There are varying versions of this tale and one highly respected historian/ghost hunter has even boldly stated that the tale so often told is not right in any way. But as I enjoy the tale, I’m going to tell it anyway and maybe someday someone will find the true tale of this house which needs to be told. I have visited this plantation a total of two and a half times. I say half, because we went with every intention of taking the tour, but after a prolonged wait, they decided to tell us there would be no tours due to renovations in the house.
Our story takes place in the small town of St Francisville, Louisiana, nestled among the gently rolling hills and cypress trees not far from the state’s capitol. The home was built in 1794 by David Bradford, of Whiskey Rebellion fame, who had fled south from Pennsylvania because then-president George Washington had put a price on his head for his role in the Rebellion. He managed to aquire 600 acres of land along Bayou Sara (where the town of St Francisville now sits) and built a lovely 8 room home which was then called Laurel Grove. Time passed and Bradford was eventually pardoned for his role in the Whiskey Rebellion and he was able to bring his family from Pennsylvania to this new home in Louisiana.
With the family back together again and living in a new part of the country, Judge Bradford began taking in students who were interested in learning law. One of his students, Clark Woodrooff, married Bradford’s daughter Sarah Mathilde. After the death of David Bradford, Clark managed Laurel Grove for his mother-in-law. The couple had three children – Cornelia Gale, James and Mary Octavia – but by 1824 two of the three children and their mother died from Yellow Fever. Clark remained at Laurel Grove with his mother-in-law, from whom he’d purchased the plantation outright, and his remaining daughter Mary Octavia. Upon the death of his mother-in-law, Clark Woodrooff returned to practicing law and moved with Mary Octavia to New Orleans where he served as a district judge over District D in Covington, Louisiana.
We will pause here in the telling of the history of the plantation to now insert the haunted side of things. The bulk of the ghostly tales have to do with this period of the plantation’s history. The only other bit of history I’ll add here before going on is to say that the name changed from Laurel Grove to Myrtles in 1834 with the sale of the plantation to Ruffin Grey Stirling. There is an abundance of crape myrtle trees around the property which was the inspiration for the new name.
The most well-known of the “ghosts” which are said to walk the grounds and halls of the plantation is that of Chloe, a slave woman. As the story goes, Chloe was a house slave to the Woodrooff family and apparently a secret lover of Clark Woodrooff. After a while, though, he grew tired of Chloe and moved on to another. Fearful of being sent out into the fields to work (the worst possible place for her to be), Chloe began eavesdropping on conversations in an attempt to discern her future within the household. One day she was carelessly eavesdropping on a conversation that went beyond simple family matters; it was a business discussion. Chloe was unfortunately caught at her listening and Judge Woodrooff ordered that her ear was to be cut off as a lesson.
Still fearful that she would be put out to work in the fields, Chloe decided that she would find a way to be needed by the family and thereby remain in the house. So, at the birthday celebration for one of the children, as the story goes, Chloe decided to make a birthday cake laced with the poison of the oleander leaf. Thinking to put in just enough of the poison to make the family ill and need her care, Chloe went overboard and when the cake was consumed, three of the family members who ate the cake died of poisoning. There are variations to this part of the story, but the one told on the tour itself is that Judge Woodrooff and one of his daughters had traveled to New Orleans (for reasons I cannot recall) so it was only Sara and the remaining children who were poisoned by the cake.
Upon hearing of Chloe’s deed and the resulting deaths, the other slaves were fearful that they would be punished as well, so they took it upon themselves to mete out justice and hung Chloe. Her ghost is said to wander the grounds and the children appear on rainy days.
Another lesser known haunting within the plantation is that of a dying, wounded Union soldier caught there by Confederates in the area. He was apparently shot outside the gentleman’s parlour and managed to make it about half way up the steps in the central hallway before collapsing and dying.
Whether either of these stories is true or not, Myrtles Plantation is a lovely home to visit. As Troy Taylor is first and foremost a historian, I tend to believe his judgement that while the home is haunted, it’s neither Chloe nor a Union soldier who find unrest within its walls. I have used his information for the history – which I’ve condensed – and my own memories at the stories told while touring the home and also viewing on the Travel Channel.
Wasn’t the Judge ambushed outside the home by an unknown gunman, staggered back inside and up the staircase, to die in his wife’s arms, just 3 steps from the top?
That’s not the story told on the tour, but may be one that’s been included in the various retellings of the tale.