I have had several readers on this blog email me and ask me about the ever popular legend of Barnsley Gardens. I remember reading about this legend many years ago, and it has been one of the most popular ghost stories associated with Georgia. So, I decided I would post about it at least once. But there are a million places you could read about Barnsley Gardens. I have posted a link to the website of the current resort and spa establishment that is at Barnsley Gardens today. Just click on the title of this post and you will see it.
The story goes that in the late 1830s, Savannah businessman Godfrey Barnsley purchased 10,000 acres of land in Adairsville, a city in the northwest corner of the state. That area of the state still had a substantial Native American population and many of them resented the encroachment of white settlers. One of them, an elderly chief who lived on the property that Godfrey Barnsley had just purchased, was very angered by white encroachment. He put a curse on the land on which Barnsley was going to build his new plantation home.
The land, as it turns out, was also said to include an acorn-shaped hill that inspired fear among the Cherokees. This added to the cloud of mystery surrounding the new estate. It appeared that the curse was beginning to take affect, for right before the mansion was completed, Godfrey Barnsley's wife, Julia, and their infant son died suddenly as they were living in temporary shelter on the property awaiting the completion of the mansion. Godfrey was devastated, but he completed the house anyway, and soon afterwards, he moved in his remaining children, a son and daughter. All went well, that is until the autumn of 1858.
That fall, Godfrey suffered a double tragedy. His son was killed by Chinese pirates on his voyage and journey through the Orient looking for exotic plants to bring back and plant on the grounds of the Barnsley estate. His daughter, now a teenager, died in the house that same year. At this point, Godfrey was so disturbed and distraught that he sought out mediums, psychics, religious leaders and the sort to help him defeat the curse.
Obviously, the curse continued, for over the next few years, Godfrey Barnsley's business ventures began to fail and by the beginning of the Civil War, he was left with a worthless cotton-buying business and an unfinished house at Barnsley Gardens. His estate was in ruins, and his dreams of becoming a wealthy planter was gone. Upon his death, Barnsley still believed in the curse and even begged a minister to help him rid the property and his family of it.
In 1989, a Cherokee chief returned to the property to lift the curse. His name was Richard Bird, and he was a medicine man from Cherokee, North Carolina. He was very disturbed when he arrived, and even commented that upon stepping foot on the property, he knew that the land was cursed. He likened the feeling he got to that of butterflies in his stomach, a very common saying for feelings of nervousness and dread. Bird had been hired by a local attorney who represented the new owners of the estate. However, according to Bird, his services were not really necessary. He reported that the curse on the property died when the chief who placed it died. In his own words, "When a person dies, his magic is no longer good." Nevertheless, the owners wanted to make sure that what befell Godfrey Barnsley did not happen to them. The property is a resort today.
So did the curse actually cause the horrors at Barnsley Gardens? Are curses real? There were a whole host of other weird events at Barnsley Gardens that lend themselves to appear that the property was cursed by the chief, and that the curse indeed was responsible for the misery the Barnsleys encountered. I would like to recommend a few books that include the stories about Barnsley Gardens. First, there is Randall Floyd's More Great Southern Mysteries published by August House Books. Secondly, there is Chris Wangler's Ghost Stories of Georgia published by Lone Pine Publishers. Both should be available online. I would try Half.com for the Floyd book.