Haunted by Guilt: A New Ghost Pamphlet and This Month’s Featured Reading

For a while now, I’ve been blogging about my growing interest in — and growing accumulation of — “ghost pamphlets.” These are fairly short accounts of local hauntings, often written by one of the witnesses, which seem to have had their heyday during the 1700s and 1800s. I’ve discovered that they were available in both England and the U.S. (I assume they were also published elsewhere, too, but I don’t have any proof of it.)

I recently found yet another such pamphlet, this one published in 1764. It has the exhausting title of The Ghost; or, A Minute Account of the Appearance of the Ghost of John Croxford Executed at Northampton, August the 4th, 1764, for the Murder of a Stranger; Wherein Many Particulars Relative to that Affair, and Known Only to the Parties Concern’d, Are Now First Made Public from the Confession of the Ghost. The official title actually goes on even further, but this is enough to give the gist of the story. The author is identified only as a minister “personally concern’d” with Croxford’s ghost.The Ghost

Perhaps not surprisingly, the minister is presenting his experience as evidence of life after death and as a parable from which readers should learn to lead pious lives. At least, they should try not to commit murder, as did John Croxford. Croxford’s spirit comes with a clear mission (beyond showing there’s an afterlife), which is to confirm that the correct people were executed. You see, he and his accomplices denied responsibility for the murder all the way to the gallows. Being what Vera Van Slyke terms a “chatty phantom,” the ghost tells the minister about a hidden ring that no one but the guilty party would have known about. Sure enough, the minister confirms the existence of the ring. He then launches into a long discussion of scriptural support for spirit manifestations.

I found a review of the pamphlet, one also published in 1764. The reviewer is impressed with the writing style — unexpected for someone claiming to have met a ghost — but remains skeptical. Writes the reviewer:

We cannot easily and implicitly believe that departed spirits are permitted to infringe the course of nature, and repass the barriers of a separate state, for no end or purpose, but to tell an insignificant tale, discover a pot full of money, clink a chain, stalk thro’ an empty apartment, or disturb the repose of mankind.

Fair point. Not fair enough, though, for Elliott O’Donnell, who discusses the case (and provides an abridged and modernized transcript of the pamphlet) in Some Haunted Houses of England and Wales (1908). For extra spookiness, O’Donnell tosses in a bit about his own weird experience in the same locale.

— Tim

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