaves, a slave trader named Richard Hansford lived there in the years prior to the Civil War. Could his ghost account for this violent presence?
Whether or not you believe in ghosts, this historic house museum is one of a kind and well worth a visit. It’s not everyday you can walk the same floors as one of our country’s founding fathers.
The Peyton Randolph House, 100 W. Nicholson Street in Williamsburg, Virginia, is open daily 9am to 5pm. Admission to the museum is included with a Colonial Williamsburg ticket, $44.99 for adults and $24.99 for children ages six to 12. Tickets get you admission to over a dozen museums throughout Colonial Williamsburg. Or you can book a tour on the official Haunted Williamsburg ghost walk, which stops inside the Peyton Randolph House. Tickets for the chandle lit walking tour are $19.00 for adults and $12 for children.