Church Hill

Posted on August 15, 2017

Church Hill

There is an old house in Gloucester County that is shrouded in misery and rumored to be haunted. The building, known as Church Hill, was owned by the prominent Throckmorton family.  According to local lore, Elizabeth Throckmorton still haunts the home.

Church Hill is a large, nineteenth century brick house built on old foundations. It was conceived by Mordecai Cooke in 1658. It was thus originally named Mordecai’s Mount. Mordecai Cooke “and his descendents have always been large land holders in Gloucester County.”1

Photo shows the graveyard of Ware church
Several members of the Cooke family are buried in the graveyard of Ware Church.Image Source: Find a Grave

Not much is known about the first Mordecai Cooke, though according to ancestral records, he married a woman named Susannah in 1648 and had two sons: Hon Mordecai Cooke II and Thomas Cooke.  Hon Mordecai Cooke II was born in 1649 and was a prominent figure in Gloucester County. He was the county’s sheriff, for instance, and also served as a vestryman at Ware Church for a period of time.

Thomas Cooke was born two years later and was known for his close friendship with Sir William Berkeley. William Berkeley was a man from Bruton, Somersetshire who served as the royal governor of Virginia from 1641 to 1652 and 1660 to 1677.

When  Gloucester County was first established by the Virginia General Assembly, it was divided into four parishes: Kingston, Petsworth, Abingdon and Ware. The Ware Episcopal Church is named after the Ware River and has been serving worshippers in Ware Parish for some three hundred sixty years. The church’s first rector was a British man named Alexander Murray. To date, the church has had nineteen rectors.

Reverend James Clack was the church’s third rector. In 1681, he submitted a petition to the Council and General Court in Williamsburg for a new church to be built. Hon Mordecai Cooke II donated an acre of Mordecai’s Mount for the new building’s construction.

An old photograph of Ware church
Ware church.Image Source:

After the American Revolutionary War, the Ware Episcopal Church had to be repaired several times. In 1827, its chimneys were replaced, for example, and in 1854, its roof was redone. The most extensive renovations were done from 1926 to 1927. The church was modernized with electric lights and given an improved pulpit, lectern and alter.

Ware Church has three entrances, on the north, south and west sides on the building. Reverend James Clack is buried a few feet from the east wall.

Mordecai’s Mount was passed into the Throckmorton family when Gabriel Throckmorton married Frances Cooke in 1690. By then, it was already being referred to as Church Hill. Frances Cooke was one of the four children Hon Mordecai Cooke had with his wife, Frances Ironmonger.

According to American genealogy expert Gary Boyd Roberts, the Throckmortons are of royal British descent.2 Two hereditary titles of British dignity (called “baronetcies”) were created for the Throckmorton’s different branches. John Throckmorton, Gabriel Throckmorton’s father, is said to have come to the colonies in the 1630s. He was among the twelve original proprietors of Providence, Rhode Island.

Before Gabriel Throckmorton passed away in July 1737, he held several significant civil roles. Like Hon Mordecai Cooke II, he served as Gloucester County’s sheriff. But he was also the county’s Justice of Peace and a member of the House of Burgesses.

Church Hill is a quaint structure located by the Ware River. It is surrounded by green trees and flora. Evidence of its early garden terraces remain. But behind all this natural beauty lies a sad and grisly story.

Elizabeth Throckmorton met and fell in love with a handsome English gentleman named William Taliaferro in London, but her father refused to let her marry him. He thought that Taliaferro was only after the family’s wealth and so intercepted the pair’s love letters.

According to local lore, Elizabeth became sick with grief when she stopped hearing from her beloved. She eventually fell into a deep coma. Her family thought that she was dead, so buried her in the graveyard with the family’s jewels. It was a cold November evening, and a snow storm was just beginning to brew. In the dead of night, a pair of slaves decided to go and rob Elizabeth’s grave. They easily removed her necklace and earrings, but struggled to remove the rings on her hand. In their greed and haste, they cut off poor Elizabeth’s half frozen fingers with a sharp hunting knife.

an image showing a portrayal of a graveyard thief
Image Source: Posted by David to Fiction Factory

The grisly tale ends with another slave opening the front door in the morning, only to find Elizabeth Throckmorton’s cold stiff body, lying on the front steps under a large pile of snow. The shock and extreme pain of having her fingers cut off had apparently awoken her from her deep coma. “Somehow, even with her poor mangled hand, she was able to drag herself out of that grave and claw her way through the snow, her shroud dragging through the dead stalks of the garden, crawling and stumbling until she reached the haven of home.”3 Unfortunately, due to the howling winds of the winter storm, no one heard her desperate cries or weak knocks on the door.

To this very day, her spirit still makes the grueling trip from graveyard to Church Hill. Her ghost is said to be especially active during each year’s first snow. People who have visited Church Hill in the winter have discovered a trail of blood4 leading from the family’s plot to the house’s front door, for instance.

Sometimes, Elizabeth’s pale apparition is seen walking down the house’s main stairwell. She fills the fireplace with wood, then disappears. Mr. Taliaferro himself has “heard logs thrown upon the fire many times.”5 If people do not see Elizabeth’s spirit, then they hear its soft footsteps and the rustling of its skirt.

Lights have also turned on by themselves in the empty house. Perhaps Elizabeth’s ghost is looking for some warmth and comfort.

It is not uncommon for buildings to be haunted by heartbroken ghosts. Edgewood Plantation in Charles City is still frequented by the spirit of Elizabeth Lizzie Roland, for example. Our post on the creepy bed and breakfast tells of the forlorn Lizzie, still waiting for her fiancée to return from the Civil War. As for the Moore House in Yorktown, it is haunted by the grief-stricken Clara Turner, who died shortly after her husband. People have seen her sobbing spirit roaming the house’s grounds, still mourning the loss of her beloved!

Works Cited

1. Stella. “Mordecai Cooke.” Record added 30 May 2014. Web. 19 June 2016. Para. 5.

2. Roberts, Gary Boyd (2008). The Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants to the American Colonies or the United States… with a 2008 Addendum. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company.

3. Hunter, John P. Witches and Ghosts, Pirates and Thieves, Murders and Mayhem: Scary Tales from Colonial Williamsburg. Williamsburg: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2007. Page 27.

4. Lamkin, Virginia. “First Snowfall Ghost.” 12 November 2012. Web. 19 June 2016.

5. Lee, Jenny and Marguerite du Pont Lee. Virginia Ghosts. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1993, 2002. Page 79.