Monday, July 29, 2013

Staten Island’s Haunted Billop House

In late December of 1779 Christopher Billop the owner of Billop House located on Staten Island in New York accused one of his female servants of spying on him for the Colonists. The American Revolutionary war had commenced and Billop was an avid British loyalist. He very large in statue was known to be a man with a violent temper. A colonel, he led a Tory detachment during the Revolutionary War and despised any who fought against the English.

When he accused this female servant of spying on him she vehemently denied his charges. This enraged Billop who then grabbed her and threw her down the stairs. She died of a broken neck and Billop was never accused or tried for her murder. Billop and this serving girl have haunted Billop House for 223 years. The ghosts of British soldiers are also seen on the property.

Billop House or Bentley Manor ** is a stately stone mansion that was built in 1680 on 1,600 acres of land. The Colonel inherited this home -- his great grandfather built it. This house overlooks Staten Island Sound, specifically Raritan Bay. The mansion includes: a spacious attic, two floors each with three rooms, a large basement kitchen and a secret tunnel. This tunnel leads from the home’s root cellar to the edge of Staten Island Sound. Three years before Billop murdered his servant girl this tunnel was used for the only official peace conference between the British and Colonists during the war.

Light green area is Raritan Bay

In 1776 the war was not going well for the Colonists. The British controlled New Your City, Staten and Long Islands. The Colonists in September were near defeat so it was arranged by Lord Richard Howe to meet with Benjamin Franklin, Edward Rutledge and John Adams at Billop House. Howe after emphasizing that the British intended to end the Revolution and crush its leaders offered to end the war if the Colonists would swear allegiance to England.

Considering this tone it is not a surprise that Adams and the others refused this offer. Colonel Billop took great delight in the fact that these talks ended the first day. He felt these traitors to England would shortly be destroyed. After this Billop’s mansion was given a new nickname, “Conference House”. Billop was very happy his home now symbolized his loyalty to the British and even more important England’s power.

Throughout the war Billop opened his home to British soldiers that needed to rest--his large basement kitchen was converted into a hospital. Often soldiers were smuggled into his home at night through the tunnel. Soldiers that died at the home were hastily buried around the large estate for there was no time for funerals. It is stated this is most likely the reason why the ghosts of British soldiers wearing redcoats are still seen on the property today.

Billop’s vehemence toward patriots during the war made him a target. He was kidnapped and held for ransom twice. In June of 1779 a group of patriots rowed across from Perth Amboy in New Jersey. Billop was held for two months. The second time he was kidnapped was in November of the same year. Both times he was held as a P.O.W. in the Burlington County jail in New Jersey. He was chained to the floor and only fed bread and water. He was told this was retaliation for prisoners held by the British. The second time he again was held for two months and then released just after Christmas.

When Billop returned home he was convinced that one of his servants had aided in these kidnappings. He had seen a servant girl place a lantern in a second floor window, which he felt must have been a signal to the men supposedly hidden at a church steeple in Perth Amboy. When next he saw this servant girl place a lantern in this window he went mad.

“He bellowed at her and then threw her down a flight of stairs killing her.”

It was mentioned after this that the poor girl was just doing one of her nightly chores. Billop had her body buried in an unmarked grave on the property.

Bentley Manor or Billop House
Rear view
When the war ended Billop fled to New Brunswick, Canada where he lived until he died at the age of ninety in 1827. In 1783 Billop House was confiscated by the state of New York. Over the years it was used first as a multi-family home, a 19th century hotel and then a rat-poison factory. In 1929 a non-profit organization called Conference House Association prevented the house from being torn down, they have maintained it ever since. The grounds today consist of only 226 acres and the property is now called Conference Park. This association does not allow paranormal investigations.

For years neighbors have reported that the home and property appear to be haunted. Reports include: soldiers wearing redcoats wandering the gardens, kitchen and the tunnel. A man has been heard singing and others have reported being tapped on the shoulder by an unseen hand. Many state that there is a residual haunting of the murder. A man is heard shouting loudly, then a woman screams as sounds of her falling are heard. This struggle is heard over and over again.

The servant girl’s grave has never been found and the exact number of ghosts and their names, except Billops, has never been discovered.

*  Billop House is the only pre-Revolutionary manor house still surviving in New York City. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

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