Retold by Dennis Adams, Information Services Coordinator (Retired), written for the Beaufort County Library website in 2007 and re-posted with minimal editing by Beaufort District Collection Manager, Grace Morris Cordial, MLS, SL, CA on 26 October 2016.
Beaufort County has its own rich store of folklore, including ghost tales. Here is just one of the best-known local stories:
In 1562, Jean Ribaut and his Huguenots came from France, founding the colony of Charlesfort on what is now Parris Island. Though conditions were harsh, the legend includes among the new arrivals a dwarf named Gauche (or Guenache), a jester by trade. There are several accounts of his death: he may have fallen to disease; a Captain Albert may have had him hanged once Ribaut was away; and Gauche may even have kept his mates-turned-cannibals alive on the tragic sea voyage away from the failed colony. One version tells that Gauche was among three colonists killed in brawls during an unusually cold winter in Charlesfort. The Danner family of Beaufort said that the restless spirit of Gauche himself told them that he was killed with a pike in a fracas, not in Charlesfort but close to the Danner’s home (“The Castle”), miles from the colony.
In The Beaufort Chronicles, Roger Pinckney gives the ghost a new homeland and another destiny, placing him in a different century altogether: the dwarf is “Grenauche le Griffien”, Portuguese by birth, who died in 1709 during a Yamasee Indian raid. Whatever his mortal fate, the dwarf never would never see his birthplace again.
No documents have survived to confirm that a Huguenot dwarf ever sailed with Jean Ribaut to North America. Some people claim that it is through far more mysterious evidence that Monsieur Gauche has made his presence known, hundreds of years after the French colony fell.
His ghost is still said to inhabit “The Castle” (411 Craven Street, Beaufort), a home built in the 1850s by Dr. Joseph Johnson. When Federal troops occupied Beaufort in 1861, the still-unfinished Castle became a military hospital. The outbuilding did duty as a morgue, and the grounds surrounding the house may very well have served as a graveyard. Did these macabre circumstances draw the spirit of the Huguenot ghost from his own grave and bring him to the Johnson House?
“The Castle,” 411 Craven Street, Beaufort, SC Photograph by Dennis Adams (August 7, 2002)
Soon after the house was completed, the gardeners reported many apparitions. The doctor himself said that he once saw the dwarf walk outside the house. Johnson’s daughter, Mrs. Lily Danner, was reported to have said that she saw the specter of Gauche many times when she was a child. The wrinkled old elf of a ghost would join Lily at the tea parties that she held for her dolls in the basement of “The Castle,” dressed in his colorful jester’s blouse, hose stockings, pointed shoes, and cap and bells.
In a June 1940 interview in Harper’s Bazaar magazine, however, a “Mrs. Danner” (no first name given) attested that Gauche himself was never really visible, but that it was “only by table tipping that we find him. Whoever taps, it’s always the same person who answers.” The ghost taps out coded messages in 16th-Century French and, according to Mrs. Danner, ” … always swears and uses words the same way. He has no opinion of anyone. He called one of the family a hellion one night. She never listened in after that.” Mrs. Danner’s brother called Gauche “a rough little customer” who “always swears” and “has no opinion of anyone.” Houseguests have reported that Gauche is something of a poltergeist: He moves furniture and opens and closes doors in the night, all to the sound of bells.
The Danners had trouble understanding Gauche at first. Only by writing down the tapping code and finding someone who could translate Gauche’s archaic French could they eventually communicate with the ghost. In Tales of Beaufort, Nell S. Graydon told of how Gauche spoke out (in English) to a Castle house guest one stormy evening. Here is a “transcript” of that conversation:
GAUCHE: This is Gauche.
GUEST: What are you doing here?
GAUCHE: I live here — in the cellar.
GAUCHE: It reminds me of my English home that I will never enter again.
GUEST: Will you let me see you?
GAUCHE: No, I do not show myself to fools.
Other houseguests, however, have seen a wisp of fog or mist rise out of the tidal creek beside the house just after a chilling breeze blew past. The wisp would move slowly toward the Castle, take human form, then disappear into the night. The ghost has reportedly left his red hand prints on the house’s windows as well.
This writer tried to contact Gauche during an evening stroll along the Castle’s fence. I called out an expression of François Rabelais (1494-1553), the ghost’s compatriot and near-contemporary. “Fay ce que vouldras” — “Do what thou wilt” seemed the perfect taunt for the irascible Gauche. I spoke, then waited, but never got the slightest reply. If Gauche really were listening, he may have had the same opinion of me as of that earlier houseguest: “I do not show myself to fools.”
More recently (in 1969, to be precise), Gauche was suspected of stealing supper from the Danners one evening (and at a neighbor’s house the very next night). Read that story in tomorrow’s post about the “Roast Ghost.”
“The Castle” in Tales of Beaufort by Nell S. Graydon, Beaufort Book Shop, 1963.
“They Still Come Back,” by Marion Lowndes, Harper’s Bazaar, June 1940.
The Beaufort Chronicles: Old Houses, Old Stories by Roger Pinckney, Pluff Mud Publishing, 1996.
“The Lowcountry’s Haunted Houses and Other Strange Bumps in the Night” by Renée Wright, Beaufort Magazine, vol. 1, #2, Fall 1992.
Learn more about the specters here by visiting our Research Room and perusing our vertical files.Please check the Library system’s homepage for current hours of operation and locations.
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