The Ghost of Tarkiln

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 Burke.
     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.