Special Halloween Podcast – Haunted Shirley

John Carter’s Iconic “Great House” at Shirley Plantation, built between 1723 and 1738, is a Virginia Landmark

Shirley Plantation is the oldest James River Plantation, as well as North America’s longest continually running business. Having been founded in 1613, Shirley Plantation has been a part of Virginia’s history from Thomas Dale’s administration to the present, as the Hill-Carter Family treasure on the James River can attest. It is fitting, therefore, that one of the most famous Virginia ghost stories comes from her historic location.

Martha Hill, known better as Aunt Pratt, “Pratt” being a family pet name, was the daughter of Edward Hill III. She didn’t spend much time at Shirley, but she was part of the Hill family, which entitled her to have a portrait painted and added to the family collection.

Aunt Pratt moved to England after she finished her schooling, married one Hugh Griffin (Griffith and Gifford in some sources), before she passed away, never having returned to Shirley in her lifetime. But many believe that she returned after her death, as can be evidenced by the utterly bizarre happening centered upon that now famous family portrait.

Some of those paranormal activities are recorded in L.B. Taylor’s Essay – “The Haunted Portrait” from his 2011 book Ghost’s of Virginia’s Tidewater.

Is Aunt Pratt watching me take this picture just outside of her window?


Plan a visit to Shirley

More from L.B. Taylor Jr.


Perhaps Aunt Pratt might like to stair out of her window to take in the calming landscape at Shirley Plantation. I don’t blame her.




All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is of Aunt Pratt’s famous portrait. All subsequent images are from my visits to Shirley Plantation.

Music used for this episode – Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers,”Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” available on iTunes, and Kevin MacLeod “Vanished” found on Soundcloud.

James River Plantations Part 1

City Point, Hopewell was to be the planned site of Thomas Dale’s Bermuda Cittie. It would later serve other important historical purposes.

Thomas Dale and his fellow Virginia Company leaders spent much time in Ireland before they trekked to Virginia. While they were subjugating the Irish, Dale and others learned a few things about how to set up a system of plantations.

It was reasoned that the best way to dominate a region was to first subdue it, and then build self-sustaining units on the newly conquered lands. Dale certainly subscribed to this school of thought, and began establishing a plantation system along the James River.

This system would not, however, be centered upon Jamestown. It was too unhealthy. Instead, Dale had Henricus built, but he planned an even larger power center on the bluffs overlooking the James and Appomattox Rivers that he called Bermuda Cittie.

Bermuda Cittie would then be the governing location overseeing a series of 5 separate plantations that were all established in 1613 –

  1. Upper Hundred
  2. Nether Hundred (Later called Bermuda Hundred)
  3. Rochdale
  4. West and Shirley
  5. Diggs His Hundred
Detailed James River Plantation Map from Charles Hatch’s The First Seventeen Years of Virginia

These 5 plantations, however, were not the only plots of land that had activity on them. Many claim that in 1614 Captain John Martin began working the lands of what is today Upper and Lower Brandon Plantation.

It’s hard to validate the claim, as it is hard to say much about any work done on these plantations, but the 351 settlers still alive by 1616 were busily, if not miserably, working lands along the James River. It was their work on increasingly independent lands that began making Virginia a desirable destination. A destination that attracted a greater migration after 1616.



The Appomattox and James Rivers converge at City Point, Hopewell. Across the James River is Shirley Plantation, or what was then known as West and Sherley Hundred.


  1. Berhnard, Virginia. A Tale of Two Colonies: What Really Happened in Virginia and Bermuda? Columbia, MO: University of Missouri, 2011.
  2. Billings, Warren M.; Selby, John E.; and Tate, Thad W. Colonial Virginia: A History. White Plains, NY: KTO Press. 1986.
  3. Craven, Wesley Frank. White, Red, and Black: The Seventeenth Century Virginian. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1977.
  4. Craven, Wesley Frank. The Southern Colonies in the Seventeenth Century: 1607-1689. LSU Press, 1949
  5. Dabney, Virginius. Virginia: The New Dominion, A History from 1607 to the Present. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1971.
  6. Deans, Bob. The River Where America Began: A Journey Along the James. Plymouth, UK: Rowan and Littlefield, 2009.
  7. Doherty, Kieran. Sea Venture: Shipwreck, Survival, and the Salvation of Jamestown. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008.
  8. Glover, Lorri and Smith, Daniel Blake. The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America.
  9. Hatch, Charles. The First Seventeen Years: Virginia 1607-1624. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1991.
  10. Horn, James. A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America. New York: Basic Books, 2005.
  11. Hume, Ivor Noel. Here Lies Virginia. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1963.
  12. Hume, Ivor Noel. The Virginia Adventure: Roanoke to James Towne – An Archaeological and Historical OdysseyNew York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
  13. Kelso, William M. Jamestown: The Buried Truth. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2006.
  14. Kupperman, Karen Ordhal. The Jamestown Project. Cambridge, MA: The Belknapp Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.
  15. Mapp, Alfred J. Virginia Experiment: The Old Dominion’s Role in the Making of America, 1607-1781Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2006.
  16. Price, David A. Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New NationNew York: Vintage, 2003.
  17. Rothbard, Murray N. Conceived in Liberty. Auburn, AL: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 1999.
  18. Rountree, Helen C. Powhatan Foreign Relations: 1500-1722.Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993.
  19. Rountree, Helen C. Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown. Charlottesville, VA: UVA Press, 2005.
  20. Smith, John. The Generall History of Virginia. 1624.
  21. Strachey, William. Collected Works on the Internet Archive.
  22. Tyler, Lyon Gardiner. The Cradle of the Republic: Jamestown and the James River. Richmond, VA: The Hermitage Press, 1906.
  23. Wallenstein, Peter. Cradle of America: Four Centuries of Virginia History. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2007.
  24. Williams, Tony. The Jamestown Experiment: The Remarkable Story of The Enterprising Colony and the Unexpected Results that Shaped America. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2011.
  25. Wooley, Benjamin. Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America. New York: Harper and Collins, 2007.


  1. Historic Jamestowne
  2. Virtual Jamestown
  3. Shirley Plantation
  4. Virginia History Podcast Store
Lower Brandon proudly displays their official 1616 Land Grant status. It is one of the world’s longest continually running businesses.




All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted b the author unless otherwise noted. The Featured Image is the tree-lined entrance to Upper Brandon Plantation.

Music used for this episode – Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers,”Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” available on iTunes, and “James River Blues” by Old Crow Medicine Show, available on iTunes.