swan point

Swan Point, MD – Spearman Lancaster, an old Charles County waterman from Rock Point, once told of being on the Wicomico River on a foggy morning and catching sight of a three-masted schooner across the water.

What caused him to pause was his knowledge of ships.

His family came from Lancastershire in England in the 17th century and went back many generations in Charles County.

Lancaster knew boats and he knew a ship with three masts dated back 100 years or better.

The ship across the river from him appeared to be loaded down with oysters. Her bow was low in the water from the weight.

He recognized the ship. Old-timers spoke often of the J.R. Morphey. Probably going to Alexandria to sell those oysters, he thought to himself.

As the old waterman watched in astonishment, sunlight burst through the fog, the image fractured and the old ship vanished before his eyes.

The late Tom Wisner, Chesapeake folklorist, singer and songwriter, loved to tell this story.

Its original teller has long since “crossed the bar,” as they say, but Lancaster had more than a few ghost stories he liked to tell when he was still alive.

One centered on a colonial plantation in what is modern-day Swan Point.

If you drive down to Swan Point today, there is a finely manicured golf course and elegant homes.

Lancaster’s family owned a plantation that originally stood on the site. Around 1800, the Lancasters sold their estate to a man from the Bahamas named Captain Hollis.

Hollis had two sons, George and Frank. He also brought slaves from Guinea, heavy, strong men who spoke a different dialect than their African counterparts.

The plantation’s new overseer was a former pirate, a brute of a man named Washington Gudrick.

Standing at 6 feet 2 inches, a full beard and bright red curly hair, an ugly scar across his face from one side to the other, the grizzled pirate’s formidable presence dominated the plantation.

When the elder Hollis passed away, the ship passed to George and the plantation to Frank, who eventually died as well, leaving George owner of all.

One summer George came home from his travels, and with him was the beautiful brown-skinned Santasae.

Tall and graceful, she wore a shimmering green silk dress and had two small boys about 5 and 7.

Gudrick was instructed to put her in charge of the house and gardens but to stay away from her.

The lusty pirate only heeded those instructions for so long, and when the captain went on his next voyage, he began an earnest attempt to woo Santasae, who ignored his persistent advances.

In cruel retribution for her having rejected him, he put her two young sons in a boat and set them adrift in Weird Creek.

swan pointAfter their deaths, the grief-stricken mother went out of her head, and would wander about the plantation shrieking strange incantations.

The pirate listened to only so much wailing until he determined to get rid of her before the boss came back. Gudrick was rowing her to a slave ship bound for Georgia when she jumped overboard in Weird Creek.

She sank straight to the bottom of the water. Searchers discovered, when they finally found her body, that she had bound herself in heavy chains concealed beneath her green silk dress so that she would sink to the creek depths.

After her burial, the slaves resolved to rid themselves of the overseer. Drumming and chants reverberated throughout the marsh and around the plantation. Gudrick cursed at them for all he was worth and fired his pistol at them to no avail.

Their catterwailing continued well into summer.

Everyone on the plantation avoided the pirate, who withdrew to his quarters where he barred the door and began drinking heavily.

The slaves kept chanting. According to their song, Gudrick was already dead.

In August a storm gathered over the plantation. Lighting cracked and thunder roared.

After the storm, white neighbors living near the plantation began to hear the call of slaves from Swan Point hollering for help.

Someone was dead, their cries said. They wouldn’t go look because their master was at sea.

swan pointThe two white men got in their buggy and arrived to find the slaves in a state of great agitation. They found the door to the overseer’s quarters barred shut against entry. The men took a log and used it as a battering ram to get inside. What they found was a dead man, sitting up in bed, a horrified look on his face.

In his hand he held a piece of the shimmering green silk dress once worn by Santasae.

From that point, the plantation at Swan Point went rapidly downhill.

Captain Hollis, presumed lost at sea in his father’s ship, never returned to Maryland. The land was eventually sold by the county for taxes.

Contact Joseph Norris at joe.norris@thebaynet.com