Saturday, August 27, 2011


 ST. FRANCISVILLE, LA -   There are things in our collective past that we Americans would like to forget.  We would prefer to hide from the truth and pretend that certain situations did not arise, that injustice did not flourish sanctioned by government and custom.  Perhaps this is why some ghosts still inhabit this earth without moving on; to serve as a reminder of what happens when we have one set of morals we preach that differs horribly from what we practice. 

General David Bradford built the Myrtles Plantation in 1796, despite the fact that he was warned ahead of time NOT to place his home there.  The choice of location for the two-storied wood-frame home was a scared place for local indigenous people who had buried their dead among the beautiful trees and lush landscape.  Undaunted, the General had the graves and skeletal remains removed and continued with his plan. Perhaps this helps to explain why this location saw so much hardship and horror.  Ten murders and at least one suicide have occurred in the home.
The most tragic of these murders concerned the General’s grandchildren.  His son-in-law Clarke Woodruff practiced what many southern plantation owners felt was their due.  He forced himself on one of his slaves, a young woman named Cleo who worked in the kitchen.

This made the situation inside the home difficult for everyone.  Like many woman of the time the General’s daughter was forced to pretend that she was completely unaware of what was going on, Cleo had to endure a horrible burden.  She lived in fear of either being sold, and being far away from her family who also lived on the Plantation, or being sent out into the fields, which meant tortuous work in intolerable conditions.

The life expectancy for a slave at the time was under thirty years of age, such was the toll of being overworked in extreme poverty conditions. Cleo maintained good relationships with her fellow servants and in an effort to help them she put her own security at risk by eavesdropping on the conversation that Woodruff had with the overseers. She could in this way let them know who might be sold, whether families would be allowed to remain together, and who might face punishment.  One day the unfortunate young woman was caught in the act, her own punishment was heinously cruel: Woodruff himself cut off her ear.  After this incident the poor woman was never seen without a kerchief covering her head to hide this mutilation. Her existence was now one of desperation.  No longer did she have to worry about Woodruff forcing himself on her, but now her place in the household was tenuous.  She might be sold, or sent to the field. Desperate she decided on a tragic course of action. When one of the Woodruff’s young daughters had a birthday Cleo baked a cake into which she had stirred the juice of Oleander leaves.  Oleander leaves contain a poison that was often used for medical purposes and Cleo was no doubt aware of this.  Thinking that she had put in only enough to cause them a momentary distress from which she could then seem to nurse them back to health, she served the cake to the young girls and their mother.  She was confident that when they saw how well she dealt with this emergency and how well she took care of them, her place in the household would be assured once again.
Quickly, however, she found that she had miscalculated.  Cleo stayed with them, giving them water, seeing them as comfortable as possible as was her plan, but she had given them too much and even as she held the children they died, as did their mother. In a blind panic the poor woman ran out of the house and down the path to the plantation’s slave quarters. She sought help from her family, but when the other slaves heard of the events they were horrified that she might draw the anger of the whole community down on them.  They hung Cleo to keep a mob from killing all of the plantation’s slaves.
Clarke Woodruff, who returned home to find that he was a widower and his children were dead, was there after a broken man.  It’s doubtful that Woodruff ever saw his own fault in his misfortune.  Ironically during a time when southern men prided themselves on Christian duty, honor, and manners had Woodruff genuinely acted with any of these qualities his family would not have suffered as they did.

Even today visitors to the Myrtles Plantation often witness the image of a woman wearing a kerchief around her head, and young girls are seen playing merrily on the grounds.  A pretty woman in old southern dress gazes curiously down the staircase as if she wants to see who is entering her home.  A mirror that dates back to the time of the tragedy has often been claimed as having the outlines of faces visible in the glass. 

Myrtles posted this photo of Chloe's ghost. (Center of photo just behind the beam)
Unsolved Mysteries - Myrtles Plantation
For more information: & the Myrtles Plantation

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