Introduction: In this article, Melissa Davenport Berry searches old newspapers and digs into historical records to learn about the ghosts haunting Dent’s Palace in Maryland. Melissa is a genealogist who has a blog, AnceStory Archives, and a Facebook group, New England Family Genealogy and History.
During the 1960s the Barnett family of Dentsville, Maryland, made headlines from reports of nebulous sightings and strange tapping sounds in their home “Dent’s Palace.” The bogey crew haunting the house: a Continental Army officer; one young female; a Confederate soldier; and one yellow feline.
To find out more, I searched GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. For example, one article published in the Evening Star in 1960 by Jim Birchfield was quite entertaining. I also did some digging into the Maryland Archives and historic preservation records on the home.
Arnold William Barnett purchased Dent’s Palace in 1958 with his wife Lillian Bowling Middleton Barnett, one of Maryland’s biggest socialites. She was known around the circles as “Cotton Tops” or “Cotton” because of her sparkling taffy hair. Her mother Mary (Mrs. Swaim) lived with the family. The mother-daughter team opened the home for garden parties and occasional historic tours for the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The “palace” is a 12-room brick mansion built about 1720, and the grounds had the setting for a good haunt – which included a family burial plot dated before the American Revolution. The original locks, doors, and floors were still intact, and Cotton never made renovations because she did not want to disturb “housemates.” The Barnett’s children (William, Beverly, Robert, and Chris) either witnessed the specters or felt a presence.
According to Cotton, at least two ghosts were explainable, and she had “familial” ties to the phantoms. Her ancestor Martha Burch married the builder of the home, Captain Hezekiah Dent, in 1774. Cotton identified one apparition who visited frequently as Ann Dent Bean, Hezekiah and Martha’s youngest daughter, who “is buried in the family burying ground nearby.” Cotton said:
“The ghost’s clothing seems to be of that period, and she resembles descriptions of Ann. She has appeared in several different dresses, and she always has her head covered by something resembling a scarf.”
Cotton first saw the ghost in the kitchen. Cotton’s mother Mary said of another ghostly visit:
“I, too, was in the kitchen, when I saw this girl standing beside the dining room table. She had a scarf over her head, and her hair looked as if it had been blown by the wind.”
Cotton’s son Robert spotted the ghost in the stairway one morning. Robert said:
“She was standing by the stair-rail. She was just standing there, and she had on a long white dress. Her head was covered, just like when the others saw her. I was wide awake, ready to go hunting deer when I looked out of my bedroom door, and there she was.”
Ann’s husband Thomas Owen Bean acquired the property in 1826. Cotton claimed Ann died in the home from childbirth about 1839; however, records show that Anne died in 1877. A daughter, Amelia, died in the home in 1840 at age 19; I found her obituary in the National Intelligencer. She had returned home from a long absence at school and became ill for many weeks before succumbing.
With a revival of interest in folklore in the 1970s, especially in the area of witches and ghosts, Philip Love of the Evening Star covered the spectral appearances in Dent’s Palace and interviewed the family in 1971.
Love’s article covered all four of the Dent’s Palace ghosts. Of the first ghost, he wrote:
Which brave Dent hero was feeling a little chilly on the other side? It is hard to say – many brave Dent heroes were known to be hot-tempered patriots and fought in the Revolutionary War.
About Ann (or Anne), the second ghost, Love wrote:
Love reported this about the third “human” ghost, the Confederate soldier:
Love also wrote about the fourth ghost – the “non-human” ghost – a cat:
With four ghosts roaming their house, wasn’t the family frightened? Apparently not, as Cotton explained:
- Writer Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Real-Life ‘Ghost Story’
- It’s Haunted! The Ghosts at the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Mansion
- Lillian Bowling Middleton Barnett (1918-2011), daughter of Arthur Joseph Middleton (1887-1982) and Mary Ethel Burch Swaim (1889-1982), daughter of James Wiley Burch (1855-1917) and Mary Caroline “Carrie” Gardiner (1856-1898), a descendant of Richard Gardiner of the Charles County militia.
Notable Ancestors and Kinfolks
- Thomas Dent, first settler, sheriff, and member of the Lower House of the Maryland General Assembly.
- Captain John Herbert Dent (1782-1823), an officer in the United States Navy during the Quasi-War, the First Barbary War, the War of 1812. He was acting captain on the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) during the attacks on Tripoli in 1804.
- Reverend Hatch Dent Jr. was commissioned an ensign in Smallwood’s battalion. A third lieutenant in the Ninth Company (Light Infantry) of the First Maryland Regiment, he fought in the Battle of Long Island and was captured by the enemy. He spent several grueling months in one of the infamous British prison ships in Wallabout Bay. In 1777, he was promoted to captain in the Second Maryland Regiment. After the war, he became an eminent teacher and minister of the Church, having been ordained by Bishop Seabury in 1785.
- George Dent served as first lieutenant of the militia of Charles and St. Mary’s Counties under Captain Thomas H. Marshall, and as first lieutenant in the Third Battalion of the Flying Camp Regular Troops of Maryland in 1776. He was also appointed a captain in the Twenty-sixth Battalion of the Maryland Militia in 1778. After the war, he served as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates and the Maryland Senate.
- Julia Boggs Dent (Col. Frederick Fayette Dent and Ellen Bray Wrenshall) descended from Peter Dent (1693-1757) and Mary Brooke Dent (1709-1781) of Maryland. Married to Civil War Union Lieutenant General and 18th U.S. President Ulysses Simpson Grant. Julia introduced James Longstreet, son of James and Mary Anne Dent Longstreet, to Maria Louise Garland. Married in Lynchburg, Virginia, on 8 March 1848.
- Dent Family Cemetery
- Dent House: historical records comprised by the Maryland Historical Trust
- Southern Maryland Obituary for Lillian Bowling Middleton Barnett
- Dent’s Palace: The Record Historical Society of Charles County, Inc., No. 3, September 1981, by Olga S. Hamer
- Descendants of Captain John Dent
- Collamer, Newton L., ed. “The Dent Family in America.” The Historical Bulletin: Devoted to Genealogy, Patriotism and Historical Research, Volume VII (1905)
- Commemorative Biographical Record of Tolland and Windham Counties, Connecticut: Containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens and of many of the Early Settled Families, Volume 1, Chicago: J. H. Beers, 1903
- Lloyd, Daniel Boone. The Middletons and Kindred Families of Southern Maryland. Bethesda, Md.: the author, 1975
- Love, Philip. “Three Ghosts, or Is It Four?” Toledo Blade, 24 January 1972
- Newman, Wright Harry. Charles County Gentry: A Genealogical History of Six Emigrants – Thomas Dent, John Dent, Richard Edelen, John Hanson, George Newman, Humphrey Warren. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1940
- Okonowicz, Ed. The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories, Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2010
- Ullmann, Helen Schatvet. Colony of Connecticut, Minutes of the Court of Assistants, 1669-1711. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2009