Somewhere in Londonderry New Hampshire, along “the road leading from Nashua to Derry Depot” reportedly is a haunted house. In 1882 the old Barker Farm was owned by one Moody Morse who put it up for sale, because reportedly he’d been unable to keep it rented for long. George C. Butler of Pelham purchased the place in 1882, and almost immediately he became aware of a ghostly presence. At least this is what the newspapers claimed.
The house would have been on the left side of the road if you are heading to the Derry line. Possibilities are Nashua Road, Griffin Road or South Road. Or it could have been located somewhere entirely different. The newspapers of 1891 reported on a legal incident between Mr. Butler and Mr. Morse because a lawsuit had made it all the way to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. I’ll leave you to read the newspaper story before I explain more.
The Boston Globe (Boston MA) 30 Aug 1891 page 18.
SAID TO BE HAUNTED. “This is what people want to know: Is the Barker place haunted? Some people are certain that it is. Be that as it may, the courts have decided that its bad reputation has decreased its value $300 worth. And thereby hangs a tale.
In the June law Court of New Hampshire of 1891 a decision was reached in a case that had been in litigation for a long time. It is one of the most novel cases on record in the annals of the State, for it not only deals with the circumstances of this world as they are known to us, but reaches out to that which is beyond and belongs to the super human.
The case is between George C. Butler of Pelham and the Misses Morse. Butler bought of Moody Morse (father of the misses) in January 1882, a farm, with buildings, situated in Londonderry, for which he was to pay $1700; a portion of the purchase price was paid in cash and the balance by notes running to the daughters of Morse, said notes being secured by a mortgage on the farm and some other property in Windham. Butler had the right to cut off wood and timber.
He bought the farm in good faith. Being a stranger in town, he had no means of finding out about the property, only what Morse saw fit to tell him, and, supposing Morse to be a just man, he had no thoughts but all was as represented, and that nothing was withheld that was important for a purchaser to know.
The place was unoccupied at the time of the sale, and the curiosity of Butler was somewhat aroused when making the negotiations, by the studied absence of Morse on all occasions when he (Butler) visited the place. Morse agreed to meet Butler repeatedly at the house, but always reached there ahead of time, and left the key with a neighbor with an excuse for his haste.
On the day following the completion of the sale and passing of the deeds, Butler met a man who asked him if he knew that the house he had just purchased was haunted, and told him that no one would live there because of the strange visits that were repeatedly made by disembodied spirits. Butler, who is neither superstitious nor credulous, laughed at the report, congratulated himself on his good fortune and went on about his business.
Not being ready to occupy the place himself, he secured a tenant from another town, who moved in and began work upon the land, and his family set up their worldly goods. Some repairs were needed on the house and Butler came on to the ground to arrange for them, and while standing in the kitchen, talking over the advisability of certain changes, there came a loud and hasty knock on the outside door, to which Butler replied, “Come in.” No one responded, and a second and louder knock was heard at the same door to which Butler replied as before; but as no one raised the latch he opened the door to find no one or anything that could have caused the noise.
This not only alarmed the family, but caused the few sandy locks of Butler’s head to stand on end. Being determined not to credit what had do seriously disturbed him, he hunted about and mended some shaky doors in an adjoining building, which pacified the new tenants. On driving away he halted at a neighbor’s house to say he had “fixed the ghosts.” The neighbor shrugged his shoulders, shook his head and said, “I hope so.” Butler had told his tenant of the stories that were afloat about the place, and had offered to give him the rent for a while if he would stay there, hoping thereby to reestablish the reputation of the farm.But the repeated noises and blood-curling stories of the neighbors were too much for the tenant and he moved.
Butler, however, secured a second tenant from a distance, who soon made haste to get away, and this coming and going continued, so that during the nine years of Butler’s undisputed possession there were only about two years where the place was occupied by human beings, and these years were divided between six tenants. The circumstances, together with the impression far and near that the house was haunted, led Butler to refuse to pay interest or principal after January 1888, when he made a payment on the note of $400 and he made a claim for an allowance because of the damage to the property by the bad reputation which it had. The mortgagees not only refused to allow damages, but in March 1889, filed a bill in equity against Butler for the foreclosure of the mortgage.
The mortagee got possession, but through a process of law, the case was reopened in June 1890 and was carried to the Supreme Court. The decision reached, which applies to the damage made by ghosts and by ghostly stories, is seen in the following copy of the record of Rockingham SS, State of New Hampshire. “The case finds that the bad reputation of the dwelling house upon the farm known to Moody Morse at the time of the sale, and unknown to the plaintiff, decreased its value of $300; it was Morse’s duty at the time he sold the farm to tell Butler anything that affected the value of the farm in respect to which Butler did not have equal means of knowledge himself, and when he sold him a house which he knew no one would live in on account of its reputation, and concealed from him this fact, he committed a fraud upon him, and justice requires that the decree of the court should be so modified that these defendants should account to the plaintiff for the sum of $300 and interest from the 28th day of January 1882.”
“The suppression of the truth may be equivalent to express false representation, and a fraud is committed by one person inducing another to enter into a contract by the concealment of material facts which are peculiarly within his own knowledge. In this case, whether anyone believes in ghosts or not, the fact remains that the dwelling house on the farm is reported to be haunted, and, in consequence of its reputation, it is difficult to sell or lease it.”
On the road leading from Nashua to Derry depot, in the town of Londonderry, is the place said to be haunted. The house was built before the Indians quitted Rockingham county. The estate is known as the Barker farm. He recently examined every room, door and window in it. He was encouraged by Butler, who showed him the spot where he stood when he heard the repeated knocks on the door. He was shown the dark and gloomy stairway that leads to an open attick where Butler and several tenants have heard the mysterious footsteps of one of apparently light weight.
A young woman, a member of one family that tried to outlive the mysterious tenants, was so positive that an intruder was up in that room that she let the dog loose and he made haste to the room but found nothing. A neighbor, when on his road to Nashua of a dark and moonless night, believes he has seen an illumination in the house, which could not have proceeded from outside, and as no one was living there at the time the neighbor thinks the light was not of the earth. That Luther Verry of Derry was one of the brief tenants who believes that he heard all that others had reported and more.
George W. Pond of Nashua says he was disturbed greatly in and about the house. At the evening twilight, which standing in the house, he saw a female figure gliding through the air about three feet from the earth, upon his going to the outside door, it vanished; his wife heard distance soundings under her bed. Present neighbors have heard so much of the mysterious visitors and of the legal proceedings of late that they are very shy of any strangers who broach the subject of the haunted house to them. They shut their mouths, shake their heads and seem to fear not only the court of earth, but act as though they were making themselves liable to be summoned to a court having a higher jurisdiction. THE GLOBE reporter carefully approached one neighbor on the all-absorbing theme, but got only, “The court has gin damage for them ghosts,” and a hawkeye shot at his retreating limbs.
The man who sold to Butler never lived in the Barker place. He purchased it for his son, who married a young woman, and they occupied it until she died very suddenly. He married again soon after her mysterious death, since which no one has been able to remain there undisturbed any length of time. The mother of the deceased wife, who lives in another town some miles away, could not restrain tears as she spoke of her daughter. “The deserted house,” she said, “I have never revisited. Whatever may be assigned as the cause of the trouble at that farmhouse, I trust my daughter is beyond the trying scenes which she there endured; but I believe her spirit will rise in judgment some day if it has not already.”
The synopsis of the actual New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling doesn’t mention things that go bump in the night, and in fact is rather dry and non-descript. Read here in “Butler v Morse,” from The New Hampshire Reports, Volume 66, by NH State Supreme Court, June 1891 | and | Butler v. Morse from Atlantic Reporter, Vol 23, 1892.
The newspaper story seems to be pointing a finger at the daughter-in-law of Moody Morse as being the potential ghost. Alice Grace (Burnham) Morse, wife of Moody’s son Robert, did died suddenly in 1876, from peritonitis after giving birth (this was a fairly common cause of death at that time). She was only 23 years old. Her husband didn’t marry right away as the newspaper states, he waited a few years even though he had three young children to bring up. What follows is a bit of Morse family genealogy.
Moody Morse was born 26 Aug 1807 in Derry NH son of Dea. Robert & Alice (Dodge) Morse. He died 6 November 1889; m. 26 Nov 1839 to Hannah Y. Estey. She was b 12 Jan 1817, daughter of John and Sally (Peabody) Estey. In 1880 the 3 daughters of Moody was living with their parents, ie Sarah H. aged 31, Alice, aged 27 and Abbie A. aged 23.
Moody Morse is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, East Derry NH.
Children of Moody & Hannah Y. (Estey) Morse:
1. Joseph Morse b 11 March 1842, d. 10 July 1860
2. Mary Elizabeth Morse, b 14 Jan 1845, d. 18? Jan 1866
3. Sarah H.P. Morse, b. 16 July 1848, died 15 May 1895.
4. +Robert Morse, born 6 May 1851
5. Alice D. Morse b 15 May 1853 Methuen MA; m1) 18 March 1891 at Derry NH to Alfred B. Morrison. He d. 16 Jan 1892. She m2) 24 Dec 1894 Charles Hutchins.
6. Abby/Abbie A., b. 1 June 1857 NH d. 3 Feb 1918 Derry NH.
Robert Morse, son of Moody Morse, born 6 May 1851; He m1) 1872 Alice Grace Burnham, daughter of James & Lucy (Taylor) Burnham. She was born in Windham NH on 1 Sep 1852 and died 3 July 1876, aged 23 years old of peritonitis. leaving children as shown below. ROBERT MORSE married 2d) Nora Matilda Little. She was b abt 1859 in Colebrook NH, daughter of Charles M. & Emma (Smith) Little. In 1930 Robert Morse living with 2nd wife in Brunswick, Cumberland Co. Maine, two grandsons, Ernest E. Washburn and Robert W. Washburn living with him. Alice’s grave is in Forest Hill Cemetery, East Derry NH in the Morse Family plot. Robert Morse and his 2nd wife are buried in Riverside Cemetery, Brunswick Maine.
Children of Robert & Alice G. (Burham) Morse:
1. Annie Belle born 4 Feb 1873, m. 18 March 1901 in Methuen MA to Frank Elroy Mitchell, son of James & Emily A. (Stafford) Mitchell.
2. Ina Grace Morse born 1876 Derry NH, m. 20 Feb 1900 in Chester NH to Oscar M. Lovering, son of Ivory J. & Josie S. (Marden) Lovering.
Children of Robert & Nora M. (Little) Morse:
3. Charles M. Morse born Aug 1882 Maine, d. 18 Oct 1972.
4. Robert Bruce Morse born Feb 1884 Houlton Maine, died 3 July 1927 Conway NH.
5. Gladys Emma Morse, born abt 1885 Litchfield ME, m. 5 Oct 1912 in Lewiston ME to Clyde Washburn, son of Wentworth Washburn.
Does the Morse house still exist? Do the people of Londonderry living near the old Morse farm house still hear unexplained knocking? Who is the restless ghost? So many questions still to be answered. If you discover the truth, please leave a comment.
Happy Halloween. And special thanks to Kirsten H. and Heather W-R of the Londonderry Historical Society for taking the time to discuss this story with me!