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6 November 2008, JellyBean @ 12:16 pm

This is supposedly a true story which was told by Elaine Forman Crane, a history professor at Fordham University.

In the 1790’s there lived a man by the name of Thomas Harris. He was a farmer from Queen Anne’s County in Maryland. During his life he had a lover named Ann Goldsborough who bore him four illegitimate children. One day Thomas died and his brother was put in charge of his estate.

One of the duties of his brother was to sell all of Harris’ property and to give the cash to the four children. His brother however decided to keep the money.

Harris’ best friend was a man named William Briggs who told the brother that the money should be transferred to the children. Before this could even be discussed, the brother died, leaving the money to his wife. When approached about the money, the wife also refused to part with it.


The children decided that the only recourse left was to file a lawsuit against the wife and called on William Briggs to testify on their behalf.

Briggs testified that on several ocassions, he had spoken to the ghost of Thomas Harris. The ghost, he said, was insistent that the money was meant to go to the children and that both his brother and his sister-in-law had no right to keep the money.

The case’s depositions, filings and judgment are nowhere to be found, so it is unclear on what the court’s decision was. It was however used about a decade afterwards for political gain. The Federal party used the case to try and disgrace the opposing Republican party.

Having ghosts “testify” in cases was not all that uncommon, although this case was probably one of the last. During the 1700’s, ghosts were often used in court – predominantly in civil cases. Earlier in the 1600’s ghosts were even called on to give evidence in criminal cases.

“I’m interested in the way people and the law interact,” said Crane, who is working on a book on the legal culture of early America. “Ghosts were as real to them as the people in this room.”

Courier Times: When testimony from ghosts was admissible

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