Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia & Western North Carolina
A mysterious specter of a lady in white is said to haunt the riverbank near historic Rotherwood Mansion in Mount Carmel, which is itself supposed to be haunted by a spectral black dog and the ghost of later owner Joshua Phipps.
According to The Kingsport Times article "Romantic History Surrounds Rotherwood, Spot of Beauty” from 02/26/1933, the present mansion was built in 1850 by Rowena’s father, Reverend Frederick Augustus Ross (1796 – 1883), for his daughter Rowena Ross (1824 – 1860), the supposed ghost. The article continues as describing her as:
The wonderful beauty and attractiveness of this Rowena Ross constitute one of Kingsport’s most beautiful legends. She was
named Rowena for the blonde Saxon heroine of Ivanhoe, but her father himself said in his memoirs, “Rebecca, the Jewess,
would better have suited my daughter’s style of beauty.” She had [black] hair and [brown] eyes, with all the beauty and grace of
that romantic era embodied in her supple little form. (The Kingsport Times)
In his book 1992 book Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee, author Charles Edwin Price proposes that the reason Rowena supposedly haunts the riverbank is because she watched her first fiancé drown from it.
Rowena had been out of school only two years when she became engaged to a young man from a neighboring
community. The day before the wedding, guests arrived in drives, staying at Rotherwood and other homes in the area. The
occasion was a festive time for everyone. Kingsport’s princess was to marry her Prince Charming in the social event of the
season. All the local gentry wanted to be on hand.
The afternoon before the wedding, Rowena’s Younce fiancé and several friends embarked on a fishing trip in a small
boat on the Holston River. Almost directly in front of the house, and in plain sight of Rowena, the flimsy vessel capsized.
Rowena hurried down the hill toward the fisherman floundering in the water, but she was too late. All were saved except for her
fiancé. An hour later, his sodden body was pulled from the murky water.
The tragedy greatly affected Rowena. She became [semi-reclusive]. Two years late, she pulled herself together enough
to marry a wealthy man from Knoxville. Soon after the marriage, he died of yellow fever. Ten years later, Rowena once again
reached for happiness, this time marrying Edward Temple of Huntsville, Alabama. This marriage yielded one child, a daughter
Rowena named after her mother, and it appeared that stability had finally come into her life. But when her daughter was six or
seven years old, Rowena committed suicide. It was not long after that when “the Lady in White” began to be seen at
Rotherwood. (Price, p. 19)
Price does not mention the purposed fiancé’s name because this tragic tale never actually happened. Her father does not record anything like the alleged event in his autobiography The Autobiography of Reverend Frederick Augustus Ross, D.D., in Letters to a Lady of Knoxville, Tennessee (Mrs. Juliet Park White), Huntsville, Alabama, 1862-1863.
In time she became the wife of Edward Temple, of Knoxville. The union was not long. Mr. [Temple] died of Yellow fever in New
Orleans; and a few years after her second marriage with Wescom Hudgins, she herself ended her bright life in Huntsville,
[Alabama]. I may add Rowena left one child, Theodosia Ross Temple, now Mrs. John S. Reed, of Huntsville, [Alabama]. She
had given to her even more than the mother's advantages, and became as great a light in my family is happily married and
lives near me in an adjoining street. (Kingsport Times-News)
According to Zella Armstrong’s book The History of Hamilton County and Chattanooga, Tennessee, Vol. 1, the marriage to Wescom took place in 1854 in Hamilton County, Tennessee.
The story of the ghost of Rowena ended up in many books, including Haunted Places: the National Directory: Ghostly Abodes, Sacred Sites, UFO Landings, and Other Supernatural Locations by Dennis William Hauck in 2009, Haunted Kingsport: Ghosts of Tri-City Tennessee by Pete Dykes in 2008 and Haunted Houses by Corinne May Botz in 2010.
It is possible that the “lady in white” is remnant Scot-Irish or Germanic folklore. In these cultures, these ghostly images are often associated with pools and springs. In fact, Frederick Ross’ son, Charles G. Ross, placed a spring on the bank of the north fork of Holster River in “The Romantic Story of Rotherwood as Told by Charles G. Ross, Son of Reverend Frederick A. Ross” in The Kingsport Times on 10/01/1924.
Legends abound Rotherwood do not stop with the lady in white. The next owner, Joshua Phipps, Esq. (1802 – 1861), is said to haunt the current mansion and sometimes appear on the grounds as a malicious black ghost dog.
The same Kingsport Times article from 02/26/1933 documents that Phipps purchased the plantation in 1852 when Frederick Ross lost the estate when cotton and silk manufacturing proved unsuccessful. Folklore records Joshua as a very cruel slave-owner, as recorded in Charles Edwin Price’s aforementioned book:
Phipps, a successful farmer who owned about  slaves, was a diehard [anti-abolitionist]. He was known to have a cruel
streak two miles wide. Neighbors remembered the harsh way he treated his slaves, their screams of pain echoing throughout
the countryside whenever he beat them. (Price, p. 20)
Prices goes on to write a fantastic account of Joshua’s death on 07/18/1861 (Price incorrectly cites the date of his death), saying that a swarm of flies smothered him to death in his bed where he lay ill. He also writes that the funeral was a truly diabolical occasion:
The death of Joshua Phipps may have ended the terror suffered by his slaves, but it also marked the beginning of a
different kind of terror at Rotherwood Mansion. On July 10, hundreds of mourners and curiosity seekers assembled at
Rotherwood for the funeral services and burial. The body was brought out of the mansion to a waiting caisson in the circular
driveway. Once the casket was loaded, the caisson would haul the body up to the cemetery.
[Retired ETSU Professor Dr. Nancy Hamblen Acuff], whose grandfather attended the funeral, told the rest of the story.
“Just as the procession was preparing to move, they noticed the sky had become noticeably darker, and they were hoping the
minister would be short of speech at the grave site,” she said. “The caisson driver snapped the reins, the horses pulled with
all of their might, but they simply could not move the caisson. They stood absolutely still. They were frozen.
“Then one of the slave boys said that he would bring up a better team of horses. They uncoupled the old team and
backed in the new. The caisson driver tipped his hat in respect to the widow. He snapped the reins again and the horses
started off. They pulled and jerked, but still could not move the caisson more than just a few feet. The wheels simply would not
“By this time, everyone was mumbling among themselves and wondering what was going on. Everyone was
embarrassed, and no one knew quite what to do. One of the men in the crowd cried out that he had brought his Percherons
with him, and he volunteered the huge workhorses to pull the caisson. So he rushed over, brought his horses, and hitched \
them up to the caisson.
“The driver snapped the reins for the third time, and those Percherons pulled the caisson up the side of the hill, up
towards the cemetery. They got about halfway up the hill and these huge horses were actually pulling the soil out of the ground
as they tried to move the casket up to the graveyard.
“The sky was getting blacker and darker and everyone was getting anxious at the thought of the oncoming storm.
Suddenly, a bolt of lightning shot from through the sky, and there was a rumble of thunder, and a whoosh of cold wind went out
over the entire assembly. A rustling sound was heard over the casket. The canopy covering the coffin began to move. An
enormous black dog jumped out from underneath the canopy and went racing off over the hillside. Everyone stood there in
absolute total silence.
“The story foes that his ‘Hound of Hell’ can be heard man nights – especially on stormy nights – wandering among the
shrubs and dashing through the bushes at Rotherwood, crying out mournfully.” (Prices, ps. 20 – 22)
The tale about the spectral black hound is definitively German in origin. In Germanic folklore, the sins of a particularly wicked person were believed to escape the coffin in the form of a black dog. These ghost dogs also appear in Scot-Irish and British folklore.
“After Joshua Phipps was buried, the crowd of mourners and curiosity seeker disappeared into their homes. As word of
the strange happenings at the funeral spread around the area, it was naturally assumed by residents that the ghost of Joshua
Phipps would haunt Rotherwood Mansion. They were right.
Nancy Acuff’s father used to tell her of visits he made to Rotherwood with her grandfather. “They would ride up here from
Rogersville to visit,” she said. “He said that you couldn’t sleep in Rotherwood Mansion at night. He said that old Joshua roams
the halls, and if you would lie down, he would be at the foot of the bed at midnight yanking the covers off and laughing that
horrible screaming laugh of his. For months and months following [Phipps’] death, the house was just a place of terror.” (Price,
The tales surrounding Rotherwood are possibly surviving abolitionist stories. According to Hawkins County slave censuses, Joshua owned many slaves. According to Bridges to the Past: An Adult Reflects on Childhood by Kenneth E. Huffman:
Joshua Phipps held over  humans in bondage, more than any other man in East Tennessee. Slaves cost money and
could be sold for money. In fact, Phipps encouraged slaves to produce children so he could sell them for a profit. The selling of
offspring from their families as soon as the slaves were old enough to perform manual labor had caused the slave women to
devise some type of birth control. They were not producing as many slave children as was normal on the average plantation.
And that was another reason for Phipps’ financial condition. To maintain the three plantations he owned, Phipps had found it
necessary to purchase several more slaves, but this forced sale of the sawmill to offset the expenses for the additional slaves.
(Huffman, p. 172)
It seems unlike his father, Joshua was indeed one of the cruelest slave owners in Northeast Tennessee:
Mrs. Ellis remembers seeing reminders of Rotherwood's slave past as a little girl, after her parents were hired by the
Kingsport Improvement Company to maintain the mansion and grounds.
"As a child," she writes, "I had to go into this area almost every day because the food Mother canned was stored in the
basement, and the laundry facility was also in this area. The stench was embedded in the ground--the darkness and
dampness was sometimes overpowering. One could imagine hearing the moaning, the wailing, the crying of slaves.. their
misery and despair. If a slave was maimed, he was shot like an animal because he was of no more use. In the front room of
the 3rd floor facing the river, was the whipping post. Slaves were shackled to the post to be whipped. The blood stains are still
embedded into the wood floors of that room. Days of heavy moisture, the blood stains appear!"
. . .
The cruelness of Joshua Phipps was also recounted by "Aunt Vic Phipps," a black woman owned as a slave by Phipps,
whose account of him was told to Edward Stewart in an article published in the Kingsport Times-News in October of 1975
(Aunt Vic was also an early ancestor of the Price Family, who settled in New Canton). In the article, Stewart said "Aunt Vic was a
slave at Rotherwood before the Civil War, and told me about hiding in the reeds and culverts when the slave traders would
come through, so she wouldn't be sold. Aunt Vic described Richard Netherland as a workmaster for Joshua Phipps, who
made the slaves work harder. She said that both Netherland and Phipps were cruel and beat the slaves all the time." But what
impressed Stewart the most, was how "Aunt Vic" described how Phipps wanted to be buried. "She said Phipps often
expressed a wish to be buried standing up on the hill at Rotherwood, so he could look down into the bottoms and see the
slaves working." (Douglass-Riverview News and Current Events)
The supposition that the ghost of Joshua Phipps haunted Rotherwood is speculative at best. The Kingsport Times article from 02/26/1933 clearly states that the mansion he lived in was built in 1818 and destroyed by fire in 1865.
Armstrong, Zella. The History of Hamilton County and Chattanooga, Tennessee, Vol. 1. Johnston City, TN: Overmountain, 1993.
Huffman, Kenneth E. Bridges to the Past: An Adult Reflects on Childhood. Victoria, B.C.: Trafford, 2003.
Price, Charles Edwin. Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1992.
"Romatic History Surrounds Rotherwood, Spot of Beauty." The Kingsport Times [Kingsport, Tennessee] 02/26/1933: Page 4. Courtesy www.newspaperarchive.com.
Ross, Charles G. "The Romantic Story of Rotherwood as Told by Charles G. Ross, Son of Reverend Frederick A. Ross." The Kingsport Times [Kingsport, Tennessee] 10/01/1924: Pages: 5, 5D and 7. Courtesy www.newspaperarchive.com.