Saturday, May 9, 2015

Colonial Yorktown: Nelson House

It was at Yorktown where the siege that ended the Revolutionary War was fought it was also here were many Yankee and Rebel soldiers died in agony during the Civil War.

One large 3-story Georgian brick house that sits on a hill overlooking the York River played a definitive role in both these wars. This house is a beloved landmark today in the small community of Yorktown, Virginia.

Nelson House
The Nelson family built the house located on Main Street in Yorktown, in the 1730s. By the outbreak of the Revolutionary war Thomas Nelson Jr. was living in the home with his wife and 3 children.

Thomas Nelson Jr. was a member of the Continental Congress, Commander of the Virginia militia, a governor of the state of Virginia and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Nelson Jr.

Nelson House became famous when Nelson himself directed General George Washington during the Revolutionary War to attack the house for it was suspected to be General George Cornwallis’s headquarters.

Washington during siege.
On the morning of October 9, 1781, Washington’s men and allies bombarded the Nelson house with cannon shells. One of these shells hit a secret stairway hidden behind a panel in the dining room hall heading to a garret.

A well-known legend states a young British soldier was hiding here and was killed in the blast. It is said his sad, restless spirit remains in the house.

The Nelson family owned the house until 1907 when Captain George Preston Blow purchased it. The spirit of the British soldier made his presence known during a luncheon hosted by Mrs. Blow.

One guest asked Mrs. Blow if the house was haunted? She replied, “Goodness, no.” As soon as she said this the secret door behind the panel flew open and knocked against the sideboard with such force that dishes crashed to the floor.

During the Civil War, Nelson House was used as a hospital for Confederate and then Union soldiers. The most grievously wounded soldiers were kept on the third floor.

It is said that the heat and the smell of rotting flesh--gangrene--was so overpowering the windows were kept open 24/7.

Yorktown in late 1863, Union gunboats can be seen
patrolling York River. Nelson House can be seen
at center. Virginia Historical Society.

After the war apparitions of the young British Revolutionary soldier and Civil War soldiers were seen wandering the home.

Today smells of rotting flesh are still noted. Gusts of wind whip through the 3rd floor hall when there is no wind outside. The sound of a woman weeping is heard in the upper halls.

Voices are heard coming from the 3rd floor windows.

Because of all this activity the house has attracted young thrill-seekers. One recent group of teens visited the home on a moonlit night on Halloween. This group was not disappointed.

As the group walked to the back of the house one member, a girl looked toward the 3rd floor. She was surprised to see one window open since it was after hours for the museum.

She and the rest of the group froze as they heard the sounds of moans and voices coming from this open window.

They then saw a male face appear. This man looked down at them with an angry expression. The teens quickly left--running down the middle of Yorktown’s main street.

Nelson House today.
In 1968, the National Park Service acquired Nelson House and restored it to its original Colonial splendor. The house is open to the public. The tour guides are careful not to mention the ghosts--even though the house is considered to be Yorktown’s most haunted.

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