The Haunted and Historical Moore House at Yorktown Battlefield
At 10 o’clock on the morning of October 17, 1781, a British drummer beating a “parley,” and a British officer with a flag of truce, mounted a parapet south of Yorktown. The allies saw the signal, and soon the incessant, devastating artillery fire ceased. A hushed stillness fell over the field. Lord Cornwallis, realizing the defeat of his army was inevitable, sent a handwritten note to Washington:
“Sir, I propose a cessation of hostilities for twenty-four hours, and that two officers may be appointed by each side, to meet at Mr. Moore’s house, to settle terms for the surrender of the posts of York and Gloucester.”
The Moore House, located on the Yorktown Battlefield, was not always a museum, though it is for good reason. There is so much history in the two-story Colonial style home, from the 50 owners to some of the Revolutionary War and Civil War battles that basically took place in the back yard!
In 1730, a man by the name of Lawrence Smith II owned a 500 acre plantation, which he called “Temple Run”, and built a large, family home. Smith passed in 1954, and his son Robert inherited the plantation – because of financial difficulty in 1760, he was soon forced to sell the 500 acre property to his brother-in-law Augustine Moore. Moore was a successful merchant, married, with one son, Augustine Moore Jr. Though the plantation was not in any of the direct battles, Augustine Moore Jr. was shot and killed by a stray bullet while working in the family fields (he was also technically the last person killed during the American Revolutionary War).
The Moore House became a point of significance on October 18, 1781, Washington and Cornwallis focused on the surrender negotiations taking place at this house. The Moore House was a meeting place for commissioners assigned to draft the Articles of Capitulation which were accepted and signed by Cornwallis on the following day. “The ‘Articles of Capitulation’ was completed with 14 provisions, including two conditions that denied the British the ‘full honors of war’. These two articles required that at the surrender ceremony, the British army would case their regimental flags, and their military band would play British music instead of professionally saluting the victor with American and French songs.” (For more info, click here!) Cornwallis and Washington sent their second-in-commands on the actual day of the surrender, instead of personally attending. This surrender ended the Siege of Yorktown in an American victory – the last major military engagement of the American Revolutionary War. After losing his only son, Augustine Moore did get to witness the British signing the surrender conditions at his home.
“A local merchant by the name of John Turner, came to watch the shelling of the British Army in Yorktown just days before they surrendered. He was wounded as a result of the shelling and died in his wife’s arms. There was nothing she could do to save him. John Turner’s remains are buried in the Moore House family graveyard” (For more info, click here!)
Following the death of Moore’s son and wife (Lucy, in 1797), he ended up selling the house, and from there, the house was passed into the hands of many other owners. In the result of other wars fought around the house, many families fled for safety.
The house went through many structural changes during its 50-some owners since 1730. The worst damage came from not-so-accurate shell fires from Union forces on Wormley Creek, and the Confederate front lines located in Yorktown, during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign of the Civil War. The soldiers also took what they could carry from the house – like siding and useable wood – to build fires, rendering the Moore House unlivable.
By the 150th anniversary of the surrender, the house was completely dilapidated. In 1931, the National Park Service renovated and restored the Moore House to it’s original 1781 condition, taking a staggering three years to complete.
It is said that appearances of the entities of Augustine Moore Jr., John Turner, and his grief-stricken wife have haunted the Moore House since the National Park Service restored the house. Their presence has been noted as friendly, and like a good host, oversee the tours of the house. Sheets on the bed of the master bedrooms of the master bedroom and the bedrooms on the second floor look like they have been slept in. In the parlor is a red velvet chair, which had a depression on the seat, looking as though someone was sitting in the chair, enjoying the atmosphere.