Bedford Paranormal
Sweet Briar College Introduction

A Little Background on Sweet Briar

 by Alan

Sweet Briar College was founded in 1901 in Amherst County, Virginia. Its visionary was Indiana Williams who founded the college to honor the memory of her deceased daughter, Daisy.

Growing up in Lynchburg, I had heard from an early age about a few of the ghost stories associated with Sweet Briar College. The “Screaming Statue” was well known to many of the young teens and I was one of them. I’m sure the story had several versions, but the one I remember was that at certain times the statue on Monument Hill would scream and or moan. This story was proven to be partially true. While interviewing staff and students for this investigation I learned that when the wind blew a certain way in the past the statue would make a noise due to the shape of the figure’s upheld hand. The statue’s hand has since been altered to avoid this.

As I listened to the many interesting stories of possible paranormal activity on the campus, I quickly decided that I needed to learn more about the family that founded the college in order to have a better understanding of what might be going on. Most of the stories I was being told by the students and staff had a direct link to at least one family member. I read a brief history of the college on its website http://www.about.sbc.edu/index.html , but gained a much better understanding of the family by reading several books by Ann Marshall Whitley. The titles of these books are: Indiana Fletcher Williams of Sweet Briar, Daisy Williams of Sweet Briar, and Ghost Stories and Mysteries of Sweet Briar. Here is my brief understanding of the family.

Indiana

Indiana was born and raised across the James River in Lynchburg. Her twin brother died within hisfirst year. Indiana’s father Elijah was elected Mayor of Lynchburg twice and was very successful financially. He was very much against slavery when he first moved to Virginia, but eventually he too became a slave owner. Elijah had become a very rich man through real estate, banking, and owning a news paper. Her parents took a great interest in her education and that of her siblings. Indiana’s education started in Lynchburg, but she went on to study in Washington D.C., New Jersey, and Philadelphia. During this time the Sweet Briar plantation was mainly used as a summer home by her family. Following the Civil War, she married Rev. James Henry Williams. The couple spent their winters in New York and once Daisy was born took turns bringing her to Sweet Briar while the other stayed in New York to run their business of hotels and apartments.

Her only child’s death was an especially heavy burden to Indiana. For about six months she could not accept that Daisy was gone and had her servants take a breakfast meal to her gravesite every morning. Indiana also ensured that all of Daisy’s belongings were kept clean and in order as if Daisy would be returning for them someday. During this time Indiana would visit the gravesite, talk and even read to Daisy. Though she never stopped grieving for her daughter, she eventually stopped having the meals taken to the gravesite and became more like her old self. In her later years as a widow, Indiana made careful plans as to how her estate would be handled. Much has been said about her relationship with her brother Lucian. He had threatened to kill more than once if she did not give him money. Indiana went to great lengths to ensure that none of her money or possessions would end up belonging to Lucian’s descendants. She had hired a well known lawyer from New York to draft her will and then had it adjusted to conform to the laws in Virginia by another lawyer and a judge. When Indiana passed away she was found in Daisy’s room at the foot of her bed. When her will was made public it became known how generous Indiana Fletcher Williams was to many future generations of young women.

Lucian

Lucian was one of Indiana’s two brothers. Having graduated from Yale University, he proved that he had intelligence. However having been disowned by his father, labeled an outlaw by a local sheriff, and a constant embarrassment to his family he also proved that he was someone to be feared and never trusted. Lucian had been charged with many serious crimes in his life including child abuse and murder. Indiana didn’t allow him to enter the Sweet Briar House and had the exterior doors made so that reinforcing boards could be placed in a way to help ensure the doors would not be broken down. He had seven children that are known to be his. Of these only one was born when he was married to the mother. Lucian’s children fiercely contested the will that enabled the forming of Sweet Briar College on the grounds that Indiana was unbalanced.  I haven’t read or heard anything positive about Lucian.

 

Daisy

Daisy entered this world as Maria Georgiana Williams on Sept 10th, 1867. She enjoyed books from an early age and she wrote one of her own when she was five years old. She also had a talent for music playing both the harp and the piano. Daisy spent her winters in New York where she attended operas, plays, and of course went to school. During her summers at Sweet Briar she enjoyed many rides over the plantation on her pony. Her diary survives to this day and tells of how she thought the grounds were so beautiful. One of Daisy’s greatest friends was Martha Taylor. Martha was a slave who had asked Daisy’s grandfather to buy her so that she would not be sent out of state. Slavery had been outlawed by the time Daisy had been born and Daisy knew her close friend as someone who taught her to cook and care for a garden. Sadly Daisy died in New York during the later part of 1882. She was brought by train to Sweet Briar for burial on Monument Hill. Her small pony was included in the funeral procession. The museum has many of her personal belongings including the harp that she and Indiana both played.

Of course there is much more to be learned about these family members, but hopefully these few paragraphs will help the reader to understand the feelings they had for each other and give a better insight to the stories the students tell of possible paranormal activity at the college.

 

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