The Beautiful & Haunted Sotterley Plantation: A Historic Maryland Estate of Unsettled Spirits
As a little girl in elementary school, we had an annual field trip to the locally famous and historic Sotterley Plantation. I distinctly remember the excitement of climbing onto the school bus and riding to the intriguing old mansion; I loved history as a child and could not get enough of historically educational field trips. This field trip in particular always demanded my attention. Not just for the historic factor, but also for its innate ability to make one feel as though one has been sucked back in time. I always wondered if this beautiful estate with its enchanting surrounding lands was haunted, as it sure seemed like a perfect place for some unsettled Colonial spirits to reside.
Sotterley Plantation is one of the oldest plantations still standing in the United States today. It is located in the town of Hollywood in St. Mary's County, the southern-most county in the state of Maryland. To outsiders of the county, it is somewhat of a hidden secret. If you travel or live in other places in Maryland, most people have not heard of Sotterley's splendor and beauty. But amidst the gorgeous antiquated rooms within the Manor and spectacular flower gardens surrounding the estate, lurking in the shadows of the plantation's corners...there are things that go bump in the night...unexplainable and eerie things...
A Brief History of Sotterley
Sotterley Plantation was founded in the early 1700s, with the manor reportedly being built in 1703. At that time the home was only two rooms and was occupied by James Bowles, a council member of Maryland. When James died in 1727, he left his estate to his wife, Rachel Addison. The beautiful Maryland property was flourishing and consisted of quaint little buildings sprinkled over its land including a meat house, a dairy house, one barn, an accounting house, a shop and other outhouses. Rachel didn't stay widowed for long and married George Plater II in 1729, which began the century long reign of the Platers at the Sotterley Estate.
Sotterley acquired its locally famous name from the son of George Plater II, George Plater III. Plater had graduated from the college of William and Mary and inherited the manor and land from his Father immediately following his Father's sorrowful death. The name "Sotterley" actually comes from England and is a place that the Platers' family occupied and had much history with, while still in the Old World. George Plater III lived a rich and prosperous life, including being a well-known and beloved Maryland soldier and politician. When he passed in the year 1792, his body was placed on the estate...overlooking the enchanting Patuxent River.
George Plater IV inherited his Father's gorgeous lands and ever-growing home but unfortunately fate befell him and he ended up dying only ten years after the inheritance of the Sotterley Plantation. After this death, the grand estate was sold out of the Plater family to Colonel William Clarke Somerville for a mere $29,000! Following shorter periods of the land being up in lease and used as a summer home, the Briscoe family came into possession of the beautiful plantation in 1826 and would remain there for almost one hundred years following. During the 1830's, the Briscoes would see a lucrative steamboat business thriving at Sotterley's Wharf and they would also see Sotterley used as a school to educate children. Many happy memories and energies of happiness and growth overwhelmed the atmosphere of the Sotterley Manor and property.
The Briscoes were a happy family and thrived wondrously within the walls of the Sotterley Manor and on the fruitful land of the Sotterley Plantation. But this quiet contentment would not always last, as in the years of 1861 - 1865, the country was in an all-out Civil War. The major portion of the state of Maryland was Union; however, the Briscoes, like many other Southern Marylanders sympathized with the Confederacy. Three of the Briscoe sons joined the War...on the Confederate side. The Briscoes saw life and death within the confines of the Sotterley property...but they also felt joy at this peaceful place. The Briscoes' reign at Sotterley would come to an end in the year of 1910 when a man by the name of Herbert Satterlee purchased the plantation and resided in the Briscoes' wake for over fifty years.
Each and every one of these families left a piece of themselves with Sotterley; each individual who may have been born and passed on the Sotterley Plantation indefinitely contributed a piece of their souls to the Sotterley legacy. Whether the Briscoes built the major portion of the Manor as it stands today or whether the Satterlees finalized Sotterley's innate beauty, it doesn't really matter. The point is that this Plantation was established before our country was even established and its history is poignant and beautiful and if you ever get the chance to visit Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood, Maryland, you will be overtaken with this estate's captivating beauty and serenity.
Many people believe that Sotterley Plantation may be haunted by some of the individuals from the Plater and Briscoe families that passed here...and it is no wonder with a history as far back as Sotterley's!
"Sleep. Those little slices of death...how I loathe them." - Edgar Allan Poe
The Hair-Raising Legends
I knew before even doing any research on the hauntings of Sotterley that there would be many experiences with the paranormal on this estate. Weirdly enough, it took me a LONG time to find anything on the subject of the hauntings of Sotterley...I have found and read much documentation and articles on the history of Sotterley but without so much as a mention of ghosts or paranormal happenings on the property. It was starting to honestly feel like something was preventing me from finding stories about the spirits occupying the premises of the colonial-aged plantation. Being that I've had a fascination with the place since I was a child, I kept pushing until I finally came across material...and it was even more eerie and intriguing than I had ever imagined it to be!
One of the main ghosts known by Sotterley's employees and volunteers is said to be the ghost of George Plater III. More strangely, I assumed (as present in my earlier writing above) that he would be one of the ghosts on the property, since he lived such a rich and full life at the Estate. I felt like George would have been so attached to a place with such peace and loving memories that he might have stuck around after his physical life had ended, just to retain the feeling of contentment from the life that he lived at Sotterley. The stories circulating Sotterley's employees about Plater include that he tends to haunt the second level of the estate...even pushing a random December Candlelight Tour's Volunteer one cold and wintery December night. The previous manager of the tour stated in a video that the volunteers for the December tour of Sotterley were given strict demands not to venture up onto the second level of the Estate, but unbeknown to this curious volunteer...there were several reasons for these rules. When the volunteer decided to peek around the upstairs level in spite of being asked not to, he got the surprise of his life...he was shoved down the stairs by an unseen force! They say that George is not a fan of troublemakers entering his domain...and his domain has been made known as the second level of the Estate.
In addition to George's Sotterley-bound soul, there are many more spirits said to roam the halls and lands of the antique Plantation. A group of ghost hunters/paranormal investigators decided to do an investigation of the estate and actually came up with more evidence than they thought possible. More specifically the Electronic Voice Phenomenon caught in the slave cabin on the property was spine-tingling and genuine proof that something supernatural is indeed on this land. One man of the group shot his camera around the entirety of the small slave cabin and did not notice a single thing while in the building; however, when the crew rewound the tapes and enhanced the audio in search for anything paranormal, they heard a drumming sound coming from within the slave cabin. Just as the investigator was scanning the last part of the small room, there is a voice yelling clearly yet somewhat muffled, "GET OUT!" When I heard this EVP, the goosebumps immediately crept up my legs and advanced all over my body. It seemed so genuine and I knew that the memories and feelings that I had always held about Sotterley were true. It seems that not only does George Plater III haunt his beloved home, it seems as though the spirits of past slaves also haunt the cabins and possibly the property, as well. The drumming noise that is present on the slave cabin's EVP could very well be the drumming noise of past slave dances or festivities...at least that is exactly what the noise resembled to me.
A multitude of Sotterley's employees have witnessed and opened up about their supernatural experiences while working at the plantation. One employee tells of an encompassing black mass around her body while closing up the mansion one night. Others say that they have smelled strange and welcoming scents when no one was in the home...smells of coffee and bacon fill the air on mornings when the kitchen is completely empty. The spirits of Sotterley can be sweet and warm but they can also act as poltergeists...seemingly agitated poltergeists. This is evident in the case of one employee who was hired to clean the home on a regular basis. She had left the vacuum on in one of the first level rooms and walked away, came back and the vacuum had been turned off. This same situation occurred two more times when she asked the ghost to stop bothering her. After walking outside to get out of the room, a rock was thrown at her head! There was no one around and no other cause for a rock to be kicked up at her...the only thing she thought of was that the ghost did not want her there that day. Still another employee claims to have been punched in her right side, while in a dark room by herself one night.
The plantation's manager, who seems to have some supernatural sensitivity to spirits, claims that the spirits would call her name every so often. "Carolyn...Carolyn...Carolyn !" She has heard this on several occasions. Sometimes it came as a whisper, while other times it seemed more like a call. Crying and talking has also been heard in the manor when only one person was present. Other fairly normal paranormal occurrences have been reported, such as cold sports and lights that turn on and off by themselves.
After examining and studying the history and paranormal activity of Sotterley Plantation one thing is clear to me...it is no doubt that the 300 year old estate is haunted. I believe that some of the people who lived at the estate throughout the centuries developed such a lasting relationship with the property that their souls are destined to roam the manor and gardens forever, Plater III being the number one example of this theory. While Plater III has shown some aggressive behavior, I believe that this is just because he doesn't want any idiots messing with his home. I would do the same thing if strangers were coming into my house on a daily basis...poking around where they didn't belong! Presumably some of the slaves' souls are trapped on the premises, as well...though these souls seem a bit angrier with intruders and also seem to be carrying on with their physical lives as if they had never passed. Maybe it is the ghost of the Briscoe women who cook on certain mornings...letting the warm and friendly smells of breakfast emanate throughout the manor's empty rooms?
Sotterley Plantation gives a Haunted Tour every year during Halloween, so check out their website below for more details, if you are interested in attending. Many people who have attended agree that it is an experience to not forget, and many of them make it a habit to attend every year during Halloween time! Sotterley is also open to daily tours and they schedule other special events, such as the December Candlelight Tour. You can book a wedding at the estate and other special events, as well. Just remember...you aren't the only one walking the halls at Sotterley Plantation...and you aren't the only one enjoying the bewitching gardens and land surrounding the Manor!
Also, if you are interested in hearing more of the ghostly tales of Sotterley (and there are a LOT more), watch the video posted above and to the right. Investigations were performed by Adventure Myths and about four more videos can be found on youtube by searching for "Sotterley Hauntings".