Annette Williamson and the Country House Restaurant in Stony Brook is one of the most often told ghost stories on Long Island. It’s said that the house, almost three hundred years old, is the most active haunted house on the island. It’s hard to dispute that, but one thing that’s almost certainly true … whoever haunts the Country House Restaurant isn’t Annette Williamson.
According to Bob Willemstyn, owner of the former Obediah Davis/Thomas Hadaway House, now the Country House restaurant, the ghost of William Sydney Mount, famed nineteenth century artist who lived down the road, still shows up on occasion for a seance, as he did back in the nineteenth century.
He related his story to me, that on at least four occasions over the years, a cloaked figure has been reported in the restaurant, once standing near the entrance to the bar near a side dining room, just across from where we spoke. In addition, there are times when things mysteriously break, like wine bottles being thrown from the shelves in the basement while he stood by watching, which he also believes might be the dark presence of William Sidney Mount.
But the most active spirit in the Country House Restaurant, the site named by noted Long Island historian and ghost hunter/psychic Kerriann Flanagan Brosky as Long Island’s most active, is Annette Williamson, who is believed to have lived, and died here during the American Revolution.
She’s been witnessed everywhere, from inside the house, to people seeing her looking forlornly out the front window, to floating above the roof.
Willenstyn has also related that when he encounters her spirit, he feels an overwhelming sadness and your eyes will well up. He’s witnessed people cry from the feeling.
And then there’s the ghost from “across the street,” a malevolent spirit which has been known to smash glasses in front of your face.
The Country House has a full range of haunting elements, including the above mentioned spirits, fully visible apparitions which interact with the living. Annette Williamson even tried to entice the child of one of the patrons, a little girl, into the men’s bathroom to play. There are footsteps, walking as well as running. Light flashes are common, seemingly without normal causes. And for those who believe in such things, more orbs and EVPs than you can shake a stick at.
Additionally, there’s the poltergeist activity, perhaps the most belligerent form of the supernatural.
And yet to dine there for most is an entirely different experience. It’s high end, fitting for a restaurant with so much history. But the ambiance is lighthearted, feminine almost. As though Annette has influenced the very decor.
Though even the owner admits the upstairs is an entirely different story.
Who was Annette Williams?
The main source of the story, which now lies all over the internet is Kerriann Flanagan Brosky’s book, Ghosts of Long Island. Most of the tale is told to her by Willenstyn, and involves sightings of the lady going back to before he worked there, let alone owned the place.
According to Ghosts of Long Island, she was murdered either for being thought a British sympathizer, or hung in her bedroom by the British themselves. As the legend goes, her parents had left her in charge of the servants and slaves, and went to New Jersey where they had property. There they were killed for supporting the fight for independence.
Everyone involved admits the historical details are sketchy, as you’d expect from that time period. What happens at the Country House restaurant is modern history though, and witnessed by a lot of people, both customers and employees.
There are mysterious lights, accounts of people hearing their name spoken behind them and turning to find no one there.
Though the official line, as befitting a working restaurant, the spirits are friendly and somewhat comforting, many of the ghostly experiences reported there are anything but that. One reporter had a drink thrown in their face by Annette. The current owner was once telling the story to a friend who was expressing his disbelief, when a chair came hurtling through the air at them, just as they caught a glimpse of a white garment turning the corner from the room.
And of course there is Annette herself. Typically in hauntings, no one sees an apparition, or it was seen in the distant past. But Annette has been seen by numerous people, numerous times, through the present day. She can be playful, stealing the owner’s tietack and leaving it by the fireplace where she was supposedly hung. She can be helpful, opening stuck windows.
Perhaps it helps the romance that by all accounts she’s very pretty. And though there are reports of other ghosts, it is Annette that has stayed longest, is experienced most frequently, and seems to have made a home which she enjoyed for a very short life, a home for eternity.
That in a nutshell, is the story of Annette Williamson and the Country House Restaurant. With so many people witnessing so many phenomenon, it’s hard to deny that the Country Restaurant is haunted.
But by Annette Williamson? Quite frankly, I don’t believe she even existed.
Looking for evidence of Annette Williamson
It was November of 2008, and I was just getting started with these stories. Stony Brook was nearby and I love the place. It’s where I stayed the night before my first job interview on Long Island having driven a thousand miles for it. It always felt like home, albeit a home from another lifetime.
It feels very New England here, which makes sense, as this end of Long Island was home to some of the earliest settlements, often populated by people coming down from the Massachusetts and other English colonies. Walking around Stony Brook in the fall is an unexpected slice of perfection.
I was there to visit the Obediah Davis cemetery, which is where Annette Williamson is buried. I had read it was hard to access, up a steep hill without a path. But it turns out there’s a street that goes up there. There’s even a sign when you access it from the road, rather than slogging up the steep hillside from the Country House Restaurant.
It does exude atmosphere, with many of the graves dating from at least the earliest part of the nineteenth century, and many with curious inscriptions. I did find three Williamson tombstones, but no Annette. There were too many to examine and too little time to do so.
So I made a mental note to come back to it.
The Country House lives up to its reputation for fine dining, and it’s a lovely atmosphere. Not particularly haunting, but that’s more of a cerebral thing. If you know about it, it colors the ambiance. If you don’t, it’s a romantic dinner for two. Or one in my case. But I had a good conversation with owner, and found him to be credible. But oddly enough, though he mentioned William Sydney Mount’s ghost, he never mentioned Annette.
Twelve years later, I remember to finish it.
I’m gathering all my old Long Island stories into a book. It’s easier than I expected to put myself back there, though it’s been about a decade since I set foot on Long Island. Which is good, as there’s likely a bench warrant out for me for a parking violation in the Bronx.
So I go to find my article on Annette Williamson and the Country House Restaurant, and remember I never wrote it! I didn’t write it because I couldn’t find the tombstone. I had read the dates on the stone matched the story, and I wanted to get the dates right for her death.
That tombstone is essential in determining the truth of the story. Because it wasn’t gleaned from history. Instead, it was told to the owner by a British psychic who happened by a couple night in a row, the second night with a Ouija Board in tow. And it’s from him that nearly all the elements of the story of Annette Williamson comes from.
His claims were verified by Ms. Brosky’s accomplice, Joe Giaquinto, a very well-known psychic and self professed ghost buster. In fact Mr. Giaquinto speaks of Annette as though she’s almost adopted him, frequently coming to speak to him.
Ms. Brosky, who is a historian first, rightly frames the importance of the stone when she says “According to historical records, the only insight into the Williamson family living there appears on the gravestones of two of its members.” She points to two headstones, John Williamson and Annette Williamson. Being buried in the family plot would lead one to believe that they lived in the family home.
I looked online, because the Long Island ghost hunting crowd is nothing if not thorough. If it was there, someone would have found it. Especially since you can pretty much drive up to the cemetery.
According to historical records, the only insight into the Williamson family living there appears on the gravestones of two of its members.”
I had recently watched one of Ms. Brosky’s webinars on their investigation into Annette Williamson and the Country House Restaurant, and remembered them showing the stone. I went back and watched again, and they do show us a photo, and it’s of the three stones I had taken a photo of on my first trip there.
The stones were in place and look pretty much identical to how they looked when I visited. But perhaps they were still mostly unreadable from moss or lichen. And there are actually four members of the Williamson family buried there. The only recorded female I can find through official records and poking around the stones is a woman named Hannah, who died in 1827 and is buried next to her husband, William. In the video, Joe Giaquinto misidentifies William’s stone as Annette’s father, but his stone shows that William Williamson died in 1831.
If the stones were covered and illegible at the time, it’s understandable. If you can only make out a few letters, Hannah could easily be mistaken for Annette. But it’s hard to figure how William as her father fits the story told by the psychics, as they had Annette’s mother and father being killed in the war in New Jersey. These graves are all for people who died in the nineteenth century.
So it would appear, there is no tombstone in the family plot with Annette Williamson’s name on it. Which would make sense. This family cemetery is the Obediah Davis cemetery, named for the man who built the house the County House restaurant is in, and where his family lived for four generations. And by all accounts, all through American Revolution.
In short, there is no evidence at all that the Williamsons lived there. In fact, the Williamsons lived just around the corner, and the family history is well known and well documented. There is no Annette in that family either.
But why are Williamson’s buried in the Davis family cemetery? That’s simple. There are many people in that cemetery who don’t bear the name of Davis. And the Williamsons lived just down the hill from the cemetery. As one of only six burial grounds in Stony Brook today, it’s the obvious place to bury your dead, when it’s in your own back yard.
What is in a name? History.
Annette told the psychic that she and her family were Dutch, which when I read that again, struck me as wrong. Williamson isn’t a Dutch name. It’s Scottish in origin, which fits with the demographics of the area, and the Williamson family living around the corner. There is a Dutch variant, but that’s not what’s on the tombstone or in the historic record for the family in Stony Brook.
What’s more, this was an English colony. A few generations earlier, New York City was New Amsterdam, and much of Nassau county to the west was Dutch. But when the British forced them out, they went inland for the most part, not further out on Long Island. And if
And for that matter, I wondered about the name Annette. That’s also not a Dutch name, but in fact French, and wasn’t popular there even till late in the 19th century. I did records search for Annettes in New York in the colonial era, and found next to nothing. The name simply wasn’t used.
There are variants, but the only one that really sounds like Annette is Janet. That also wasn’t in vogue either during that era.
Loyalists in Suffolk County
There were thousands on Long Island loyal to the King during the revolution. Particularly after the British took the island after the Battle of Brooklyn. The biggest demographic most likely to support the king was farmers, and this was farmland back then. The Davises and the Williamsons were farmers, though carpentry appeared to be the Williamson’s main trade, and though Davis was a noted supporter of the colonial cause. One of the Williamson’s also fought for the colonials in the Revolution, so it’s hard to imagine how Annette would be considered a loyalist.
So why would the locals have taken a particular dislike to a young lady who merely had British soldiers occupying the family home. That was a common occurrence on Long Island, the person owning the house had no choice, and nowhere else does it seem to indicate a particular allegiance to the crown or not.
And even if she was a loyalist, there were hundreds of farmers so loyal to the king on this part of Long Island that they signed an oath of allegiance.
It just doesn’t make sense.
You could make the case that the other story is true. That in fact, she was hung by the British in the Country House. But that would mean the psychics were wrong. And the story came from the psychics to begin with. If the psychics got her manner of death wrong, her name and nationality wrong, and where she was buried wrong, perhaps the whole story is wrong?
Which begs the question, who haunts the Country House Restaurant?
Bob Willemstyn specifically told me about his belief that William Sidney Mount has haunted the place, a dark spirit. His description of Annette usually touches on the overwhelming sadness of her. He’s the one who lives with the spirits there on a daily basis, and his description of them isn’t exactly bright and cheery. A fact borne out by all the employees who have quit after having the shit scared of them in the Country Restaurant.
And one has to remember, this house has a history of slavery, which is bound to have wound up the negative energy here to the breaking point.
I touched on the film The Legend of Hell House in my article about the Hawkins-Mount Homestead, home of William Sydney Mount. Though the film is obviously fictional, it makes some important points about multiple hauntings in one location.
The story revolved around a scientist who believed ghosts to be nothing more than residual energy, and how his opinions clashed with two mediums who were investigating with him the Mt. Everest of haunted houses. One of the two mediums believed she was learning the truth of the haunting from a spirit there, which preyed on her feelings and sympathy.
The other medium stayed shut off and just wanted to survive the experience.
At the root of the film was a question. Were the hauntings from numerous spirits, or one spirit which directed the others, giving the appearance of multiple hauntings.
This is a common belief, from Jesus to Aleister Crowley, that some ghosts are essentially what some call demons, ancient, formless beings taking the appearance of whatever ghostly shells are floating about, giving the appearance of a familiar, and trustworthy spirit. And as I can attest, you can’t trust these spirits. They aim to deceive.
There’s an obviously dark spirit which haunts the Country House Restaurant. And one who claims to be the ghost of a beautiful, attractive woman (by modern standards more so than colonial), wrongly robbed of her life, who gives those who interact with her a false name and history. To me, that’s more than a bit creepy.
Psychics who visit the Country House on a regular basis assure us that Annette is harmless, and downright helpful for those involved in spiritualism.
But one account has Annette following a psychic home, and every time she turned on a light, the bulb blew. Another psychic says she not only followed him home, but still frequently speaks to him to this day.
In short, we’re talking about a ghost which not only haunts a house, but assumes a false identity and follows you home. Which is new twist on an old tradition. A mint and a poltergeist at the end of beautiful dinner.
On the value of psychic testimony in supernatural investigations
That testimony derived through psychic phenomenon can be downright dangerous hasn’t been in dispute in this country for over four hundred years. The practice of accepting evidence from the other side without physical evidence to back it up was banned here following the Salem witch trials, and the wrongful execution of 20 people in the late 17th century.
The story of Annette Williamson is wholly dependent on psychic testimony. The physical evidence that psychics point to in order to give credence to their communications with Annette – her tombstone – appears to be nonexistent. There are those who claim to have seen her grave, to have photos of it, and yet never produce the evidence.
There is no historic record, nor even early written accounts to back the story. Is it possible the story is true but simply lacks physical evidence due to the passing of time? Of course.
But to get to that belief, you have to first dispel the physical evidence that does exist. The house in question was owned by the Davis family, not the Williamsons. The Davis’ are on record as living here during the Revolution. The Williamsons did exist, lived a short distance from the house, and buried their dead in the same graveyard, where Annette Williamson is said to be buried. The only photos of the graves produced as evidence, are of the Williamson family, and none of those family members even died in the same century as the American Revolution. And none are named Annette. Even the girl’s name doesn’t fit the story … a Dutch girl with a French first name, attached to a Scottish surname, living in a very British colony.
There’s a simpler solution … the psychics are wrong. Harry Houdini spent a good chunk of his life exposing fraudulent mediums, the kind who preyed on people’s pain, fears and grief, and offered them hope, for a price. He didn’t discount the possibility of psychic phenomenon, and certainly not life after death. But he was suspect, and rightly so, of the motives of many spiritualists and mediums.
I’ve known a few psychics in my time, and some of them could do amazing things. Some of them were downright charlatans. And it’s been that way since the Babylonians.
It’s possible the unknown psychic who first told the story of Annette to the owner of the Country House Restaurant had been in the Obediah Davis Cemetery, and had seen a stone. Perhaps as the story goes, it was fallen, covered in leaves, dirt and debris, and the name of ANNEDAVIS on one of the stones, who died in 1785 (2 years after the Revolution ended), was misread. And from that stone he chose to weave a tale, perhaps for a free dinner.
If you choose to give the psychics the benefit of the doubt, the best you can say is they are deceived by the spirit, into believing it’s someone that it’s not. That means Annette isn’t all glittery light and unicorns as they’d have us believe. But something much darker.
Regardless of whether the story of Annette Williamson is true or not, doesn’t mean the Country House Restaurant is any less haunted. It just means nobody knows exactly who is haunting it. And that perhaps the haunting isn’t as wholesome as we’re led to believe.
So who haunts the Country House Restaurant in Stony Brook? The truth is nobody knows. Beware anyone who says otherwise, for as Houdini would say, they’re likely trying to sell you something.