Thursday, March 5, 2015

New Hampshire’s South Street Cemetery

This South Street Cemetery located near downtown Portsmouth is haunted. One reason for this is because it was used as a hanging ground in the 1700s.

South Street is enormous and actually consists of five cemeteries that were eventually combined. 

South Street Cemetery

“South Street” is not the cemeteries’ official name but most call it this--because it stands at the intersection of South Street and Sagamore Avenue.

Near the north side, of the entrance to this cemetery, is where the gallows stood. In this area is where many visitors and investigators claim they get “creepy” or “eerie” feelings.

It was here in 1739 that Penelope Henry and Sarah Simpson were “turned off the cart.” This means they were positioned on a cart beneath the gallows--the cart was then pulled away leaving them hanging.

The man responsible for their deaths was High Sheriff Thomas Packer. In New Hampshire’s history, only three women have been executed by hanging--Packer was accountable for all three of these executions.

The most well known of these three was a 25-year old school teacher, Ruth Blay. Becoming pregnant out of wedlock, Blay concealed her condition. Her baby was stillborn.

She wrapped her dead baby in a cloak and buried it beneath loose floorboards, in the schoolhouse. Several of her students, including 5-year old Betsy Pettengill, saw her do this.

Packer's Falls
Blay's trial was rushed. She was found guilty and sentenced to hang--which many considered too harsh a punishment. After the trial, it was discovered her baby was stillborn.

Portsmouth residents defended their favorite schoolteacher and requested that a reprieve be granted.

However, on the day of her execution, December 30, 1768, Packer had other plans. Knowing a pardon might be on the way, he moved Blay’s execution up by one hour, before noon, so he would not be late for dinner.

An angry mob discovering this stood in the street, as Ruth Blay dressed in silk was taken by cart to the gallows. She did not go quietly--all heard her shrieks.

Packer hastily positioned her beneath the gallows and ignoring the shouting crowd, looped the noose around her neck. With his brisk command, the horses were driven away--leaving Blay's body swinging.

Her last view was of the open sea--today at this spot the view is blocked.

Ruth Blay is buried at the bottom of Gallows Hill. 
Packer left quickly as not to be late for his meal. Within minutes of Blay’s death, a rider with an urgent letter arrived. It was a pardon from New Hampshire’s Royal Governor, for Blay.

Outraged, the mob marched to the sheriff’s house. They hung an effigy of Packer with a sign that read:

“Am I to love my dinner
This woman for to hang?
Come draw away the cart, my boys--
Don’t stop to say amen.
Draw away, draw away the cart.”

Ruth Blay was buried in an unmarked grave, 300 feet north of the pond, that sits at the center of South Street Cemetery. It is near her grave where investigators capture the most anomalies in their photographs.

It is here, where most cameras malfunction. When investigators leave the area, they find their cameras work fine. Strange glowing lights--described as different than orbs--are also seen near Blay’s grave.

It is also believed that Blay and her baby, haunt the old schoolhouse located at 94 Main South Hampton, New Hampshire.

Thomas Packer hanged all three women for the same reason--records show that they were convicted of “ feloniously concealing the death of an infant bastard child.”

Just 25 years after Ruth Blay’s execution, American lawmakers ruled that Concealment should no longer be punishable by death.

Packer died in office, on June 22, 1771.

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