Saturday, October 5, 2019

A Haunted Heritage Strange Sightings and Sounds at Ancestral Home

My story published Halloween  Genealogy Magazine
The Barnett family made headlines at Dent’s Palace in Dentsville, Maryland. Reports of nebulous sightings and strange tapping sounds were coming from a Continental Army officer, a young woman, a peg-legged Confederate, and one yellow cat.

According to the Barnetts, the ghosts are explainable and have a connection to the home. The Continental Army officer was from the ancestral seat of one of Southern Maryland’s prominent early settlers, John Dent (1709-1791), who built the home. He married Mary Hatch, daughter of Captain John Hatch. The apparition of the young woman is believed to be the Dents’ granddaughter, Ann Dent Bean, the youngest daughter of Captain Hezekiah Dent.

The Confederate soldier, according to local lore, died while he was given refuge at Dent’s Palace. As for the cat, no one was sure, but it was definitely a paranormal stray. Until then, the most celebrated ghost in the neighborhood was known as Blue Dog.

Dent’s Palace hostess Lillian Bowling Middleton Barnett (1918-2011), nicknamed "Cotton Tops" or "Cotton" because of her sparkling taffy hair, was one of Maryland’s biggest socialites. She was the daughter of Arthur Joseph Middleton and Mary Ethel Burch (Swaim).

Lillian was an artist, antique collector, and a history buff. Her mother, Mary, came who came to live with the family, was the daughter of Mary Caroline "Carrie" Gardiner, a descendant of Richard Gardiner of the Charles County militia. The mother-daughter team opened the home for garden parties and occasional historic tours for the Daughters of the American Revolution and other organizations.

Lillian and her husband, Arnold William Barnett, purchased Dent’s Palace in 1958. Their four children either witnessed the specters or felt a presence. Also, a maid who reported sightings was featured in one of the newspaper stories.

The estate was big enough for everyone, even for the spirited whiskers who Lillian told reporters spent most of his time in the dining room. The estate was a beautiful 12-room brick mansion and the grounds had the setting for a good haunt— a burial plot dated before the Revolution. The home was built in 1720 and two additions dating 1730 and 1750 made it a “telescope structure.”

The original locks, doors, and floors were still intact. The Barnetts never made renovations as they did not want to disturb their “housemates.”

In 1972, the family told a reporter that the peg-legged Confederate was the first to make contact and was not shy about it. On the first night in their new home, he made a persistent shuffle, tap, shuffle, tap sound. They assumed the tapping code was the wooden leg. The soldier allegedly died on the third floor from a battle wound.

The tall officer in the Continental Army uniform visited often and was usually hanging around the fire “gazing pensively into the flames.” Which brave Dent hero was feeling a little chilly on the other side? It’s hard to say, but during their lifetime they were hot-tempered patriots and fought in the Revolutionary War.

Captain Hezekiah Dent received his commission in 1777, as First Lieutenant of Captain Isaac McPherson's Company of the Lower Battalion of Charles County Militia. In 1779, he was raised to Captain of the 12th Battalion of Militia.

Hezekiah’s widow, Martha, sold the property to their youngest daughter, Ann, who married Thomas O. Bean. Ann died in childbirth in 1839 at age 28. Her spirit, often spotted near the kitchen, had encounters with Lillian and her mother on more than one occasion.

Lillian noted the spirit’s extensive wardrobe in one interview with reporter Jim Birchfield in the Evening Star Washington in 1960. “She appeared in several different dresses,” Lillian said, “and she always had her hair covered by something resembling a scarf.”

No one in the Barnett home were spooked or wanted to move. Lillian, whose art studio was on the top floor, told the press, “Our ghosts are not poltergeist—they’re nice and friendly!” However, Lillian may have felt more at home communing with dead. Her Burch ancestor married a Dent from the homestead. That would be Captain Hezekiah Dent and Martha Burch, daughter of John Burch and Mary Ann Burch, who married in 1774.

Now are you getting chills?

Notable Kinfolks

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 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.


  • 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.
  • Hamer, Olga S. “Dent’s Place, Part 1.” The Record, Number 23 (1981). 
  • 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, January 24, 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.

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