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Stories of New Jersey
The Morristown Ghosts
A Story Of 1788.

By Frank R. Stockton

Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

IN the early days of American history there was in New Jersey, as well as in New England and other parts of the country, a firm belief in the existence of witches and ghosts. Of course, there were people who knew enough not to put faith in supernatural apparitions and magical power; but there were so many who did believe in these things, that it was often unsafe, or at least unpleasant, to be an ugly old woman, or a young woman in not very good health, for it was believed that into such bodies the evil spirits delighted to enter.

Nearly all the older towns had their ghost stories, their witch stories, and their traditions of hidden treasure, guarded by spirits of persons who had been murdered, and buried with the gold in order that their spirits might act as a charm to frighten away anybody who should presume to dig in those spots. In Burlington were two great trees which were regarded with admiration and fear by many of the inhabitants. One was a large willow tree, which was called the Witches' Tree, around which these horrible spirits were supposed to dance on many a wild night. Another was the Pirates' Tree, a great walnut, under the roots of which many of the inhabitants firmly believed that the famous Blackbeard and his band had buried many pots of gold, silver, and precious stones; and these pots would have been dug up had it not been for the fear that the spirit of the savage pirate, who had been buried with the treasure, would have been the first thing to meet the eyes of the sacrilegious disturber of the pirate treasure vault.

There are other ghost stories of other places in New Jersey; but Morristown, some years after the close of the Revolution, took the lead of all the other Jersey towns as a scene of ghostly performances.

For years back many of the people had been convinced that an occasional witch had appeared among them, getting into the churns and preventing the butter from coming, breaking the legs of sheep in jumping over the fence, causing their horses to become suddenly mysteriously sick, and making themselves obnoxious in various ways. But it was not until the year 1788 that New Jersey ghosts determined to go regularly into business at this place.

Supernatural occurrences of this period attracted a great deal of attention, not only in the town itself, but in the surrounding country ; and an account of what happened in Morristown during the time that the spirits were holding their visitations at that place is related in an old pamphlet published in 1792, written by an anonymous person who had no faith whatever in ghosts, but who had a firm belief in the efficacy of long words and complicated phraseology. We will take the story from this old pamphlet.

For a long time there had been a tradition that a vast treasure was buried on Schooley's Mountain, or, as it was then spelled, Schooler's Mountain, which was at that time a wild and desolate region more than twenty miles from Morristown. It is said that there were two gentlemen of the place who were particularly strong in their belief in this treasure, and they felt sure that all that was necessary in order to obtain it was to find some man who had knowledge of the habits and customs and requirements of the spirits in regard to treasures. Having their minds on this subject, it was not long before they heard of such a man. This was Mr. Ransford Rogers, a schoolmaster in Connecticut, who knew many things, and who pretended to know many more. He really did understand something about chemistry, was very ingenious and plausible, and had been frequently heard to say that he was not afraid of spirits, and was able to call them up, converse with them, and afterwards cause them to disappear. This was exactly the man needed by the two gentlemen of Morristown, and they went to Connecticut to see him

When the business of the visitors was made known to Rogers, he was delighted, for here was an opportunity to get into a good business, which would probably be infinitely more pleasant than teaching. So he gave up his school and came to Morristown, being under contract to the two gentlemen to do what he could to induce the spirits to reveal the place of the concealed treasure in Schooley's Mountain. But as it would not do for a stranger to come into the town and hang out a sign, stating that he was a spirit raiser, it was necessary for Rogers to pretend that he had come on other business, and so he took charge of a small school outside of the town, but gave the greater part of his time to investigating the minds of the people of Morristown, in order that he might find out what he could do in the way of duping them; and in the words of the old writer, he found that this would be a good place for the "marvelous exhibitions which he was able to facilitate with the greatest alacrity."

Of course, he was not at all willing to begin business with the support of only two persons, and the first thing he did was to gather together as many men as possible who really wished to be rich, and who were willing to be governed by him in regard to the way in which they should go about obtaining the vast hoard buried far away in the mountain. After a time he succeeded in getting together as many as forty men, who all thoroughly believed in his honesty and in his ability tD take them out to Schooley's Mountain, to call up the spirits who guarded the treasure, to induce them to turn it over to them, and then to vanish peaceably, without offering to molest or harm any one.

But it was a long time before Rogers was ready to lead his company on the great quest. There were many, many things that had to be done before they could start, and he soon found that he was not able to work out his great scheme alone; so he went back to Connecticut and got another schoolmaster, to whom he divulged his secret, and brought him to Morristown, and the two together went into the spirit business with great energy and enterprise. Night after night the company of treasure seekers met together, sometimes in a dark room, and sometimes out in the wild, lonely fields, close to black forests, and out of sight and hearing of human abodes.


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