The Wythe House was the home of George Wythe, the first signer of the declaration of Independence from Virginia, friend of George Washington, first law professor in the United States, and friend and mentor to Thomas Jefferson, who studied law under Wythe for five years starting in 1762 after leaving William and Mary. While some claim George Wythe haunts the house due to his gruesome murder in 1805 at the hands of his grand-‐nephew, we have no evidence to suggest this is true. The whole story of his murder and nationally publicized trial are available on our blog. But, the house is known to be haunted by the most famous ghost in Williamsburg, Lady Ann Skipwith. The wealthy Peyton and Ann Skipwith visited George Wythe one week, and accompanied him to a party at the Governor’s Palace. During the event, witnesses saw her in tears and fighting with her husband. The distraught Ann fled the Palace and ran down the street back to the Wythe home.
Along the way, she lost one of her beautiful red shoes. As she ran up the stairs, she made a distinct sound as reported by one of the servants, a clank-‐step sound that one would make if they were wearing only one heel. This is where the versions of the story differ. While some claim that she dies in the home the next day, was murdered or committed suicide, or that she was buried in the Bruton Parish Cemetery, none of this is true. Ann died three months later. Historical records state she died during childbirth, and not in the Wythe House. However, her ghost is known to haunt the Wythe House in force, and the circumstances surrounding that night at the Palace and her death are scandalous. It is believed that she became so upset at the party because she discovered her husband was cheating on her with her sister. In fact, immediately after her death, her husband, Peyton Skipwith, married her sister.
We know Ann was miserable in her marriage, and as a colonial woman, had no escape from her situation. It is possible that taking her life would provide the only true freedom from life with her husband, in which case suicides were underreported during colonial times as it brought dishonor on a family. It is also possible that Ann’s husband killed her and attempted to cover it up with childbirth as cause, to marry her sister. A popular tradition among locals and William and Mary students is to summon the ghost of Ann Skipwith. They bring a red shoe to the door, knock three times, and declare, “Lady Ann Skipwith, Lady Ann Skipwith, Lady Ann Skipwith, we’ve found your red shoe!” Then, they hear the sound of her making her way down the stairs with her signature clank-‐step sound. Sometimes, the security guards happen to be inside on their nightly patrol.
One night, a group of college boys boldly walked up to the door, with the girls scared behind them. The security guards decided to frighten the students by rattling the door in front of them. The boys turned around and ran, knocking the girls down on the steps. The boys were already running through the palace green before the girls had made their way off of the steps. But right after, the security guards would hear something themselves. Sometimes they will hear the sound of Ann walking down the stairs or footsteps in the house. Other times, they will hear a woman singing happily in the house with them. Employees shared that they would arrange the furniture in a room, and return a couple of minutes later to find the furniture rearranged in a strange way. One evening during a special dinner held in the home, the sound of Ann on the stairs interrupted their otherwise uneventful dinner.
One person went to check what or who was causing the footsteps, and found no one. One of our tour guides had two parents who worked in Colonial Williamsburg for 30 years. She visited her father in the Wythe House one day, and they heard footsteps and furniture moving in the unoccupied floor above them. Others have seen the apparition of a woman, believed to be Ann Skipwith, walking through the house’s backyard. Some guests on the tour will see the shutters open and close on their own. Come back with a red shoe, and maybe you will get a chance to summon Ann Skipwith!