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The Ghost Stage Coach of Ramseur

Mary Murkin
Randolph Hub


Picture this: It’s 1786 and you need to travel from Lexington to Raleigh. There are no cars, no trains, no bus lines. What’s left? Horse and carriage? 


Not everyone was financially solvent enough to own a carriage and a team of horses, but thank goodness that a few entrepreneurs created transportation service companies. These companies were the stage coach lines which provided long distance transportation for hire. These companies created regularly scheduled stage coach stops that connected different towns and states to each other.


First and foremost, these stage coach lines usually won the United States mail contracts and then passengers were added for extra revenue. Some stage coach owners also built and owned hotels at each end of a transportation route to cater to their travelers.


The stopping places of these transportation coaches began to be referred to as “stages,” and eventually the name was applied to the vehicles themselves and they became known as stage coaches.


In the early days of North Carolina stage coach lines, a couple of the initial routes were started in the late 1700s. In an 1824 clipping, an ad in a North Carolina newspaper outlined that the 110-mile stage coach ride from Petersburg, North Carolina to Tarboro, North Carolina would leave Petersburg on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 4 a.m. and arrive in Tarboro the following day by 3 p.m. This 23 hour, one-way trip cost $9. A stage coach traveled at a pace of 4-5 mph and was typically attended by a driver and a helper who often carried a shotgun. The helper assisted with the passengers and the team of 2-6 horses. 


Even at the best of times, North Carolina stage coach passenger tickets did not buy comfort. Personal comfort was a stranger to stage coach travel, especially in the early days. 


In colonial times, coaches were simply heavy wagons with crude or nonexistent suspension. Passengers road from dawn to evening on backless, unpadded wooden benches. In inclement weather, passengers received minimal protection from a flat roof mounted on simple support posts with roll-down leather curtains. In fair weather, the side curtains were left open for ventilation and a view, but that meant passengers were subjected to clouds of dust kicked up by the team of horses and by the coach wheels. Whether the curtains were up or down, the inside of a stage coach tended to be freezing in cold weather and stifling in hot weather.


Stage coaches improved over the years, becoming more enclosed as in the egg-shaped box car that we are more used to seeing. Also, padding was at last added to the seats to provide some cushioning. In the early 1800s, they were beginning to try to add a little more comfort to the stage coaches by installing cushioned suspensions (shock absorbers) which were usually made with leather straps.


Even with the incremental improvements made to the stage coach, keep in mind that the smell of 2-6 horses, unkempt/unbathed passengers riding together for a number of days, cramped seating, fear of breakdowns, hostiles and stage coach robberies added to the anxiety of traveling this way. 


After a long day on the coach, travelers had more to fear at their accommodation stop overs. Following spending a long dusty day being jostled about in the coach, the traveler was unlikely to find healthy food and a restful night at a stage stopover. North Carolina accommodations were notoriously difficult. Women travelers were often crammed into one room, while males slept two to a bed. Personal hygiene was accomplished, to the extent possible, at a horse trough in the stage yard. The food was commonly described as unpalatable.


The “roads” (a misnomer) generally followed the most easily accessed natural contours of the land with a few rocks pushed out of the way by hand here and there. The quality and speed of travel in our state improved greatly for the stage coach when newly constructed plank roads started emerging across North Carolina in the 1840s.


Even with all of the inconveniences outlined above about this mode of travel, it was still considered quite a benefit to have this kind of transportation available. Travelers who came here from England had quite a noticeably different experience riding our stage coaches versus their stage coaches in their home country. The road systems in England had been worked on and had witnessed many upgrades in their quality long before we had that here in the “New World” of America.


In the spring of 2015, I had a very interesting experience that really peaked my interest in stage coaches in the early days here in North Carolina.


That spring, my oldest brother and his wife came up for a visit from Florida. One of the afternoons while they were visiting, I asked them if they would like to ride with me and my two kids out to rural Ramseur to search for a very historic little cemetery that dated back to the 1700s. They were very willing to go on this adventure with us as they loved historic cemeteries as much as I did.  


For the life of me, I cannot remember who I had learned about the cemetery from, nor do I currently even remember the directions or location of this cemetery.


The further we drove, and the more turns and lanes and gravel driveways we went down, we began to realize that we were now on private property. Still feeling a sense of adventure, we decided to forge forward in a very careful and respectful manner.


We finally found the little cemetery and got out of my car to begin looking around at the headstones. Some of the dates we could make out were from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Some of the headstones were so old,that the dates were unreadable.  


While we were looking at these interesting markers, a lady approached us from out of nowhere and began talking to us. She told us that she lived nearby. After a few minutes of visiting, she shared with us a story of something that she experienced quite often up there in this location. She told us that occasionally, late at night, when all was quiet, she could hear from far away the sound of horses hooves galloping and the sound of old wooden wheels rolling across ground. She described that the sound would come closer and closer while getting louder and louder and eventually proceed on past her with the sound getting quieter and quieter until eventually she could hear it no more. 


She had shared with us that in the research that she had been able to do, she learned that there had once been a stage coach trail out there in that part of the county. She said that some area old-timers who had also heard this same phenomenon explained to her that what they were hearing was a ghost stage coach.  


That means the energy of that thing that was happening was held in time, or rather recorded in time where that energy would play over and over again like a recorded loop. 


If you are ever out in rural Ramseur late at night, somewhere before the Chatham County line, listen closely to see if you can hear the sound of that old ghost stage coach making its regular ride through that area.