|by Thomas M. D'Agostino
Historic Blackstone Valley
ranks among the nation’s most important places in the growth of our
great country. The region’s history is illustrious with great founders
and inventors that helped shape the communities we live in today. When
one mentions Blackstone Valley, it conjures up images of factories and
commerce along the river named after the first white settler to the
area, Reverend William Blackstone. They often tend to shade from their
mind the beautiful scenic back roads, woodland, and farms that still
command most of the areas domain. There is another side of the
surrounding area that many leave for dark nights when the dim light of
the lantern flame dances on the wall and shadows pass silently along the
outer expanse of the room.
Yes, it is the ghosts of the Valley. There are
many tales and accounts of haunted houses, graveyards, wooded areas, and
factories all ripe with history and restless spirits.
One of the most famous accounts is the story of Hannah Franke and John
Back in the early nineteenth century there
lived an Indian maiden named Hannah Franke who was a housekeeper for
Amasa E. Walmsley. They lived in the Tar-Kiln section of Burrillville,
Rhode Island. At that time Tar-Kiln was a very busy place having four
factories, a tannery, a gristmill, a bank, and even the biggest library
and best schoolhouse in all Burrillville. For a small back-wooded area,
Tar-Kiln boasted about two hundred people strong. This number hasn't
really changed all that much over the last two centuries.
A peddler from Vermont named John Burke would
wander through the prosperous little hamlet selling his wares to the
townsfolk. That is when he met Hannah Franke. He immediately fell in
love with the Indian maiden and a courtship followed. The Walmsley
brothers, being full-blooded Indian themselves dissented the mixed
relationship and forbade Hannah to see John Burke. At one point they
even forced him from their property.
This did not deter the peddler, who though infrequent to the area,
remained persistent in his conviction giving her a token of his
affection on every visit. One of the gifts was a beautiful shell
necklace that Hannah swore she would never remove from her neck. Soon
after, John Burke was at Hannah’s door with a proposal of marriage.
Hannah graciously accepted and the Walmsley brothers became infuriated.
They hid their anger from the two for they had other plans that were
more evil than one could ever imagine.
On September 18, 1831, the couple made ready to
leave for Vermont. The Walmsley brothers gave them a small celebration
with much drink and merriment. The couple then left for Log Road. When
they got to the corner of Log Road and Horse Head Trail, the two
brothers overtook them and brutally beat them. John Burke ran east down
the trail for a few hundred yards but was caught and beheaded with an
ax. They then caught up to Hannah who had run in the other direction and
shot her with a shotgun. In the scuffle, her beloved necklace was ripped
from her neck and lost in the woods. She crawled up against a great pine
tree where she was later found by searchers.
The evil deed attracted national attention and
soon it was discovered who had carried out such a terrible act against
the loving couple. The truth came out when Mr. J.D. Nichols coerced his
housekeeper, a sister of the
||Walmsleys, to come clean.
Amasa Walmsley was arrested for the murders. His brother died in a fall
from an oxcart before he could be brought to justice. The couple was
given a proper burial by friends and neighbors on the spot where they
found the Indian maiden.
Two field stones were shaped to resemble grave
stones and smoothed on one side. The stones still sit to this day among
the brush five hundred feet west of Log Road across from the WLKW towers
on private property.
On April 3, 1832, Amasa E. Walmsley was sentenced by Chief Justice Eddy
to “be Hanged By The Neck TILL YOU ARE DEAD! And may God have mercy on
your soul.” On June 1, 1832, the sentence was carried out near Fields
Point in Providence. It was the first hanging carried out by the state
of Rhode Island.
Although the couple has long been buried, it
seems that Hannah still does not rest. Many of the local swain have seen
her ghost roaming the woods in search of her lost love and necklace.
Residents say they have witnessed her ghost during various hours of the
day and night. A few of the members at the Woonsocket Sportsman’s
Club, which is now located on Horse Head Trail have attested to seeing
the Indian maiden’s spirit wandering around the woods near the trail
as if in search of something. When they confront the apparition it
vanishes before their eyes.
Lifetime resident Beth Williams encountered the
spirit several times while on the old trail. The first time it scared
the wits out of her and a cousin she was with. After that she got
accustomed to the idea of the ghost and even dubbed her “The Indian
Princess.” She would witness the wraith several more times while
residing in the area.My wife and I have visited the area numerous times
as we live in one of the historic homes of Tar-Kiln (now pronounced
Tarkiln). Several times we took voice recordings in the woods near the
trail and even pictures but unfortunately there was no evidence of
Hannah Franke’s ghost in any of the recordings or photographs. The
only uncanny experience I witnessed was while taking pictures in the
woods. As I focused the camera a loud whisper came from directly behind
me and I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I spun quickly
but there was nothing there. It was late afternoon and the woods are
sparse enough where there is no cover for a person to hide so quickly.
There was no noise to the figure I thought I saw. The whisper seemed to
sound like it said, “My Justice.” I later thought it could have been
the Indian maiden saying, “My Necklace.” I was not sure of the
actual diction as it happened so fast and left me briefly taken aback.
As I later researched the records of the case I found that in the 1832
sentencing, Hannah’s name is not mentioned. Perhaps it had come out
that the brother of Amasa, whose name was also never mentioned, was the
one who killed her with the shotgun. He died before they were caught.
This would account for why he was hanged for the murder of John Burke
only. It could also account for the voice in the woods that seemed to
say “My Justice.” Gives you something to think about.
If it was the spirit of Hannah Franke I encountered that day, then I am
one of the many who have witnessed the Indian ghost who is doomed to
eternally roam the woods of Tarkiln in search of her lost suitor and
beloved necklace. She is now an embraced figure in the eyes of the
locals who will on occasion watch for the Indian maiden wandering the
woods in search for the two things that brought her happiness and
tragically, an early departure.