The Headless Sentry
Excerpted from Spooky South Carolina
The plantation owner did not stay on the fence for long, though. When the British occupied Georgetown and made it a stronghold and supply base for their military operations, he declared himself a Tory, much to the wrath of his family, who labeled him a traitor. His daughter in particular was angered by his stance, for she was strictly loyal to the colonies. Still, she kept a low profile, since she was living in her father’s house, and became a spy for General Francis Marion. It was due to the girl’s alertness, and the information that she gathered and furnished for the Swamp Fox, that so many of the general’s exploits met with success.
The family owned a house in Georgetown that adjoined the cemetery of Prince George Church, and it was in a vault in that cemetery that the girl-spy left messages. And one of those messages contained vital information about a prisoner of war who was being held at the plantation.
The prisoner was an old fellow, father to one of the trusted men in Marion’s Brigade, who had been present when many of the plans and strategies for some of the local operations had been formulated. Due to his age and infirmity, the Swamp Fox was afraid that the old man might unknowingly furnish the enemy with damaging information in a moment of confusion. It was vitally important that he be rescued and taken beyond the reach of his captors.
The girl-spy had arranged to visit the plantation to obtain supplies for her town house, though her real aim was to locate the old man. She found him lodged in the plantation house along with his wife and several wounded soldiers. In order to give Marion and his men time to retrieve the prisoner, the girl had the soldiers guarding the plantation invited to a reception at a neighboring estate. There was only one sentry left on guard the evening that the Swamp Fox and his men came thundering down the avenue of the plantation. The sentry, thinking they were British soldiers arriving from town, ran down the steps to greet them. The American’s were almost upon him when the sentry recognized Marion’s men. He fired his pistol at the nearest horseman, who was already aiming at him. Both shots missed, but a saber-wielding cavalry man promptly cut off the sentry’s head, leaving his body to stagger around, spouting blood like a decapitated chicken before it fell twitching to the ground amidst a growing pool of gore. The prisoners were retrieved and taken back to Marion’s camp, along with the wounded British and Tory soldiers housed at the plantation, who were held as prisoners of war. As for the headless sentry, he was buried in the garden near the old plantation house.
Ever since the death of the sentry, folks wandering the plantation grounds at dusk have sometimes heard the thunder of phantom hooves coming up the long avenue. Moments later, a headless man dressed in the clothes of a British Dragoon appears near the house, the ragged stump of his neck spouting blood. The headless sentry waves his pistol aimlessly as if trying to warn off trespassers and then drags himself away as if searching for its head. Anyone encountering the headless sentry in this manner would flee in terror, and soon word of the phantom was all over Charleston.
As for the plantation workers, well they started wearing crosses and other amulets to protect themselves whenever they were forced to walk the grounds after dark. Unfortunately, this did nothing to inhibit the specter, who still searches for his head to this day, though the plantation grounds are now covered by a golf course and a restaurant occupies part of the old manor house.
This story was excerpted from Spooky South Carolina by S.E. Schlosser.