The Mysterious Moving Coffins of Barbados
This story is one of the most famous ghost stories and is featured in most books about the paranormal. The story revolves around the Chase family Vault near Oistins, Barbados.
The crypt was built in the early 18th century by the Waldrons, a wealthy sugar plantation family. The vault was cut from the rocks that form the island. On 31st July 1807 the crypt received its first occupant, Mrs. Thomasina Goddard. She was buried in a wooden coffin and a large marble slab was used to seal off the entrance. Soon afterwards ownership of the crypt passed to the Chase family, who were another wealthy plantation family. The family patriarch was Colonel Thomas Chase, a man with the reputation of having a bad temper and a propensity for cruelty to his slaves and family alike.
The first Chase burial was that of Mary Anna Maria Chase, who died at age 2 and was interred on 22nd February 1808 in a leaden coffin. Dorcas Chase, her older sister, followed on 6th July 1812, also in a leaden coffin. It was rumoured that she had slowly starved herself to death due to stress from her overbearing father. A month later, Colonel Chase himself died. He was buried in the vault on August 9th in a wooden coffin placed inside a leaden one.
When Colonel Chase's coffin was taken down into the vault, the pallbearers noticed that the two leaden coffins already in the tomb were not where they had been left a month earlier. Mary Anna's coffin was lying upside-down in the opposite corner from where it had been placed. The workers returned the coffins to their side-by-side positions and left that of Colonel Chase next to them. The smaller coffin of Mary Anna was placed on top of one of the larger ones and the resealed with its heavy marble door.
At this point, the moving of the coffin was blamed on the slaves who had assisted in the burials. The alleged cruelty of Colonel Chase toward his servants offered an easy revenge motive.
The crypt was opened again on the 25th of September 1816 for the burial of Master Samuel Brewster Ames and again on 17th November for Samuel Brewster.The Reverend Thomas Orderson, Rector of Christ Church, was on hand along with a magistrate and two other men. On both occasions, the coffins had been moved, the second time with such force that Mrs Goddard's coffin was almost destroyed.
The Reverend Doctor ordered the vault thoroughly inspected for cracks in the walls, floor, ceiling, or hidden entrances and the crypt proved to be as solid as the day it was built. The coffins were put back how they were and the door sealed with mortar.
On the 7th July 1819, the tomb was reopened to receive the body of Miss Thomasina Clarke. Word of the moving coffins had spread and many people turned up to witness the opening, including the Governor, Sir Stapleton Cotton, Viscount Combermere. When the heavy marble door was removed, once again the coffins had been rearranged.
Again, the structure was examined and proved to contain no secret passages, cracks in the walls or any other way inside apart from the main doorway.
This time the coffins were rearranged with the addition of Miss Thomasina Clarke and the floor sanded with fine white sand. The door was placed back into its position and mortared in place. When the masons had completed their task, the Governor made several impressions in the mixture with his own seal, and many of those attending added various private marks in the wet mortar.
Over the next year there were numerous reports of rumblings inside the crypt, and on 18th April 1820, an impatient Governor Combermere decided to open the crypt and resolve the matter once and for all. The crypt was examined from the outside, with no obvious signs of tampering, weakness or entry. The mortar seal was examined and was intact and those who had made marks in the mortar were satisfied that they too were untouched. As the door was being pulled away, a coarse, grating sound came from within the crypt. As they leant in to look, they saw the coffin containing the body of Dorcas Chase leaning against the door. The small coffin of Mary Anna Maria Chase, inside the tomb for 12 years, had been flung so violently against the left side wall that it had chipped away a piece of it. The rest of the coffins had been disturbed in a similarly chaotic manner. The sand covering the floor offered no trace of anything at all.
...I examined the walls, the arch, and every part of the Vault, and found every part old and similar; and a mason in my presence struck every part of the bottom with his hammer, and all was solid. I confess myself at a loss to account for the movements of these leaden coffins. Thieves certainly had no hand in it; and as for any practical wit or hoax, too many were requisite to be trusted with the secret for it to remain unknown; and as for Negroes having anything to do with it, their superstitious fear of the dead and everything belonging to them precludes any idea of the kind. All I know is that it happened and that I was an eye-witness of the fact...
The Honourable Nathan Lucas, April 18th, 1820
The Chase Vault was immediately emptied and its occupant's given separate burials elsewhere in the cemetery and it remains empty, and quiet, to this day.
Last updated on: Saturday 17th June 2017