Mar 16, 2016 I Brent Swancer

The Mysteries of Virginia’s Cursed Forest

There is no shortage of haunted forests in the world. Indeed, forests at night when there is no one around do tend to have a decidedly spooky vibe that is very fitting for scary stories and urban legends, and it is often no wonder they are the scene of so many terrifying tales. Of all of these alleged haunted woods, perhaps one of the most allegedly active is a small, remote wood in the US state of Virginia which is so thoroughly steeped in the unknown that it is almost in a category unto itself. Let us take a look at the weird and very often terrifying cursed woods of Virginia.

Along the picturesque coast of Chesapeake Bay, located in the Tidewater area of Mathews County, Virginia is the quaint, sleepy little town of Diggs. Aside from its charming locale and scenic coastal scenery, the rural town is otherwise quite unassuming, and one wouldn’t be inclined to think that there is anything particularly striking or out of place here, certainly nothing spooky or ominous. Yet branching off from Diggs is a road called Haven Beach Road, which leads off to a nearby 50-acre patch of dense pine woods and boggy marshland nestled in the wilderness area near Whites Creek. Although certainly spooky with its thickly packed trees that blot out the sky to make it a dark, eerie place, the wood is also fairly mostly unassuming and easy to miss among the similar scenery of the region, if it weren’t for the fact that this particular forest has long been steeped in colorful history and a shocking amount of high strangeness and otherworldly phenomena, and is indeed considered to be one of the most haunted, cursed places in Virginia, if not all of the United States.

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Old House Woods

Known as Old House Woods, the area was once a popular port before and during the Revolutionary War, both for soldiers as well as pirates, who used the dense wilderness area as a place to hide out and lay low, and bands of these pirates were often said to be camped out in the murky wilds here to the point that it was considered a perilous area to pass through for travelers. It was also a popular port area during the American Civil War, when it was no less surrounded by tales of danger. Perhaps it is this history as a place of war, murder and thievery that has so imbued it with a sinister reputation for all manner of legends and ghostly phenomena that spans over 200 years, which have also earned it the nicknames “Black Forest” and “Haunted Woods.” Indeed even the origin of the name of the forest itself, Old House Woods, has hints of the paranormal. The name is said to have come from the fact that in the late 1700s there once stood in the center of the woods a colonial wooden framed house known as the Frannie Knight house, which according to the lore was a long abandoned, decrepit structure that was haunted by ghosts and set itself on fire only to put itself out again on its own. It then caught fire once again years later, again without any discernible cause, this time to burn down to its foundations, which are now overgrown and strangled with vegetation and are all that remain of the house today.

Old House Woods and the nearby beachfront area are so permeated with legends and intense bizarre phenomena that it is hard to even know where to begin. Very pervasive are numerous legends of treasure and loot buried throughout the locale by both British soldiers and pirates. One such treasure is said to have been buried along the shore of Whites Creek in the 1600s by one of the bands of pirates that were known to frequent the area. It is said that the pirates buried a sizable stash of gold coins here before heading out to get more. Unfortunately their ship was said to have been lost at sea in a raging storm and the treasure was never found. Spookily, if stories are to be believed they did not give up on getting back their treasure even in death, and to this day there are occasional sightings of a band of spectral pirates digging along Whites Creek, still trying to regain their long lost loot.


Another treasure said to be buried somewhere here is that of a treasure laden ship sent to America in 1651 by England’s King Charles II in the wake of the Battle of Worcester, as a precaution in the event that he was forced to flee England to take refuge in the colonies. The ship was allegedly on its way to Jamestown, when it got waylaid by a storm and found itself lost and meandering along Whites Creek. It was here that the crew was ambushed by bandits, who mercilessly killed them, stole the sizable haul of loot, and buried it out in Old House Woods for safekeeping, fully planning to come back later to retrieve it. Depending on the version of the tale, the bandits then either headed out to sea and were killed in a storm, or were captured and put to death for their crimes. In either case, the treasure is said to have remained where it had been hidden. Again, this is another treasure which is said to be guarded by specters, in this case the restless spirits of the crewmen of King Charles’s ship, who dutifully and perhaps eternally watch over it even in death. Some versions of the story even claim that the dead bandits also return to the site to dig for the treasure in the dark of night, sometimes wielding glimmering ghostly lanterns.

Another popular lost treasure tale in the area revolves around the Revolutionary War, during which in 1781 men under the command of the great British military leader and colonial administrator General Charles Cornwallis are said to have retreated into the woods from advancing Patriots while hauling a large hoard of stolen loot to bring back to their commander. Realizing that they could not evade the enemy while carrying so much plunder, they allegedly hid it in Old House Woods at a spot near White’s Creek with the intention of returning later to get it, but their later arrest in the wake of the war prevented anyone from ever doing so. Cornwallis’s lost treasure is said to still be hidden out in the woods, hidden among the forgotten, scattered dead. Similarly to the other lost treasure tales, there are allegedly ghostly British Revolutionary War soldiers prowling Old House Woods searching for the hoard of gold and silver coins.

With all of the alleged stashes of lost treasure reportedly buried within Old House Woods, one might imagine that this would be a haven for amateur treasure hunters and one would be absolutely right. Over the years many have gone to look for these fantastical treasures to no avail, and those are the lucky ones. One of the rumors about these lost treasures is that they have a way of making those who look for them disappear. There have been persistent stories of would be treasure hunters entering the woods to never be seen again, and one particularly spooky story is that of one such treasure hunter who allegedly found one of the stashes, only for his boat to be found drifting in the bay carrying very old gold coins but no sign of where the man had gone. He was apparently never seen again. It is unclear if these alleged disappearances have anything to do with all of the ghostly treasure guardians or if they really even happened at all. However, a very real obstacle to looking for the lost treasure is the fact that much of the land of Old House Woods is now private property, so anyone looking to search for themselves should beware of both ghosts and landowners looking to punish trespassers.


The ghosts of soldiers, ship crews, and pirates have a lot of company at Old House Woods, and indeed the area seems to be absolutely teeming with all manner of entities, phantoms, apparitions, and other peculiar ghostly phenomena.  One of the most bizarre such phenomenon is the presence of whole ghost ships that appear in the area. Perhaps the most well-known account of these is a sighting made in the late 19th century by a fisherman by the name of Ben Feribee, who was out in his boat fishing on Whites Creek near Chesapeake Bay when he allegedly saw something rather frightening. According to the report, a large, masted wooden vessel like a galleon suddenly appeared, with “lights at every mast and spar” and shadowy crew members visible standing on board peering off into the distance. The mysterious ship was headed right for Feribee, whose calls went unnoticed by the ship’s crew and who maneuvered his small skiff in a panic as it became clear that it was on a collision course. However, when the huge ship came looming over him and a catastrophe seemed inevitable, rather than the impact that should have surely came the ship instead continued on right past him without incident, leaving churning waves and the sound of music like a harp in its wake. Feribee stared in astonishment as the ship reportedly continued on its path, hovered up over the beach, and proceeded to float up over the trees as if it were still on water. It was then that a rope ladder could be seen being dangled off of the sides of the phantom ship, with men carrying “tools and other contraptions” climbing down it into the wilderness.

There have been various other reports of phantom ships as well, usually describing a similar sight; a large wooden sailing ship of some sort, often described as looking like a Spanish galleon, which will either appear out in Chesapeake Bay or in Whites Creek and float over water, sometimes as much as 50 feet over the waves, as well as over land and trees before disappearing from sight, sometimes right before startled witnesses’ eyes. In most reports the ship is completely silent, and it is often described as being wreathed in a mysterious fog that crawls in along with them. On occasion, shadowy crew can be seen on the decks, which seem to be oblivious to any attempts to call out to them or signal them.  Some reports have told of the ships stopping in midair directly over the Old House Woods, where they proceed to disgorge ghostly crew that proceed to either search the area for something or simply vanish.


In addition to ghost ships are the myriad apparitions said to roam these woods. One of the most famous is the ghostly figure of a woman who is said to be dressed in a flowing white gown, often described as emanating a blue or green glow and with her hair appearing to be whipped around by the wind even on calm nights. Frighteningly, the spectral woman is known to walk among the trees or even float above the ground while unleashing a deafening, unearthly scream and the lore is that her appearance is an omen of an impending storm, which has gained her the nickname of the “Storm Woman.” It is believed that if the Storm Woman is seen it is a portent of doom and it is a good idea to vacate the area, as it most certainly means that a vicious storm is on its way to ravage the area.

Another commonly reported ghostly phenomenon is the presence of spectral Revolutionary War era British Redcoats among the thick trees of the woods. One such account was given by a local resident named Henry Forrest, who often went duck hunting in the Old House Woods area along White’s Creek. One night, Forrest claimed that he had been out hunting ducks when he came to an inlet and saw what he took to be a group of black ducks upon the water, which he prepared to shoot at. As he raised his rifle, the black shapes then reportedly began to morph, pulse, and grow into the terrifying visages of ghostly Redcoat soldiers, who then proceeded to march towards the startled hunter. Forrest made a hasty retreat back to his small boat nearby, which much to his horror had one of the phantom Redcoats casually sitting within it. Forrest claimed that he threatened to shoot the strange intruder, and that its response was “You shoot and the devil's curse to you and your traitors breed.” Apparently this did not scare the hunter, who pulled the trigger only for his rifle to emit an impotent click. He fired again and again only to similarly be unable to actually get his gun to work. The ghostly Red coat then began to rise and that was when Forrest threw his rifle at it and ran away in terror. Other similar reports speak of being approached by marching bands of the spectral Redcoats or even fired at by them, with the ghostly bullets passing through bodies or obstacles without doing any damage at all. In some instances these Redcoats are said to be looking for something, likely the lost treasure of Cornwallis.


Perhaps even weirder than ghostly Redcoats is the stories of strange skeletons dressed in armor wandering around the woods. One witness by the name of Jesse Hudgins reported in 1926 that he had been approached by a group of mysterious strangers carrying lanterns that exuded an unearthly glow. As he came closer to the strangers, he noticed that they were skeletons wearing some sort of old fashioned armor, one of which approached and waved an archaic sword menacingly at him. In another account, a man’s car broke down down on a lonely road through the woods, after which he reported being approached by what he described as a skeleton in armor. The skeleton approached the car and purportedly said "Is this the King's Highway? I've lost my ship,” which sent the terrified man running for his life, leaving his car behind.

It is not even the ghosts of men that one should look out for here, but also those of various odd spectral animals. One such mysterious phenomenon is that of two black dogs that are known to pounce from the underbrush to terrorize passerby, attacking cars, chasing people, and even on occasion jumping into truck beds to claw at the vehicle before vanishing into thin air. Sometimes, only the barking of the dogs can be heard reverberating through the wilderness. There are also reports of phantom black horses, ghostly crows, and even headless cows wandering about the woods.

The area has long been plagued by a variety of other miscellaneous strange occurrences. Travelers once refused to pass through the area, not only because of the pirates and bandits thought to be lurking within, but also because horses would fly into a panic in the vicinity or refuse to go any further. This feeling of dread extends to human beings, with some visitors being overwhelmed by a feeling of imminent doom or potent panic, with some refusing to continue past a certain point. There are also instances of people feeling like their breath has been drawn from their body, leaving them choking and unable to breathe. Since the area was first settled right up to modern times, strange orbs of light have been seen dancing through the trees, as well as a strange green glow said to engulf the entire area. There are also frequent reports of a strange smell like sulphur which will suddenly pervade an area until it becomes an unbearably noxious cloud before fading away.


Visitors who have braved the impressively bizarre lore to come investigate have reported phenomenon ranging from malfunctioning cameras and other electrical equipment, to batteries suddenly going dead despite having just been recharged. Paranormal investigators that have come here claim to have collected photos of ghostly images, bizarre videos of strange lights or figures, and EVP recordings ranging from voices, to footsteps, to even the sound of cannon fire, all of which were not audible at the time of recording.

Many of these stories certainly carry the distinct feeling that they are mere urban legend or spooky lore, and perhaps that is what some of them are. The dark wilderness, trees with branches that block out the sun, and the slightly unnerving quiet of this place all lend themselves perfectly to tales of hauntings and horror. Yet the sheer persistence of these stories, and the myriad accounts going back over 200 years are enough to give one pause and wonder if there is perhaps something more to it. Is this just an old, creepy patch of woods saturated with dark history or are are there really some unknown powers that make this place deserving of the title of one of the most haunted places in America? We may never know, but it is sure compelling to look in through the shadows and trees and wonder what strange mysteries they may hold.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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