Sunday, October 18, 2009

Other Ghostly Connections to Godfrey Barnsley

In a recent article, I spoke of Godfrey Barnsley, a Savannah businessman who sought to make a fortune in cotton and moved near Adairsville in North Georgia to build a beautiful mansion and estate. If you missed that article, please scroll down and it should be there. If not, click on "older posts" and it will be on the next page or so. I learned a bit more about Godfrey Barnsley from several sources, including James Caskey's "Haunted Savannah: The Official Guidebook to Savannah Haunted History Tour 2008." In the book, Caskey discusses the Scarbrough Mansion on Martin Luther King Boulevard in downtown Savannah. The home is now the location of the Ships at Sea Museum. The website for that museum can be viewed at The mansion was the one time home of William and Julia Scarbrough, hence the name Scarbrough House. Apparently, the home has an historic past, as it was the scene of a visit by United States President James Monroe, who came to Savannah to see the launch of the S.S. Savannah, the world's first oceangoing steam vessel. William Scarbrough was an investor in the venture, although it was financially unsuccessful, which may have contributed to the financial difficulties that resulted in William being declared insolvent. The home was auctioned off in a public auction in 1820 according to historian Robert Hughes of the Ships at Sea Maritime Museum and Scarbrough House. After William Scarborough lost control, the home was purchased by his brother-in-law, Robert Isaacs who allowed William and Julia Scarbrough to remain in the home. Upon his demise, he willed the home to his niece Charlotte-William and Julia Scarbrough's oldest daughter.  Because of legal issues, Charlotte was forced to sign over the deed for the lifetime use by both her mother Julia and her other sisters. This is when Godfrey Barnsley, another son-in-law of the Scarborough's, entered the picture. Godfrey came to manage the home and started renovations and repairs. Eventually, he was drawn into legal battles with Charlotte over the home, and these battles made their way to the United States Supreme Court.  During her tenure in the home, Julia, ever the southern belle, loved to give lovely and large dinner parties. William's financial troubles did not seem to detour these either. Her parties were so well-attended that Julia became a legend in Savannah.

As haunted as Barnsley Gardens were and still seem to be according to some, his in-law's mansion is the scene of a little haunting of its own. According to Caskey on pages 95-96 of "Haunted Savannah. . ." published by Bonaventture Books, many people claim to have seen windows ablaze with lights at the house in the 1960s as the home was empty. Some passsersby and locals have even reported the sounds of lively and loud laughter, as well as a piano playing in the early hours of the morning. Caskey speculates that it may very well be the spirit of Julia Scarbrough and her guests as they continue to enjoy Julia's parties at the mansion. In another twist, Caskey goes on to report Godfrey Barnsley was also a bit of a dueler. He and his brother, Gartrelle, seem to have had the misfortune of falling in love with the same woman-Chessie Scarlett. Talk about a Southern name!!! Due to the fact that the two brothers were unable to put the squabble over who should become Chessie's husband to rest, they decided to participate in a duel to settle the matter; however, this was anything but a common duel. This was what Caskey calls a "poison duel." The way the duel went, according to the book, was "They arranged for an impartial friend to pour two glasses of wine, and into one was added a lethal dose of poison. The appearance and character of the wine was unchanged, so neither had any way of telling which glass held just the spirits, nor which might make them a spirit. Both brothers drank deeply, and Gartrelle fell dead."(Caskey 96) Caskey goes on to say that Chessie was truly in love with Gartrelle, so it appeared that the duel was in vain. Barnsley would go on to marry the daughter of William and Julia Scarbrough. Godfrey Barnsley moved to North Georgia; his land was cursed, and, well, read the post on Barnsley Gardens and you shall see. However, I can clearly state without reservation that it appears that Godfrey Barnsley's troubles started well before he built Woodlands Mansion at Barnsley Gardens. Was he cursed to begin with? Possibly. I also find it ironic that his in-laws had a little trouble financially as well, and their mansion ended up being the subject of a haunted tale of Savannah. By the way, James Caskey is part of Cobblestone Tours, and if you click on the title of this story above, it will direct you to Cobblestone Tours's website. They have GREAT tours in Savannah.


Caprice said...

Hey Prof!
Thanks for a great story!
Wow! Some people have all the luck! ... and Godfrey Barnsley's is all bad.
Sounds like the Savannah inhabitants are still partying it up in the Scarbrough Mansion.

The Doctor said...

You know Professor I have read some material on the life of Mr. Barnsley. It was filled with much.
I also read that his home in Adairsville he called the Woodlands saw a skirmish during the Civil War. Sherman's forces were on his grounds on May 18, 1864and this skirmish was reported in Harper's Weekly. What is very interesting is that Col. Richard G. Earle of the Second Alabama Light Cavalry rode to the Woodlands to warn Mr. Barnsley and was shot dead within a stone's throw of the house. A Mr. Charles Wright Willis of the 103rd Illinois infantry wrote an account of the event in his book Army Life of an Illinois Soldier: "May 18, 1864 Our cavalry had a sharp fight here this p.m. and on one of the gravel walks in the beautiful garden lies a Rebel colonel, shot in five places. He must have been a noble-looking man: looks 50 years old, and has fine form and features. Think his name is Irwin, there must be a hundred varieties of the rose in bloom here and the most splendid specimens of cactus." Col. Earle's grave is within a stone's throw of the manor house and enjoys a prominent place in the perennial garden today.
The Union Gen. McPherson ordered no looting on the place but that feel on deaf ears. After the war Mr. Barnsley moved to New Orleans leaving his son-n-law Captain Baltzelle and daughter Julia to manage the Woodlands. Mr. Baltzelle was killed by a falling tree on the estate in 1868. Mr. Barnsley died in 1873 and his daughter brought his body back to the Woodlands. The bad luck continued on the estate as a tornado tore away the roof of the main house 1906.
It seems the bad luck that followed this man also followed those around him and even the structure that he had built. Also, with the horror of war at the doorstep was another bad thing to enter the area. Death and poor luck seemed to be the order of the day.

Anonymous said...

The information about Barnsley buying the Scarbrough house is incorrect. When William Scarbrough was declared an insolvent debtor in 1820, the house was sold on the court house steps, and purchased by Scarbrough's brother in law, Robert Isaacs. When Isaac's passed away it was willed to Julia and William's oldest daughter Charlotte. She in turn was forced to sign the deed to the Lifetime use of her mother and sisters, as William couldn't own property in Chatham County. Barnsley moved into the home, took over management, and began renovations. Charlotte sued, and lost not a few times until the case was taken up by the United States Supreme court ( The home was sold in 1850 to the Dominic O'Byrne family who lived there until 1865.

Robert W. Hughes
Historical Interpreter
Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum and William Scarbrough House.

The Professor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Professor said...

Thank you, Robert. I appreciate the correction. They are always welcome here, as I hope never to disseminate incorrect information on this venue. I have reviewed the post to reflect the new information, and I have given you credit as the source. I have visited the Ships of the Sea Museum website to verify and cross-reference your information and all seems legitimate. Again, thank you for the information, and thank you for reading the blog.
Check out some of the other posts, and please comment when you feel led to do so.
Dr. Wells