5-minute history: Moonless nights and haunting spirits

Tales of Hilton Head Island after dark

Story by Richard Thomas + Illustrations by Charles Grace 

Richard Thomas is an owner and guide for Hilton Head History Tours and is the author of Backwater Frontier: Beaufort Country, SC at the Forefront of American History.

On a moonless night, if you are anywhere out on Hilton Head Island after dark and away from lighted public places, you know how dark it is. Or when the dusky end of day is suddenly cloaked in a misty drizzle or an occasional fog, you have seen how quickly the dark descends. Before electricity arrived on the island in 1951, only the beam of a lantern or torch could penetrate its murky blackness.  

After dark on Hilton Head Island has always been the province of a shadow world, one in which unexplainable and occasionally horrific acts have taken place. The spirits of those wronged or violated in life sometimes seek revenge for those wrongs or violations in the afterlife. Even today Hilton Head has many vengeful vestiges roaming after dark, trying to attain the peace and rest that will follow their forms of justice.

Take for instance the ghost of a Frenchman captured by local Native Americans in 1576. He had learned the native language and married into the tribe, becoming more Indian than French. The Spanish raided his adopted tribe that year, prompting him to exact revenge in Santa Elena the rest of his life. After his death his spirit continued to wander on the north end of the island, bringing misery, despair and even death to people of Spanish descent.  Even recently there have been reports of wraith-like visitations to people of Spanish lineage either living on or visiting the island.

Then there’s the member of Blackbeard’s crew who was wanted for murders along the coast. Blackbeard marooned him to lessen the charges Blackbeard might have faced. This deprived him of his share of Blackbeard’s treasure and protection. Accused of robbing and murdering the mother and children of the Mongin family of the Spanish Wells area, he was captured and turned over to the men of the Mongin family for “frontier justice.” Stretched by rope between a tree limb and the ground, where his feet were staked, he was left to be pecked and gnawed at by vultures, rats and wolves as his punishment. On clear, moonless nights his tattered silhouette has been seen searching along the Point Comfort shores for the remnants of Blackbeard’s treasure he knows is still here.

And there’s the case of Capt. Jack Stoney, a planter killed in a hunting accident on William Pope’s Fish Haul Plantation and buried where he fell from his horse in 1821.  Six years later Stoney’s oldest son, James, died and was buried next to his father, where they rested for nearly 140 years until site-prep work in the Fish Haul area required relocating their remains to the Zion Cemetery grounds. Since Capt. Jack’s head and upper torso were partially pulverized by the blast from his own gun when it fell from his horse, it is doubtful that all his remains were transferred from his Fish Haul tomb. Since then, there have been reports of a partially headless figure in Colonial dress roaming the land at night between Fish Haul and Zion Cemetery, holding a cutlass in his one hand and repeatedly moaning words resembling, “My bones, my head.”

Of course, there are the well-known stories about the blue lady of Hilton Head or William Baynard’s funeral procession in which a blue-clad young girl wanders the Arthur Hills golf course in Leamington or the somber, long black procession of hearse and funeral carriages moving along William Hilton Parkway on misty, dark nights in the fall.

But there are so many more: The ghost of a Yemassee warrior wandering the area of Harbour Town searching for the spirits of his wife and children who were murdered in a raid while he was fighting the English in the Yemassee War. Visitors to the lighthouse sometimes remark about the cool air that follows them up the steps even in the warmest weather, or the blast of air that screeches through the door. Or the headless Confederate surgeon who wanders the Big Hill area, searching for his missing parts after being decapitated in Fort Walker by a cannon ball in the opening salvos of the Battle of Port Royal Sound.

So, after dark, Hilton Head Island can be a pretty lively place to be, if you don’t mind the spirits.

Haunted by History

Capt. Jack Stoney, a planter, died in a hunting accident on Fish Haul Plantation in 1821. After nearly 140 years his remains were relocated to Zion Cemetery due to site-prep work at Fish Haul. Since then there have been many reports of a headless figure in Colonial dress roaming between Fish Haul and Zion Cemetery at night. 

Quest for justice 

The ghost of a Yemassee warrior is said to roam Harbour Town, searching for his wife and children who were killed during a raid while he fought in the Yemassee War against the English. Visitors to the lighthouse have experienced eerie occurrences like a cool air that follows them up the lighthouse steps, even on brutally hot days. 

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