The Lady in Black

What follows is the tale of the Lady in Black, or Black Widow that supposedly haunted George's Island in Boston Harbor, Mass. I have re-worked the original first published on this website in 2008 to avoid the numerous duplicates that sprung up afterwards.

George's Is

We start at the entrance to Boston Harbor, where you'll find George's Island. On that island was built Fort Warren construction of which began in the 1840s and was completed in 1850.

The pentagonal shaped granite fort was constructed with facilities including:

These were guarded by a battery of heavy guns that faced out to sea.

Civil War

During the Civil War, there was a great need for prisons for Confederate soldiers and numerous disloyal citizens along with anyone unlucky enough to get caught up in the turmoil on the wrong end of the unsteady justice system at the time. Fort Warren was perfect for the task!

The Vice President of the Confederate States of America at the time was Alexander Hamilton Stephens, who became the most noteworthy person imprisoned at the fort.

The island was largely an inhospitable place. The cold weather was unbearable for the Confederate soldiers more accustomed to warmer southern homesteads. During the harsh winter, Union soldiers were purported to have observed mysterious shadows while patrolling the island's lonely beaches. Those occurrences likely led to the modern ghost story.


Supposedly, the Lady in Black is an apparition on George's Island. The figure of a young woman dressed in black robes wanders about the grounds.

She is reportedly Mrs Andrew Lanier, who was the wife of a Confederate soldier imprisoned there in 1861. 20th century local historian, Edward Rowe Snow, is most likely the source of myth of the Lady in Black.

What follows is a paraphrased description of the story:

"Mrs Lanier received a letter from her husband that he had been imprisoned at Fort Warren. She was compelled to free him, making an epic journey from Georgia to Hull Massachusetts and the home of a Confederate sympathizer..."

(Note that Hull is only approx one mile away from George's Island).

"...Mrs Lanier systematically observed the fort with a spy-glass, and on a stormy night in January 1862, had rowed across to George's Island and went ashore. She cut her hair short and dressed as a man, and brought with her an old pistol and small pick-axe.

She made her way to the dungeon cells, and from outside the fort signaled to her husband by whistling an obscure southern tune, to which he signaled back. Mrs. Lanier was able to squeeze through the slit-window of the cell, and was then hidden by the Confederate soldiers.

With the use of the pick-axe, the soldiers contrived to tunnel to the center of the fort, and then overtake the guards and obtain weapons. The tunnel took several weeks to dig, and on the eve of finishing the tunnel, a sharp blow of the pick had alerted a guard. The alarm was sounded, and the tunnel quickly discovered. As each of the Confederate soldiers was removed from the tunnel, a tally was taken. When all the prisoners were accounted for, Mrs Lanier was to spring from the tunnel and capture a Union officer with the old pistol.

Mrs Lanier succeeded in surprising the officer, but he slapped the pistol from her hand. The pistol went off and the bullet struck and killed her husband. As punishment for her deeds, Mrs. Lanier was condemned to death by hanging. Her final request was to be given female clothing, and a search of the fort produced nothing but some old black robes. She was executed in these robes and buried on George's Island..."

What follows is according to King's Handbook of Boston Harbor by M.F. Sweetser (1883):

"...the only notable prison escapes occurred after 1862. In 1863, a daring escape was made by six Confederate soldiers. They managed to squeeze through slit-holes in the granite walls and made their way to the beach. Two of the soldiers attempted to swim to Lovell's Island, but the tide was going out and they were swept out to sea. A second notable escape was of two soldiers that constructed a crude raft and did make it to Lovell's. From there they obtained a small boat, and sailed out of the harbor. The pair were later re-captured by a coast guard cutter."

It seems that early stories of ghosts on George's Island do not exist. However, Sweetser states the following about Civil War era folklore that is of interest:

"The sentry-posts were often made untenable by the dashing of the waves, and the guards had to be replaced by patrols. No wonder that the unfortunate sentinels saw mysterious shapes, so that an order was posted at the guard-house, 'denouncing severe punishment in any case where ghosts were allowed to pass a beat without challenge and arrest.'"