Take a journey, just six miles north of Charleston, SC and you’ll discover a quaint portion of the city without a tarnished past. Or is it? From the once sleepy Six Mile Community, now a busy, thriving area within the city of North Charleston, the legend of Lavinia Fisher has been told and retold since her execution in 1820 and is certainly worth telling again here.
Many South Carolinians made their living delivering goods from the port to areas outside the Charleston area like Goose Creek and Hanahan. However, the farther you journeyed past Charleston’s boundaries, the more at risk you were of highwaymen and robberies. Needless to say, boarding houses and inns were a welcome sight to travelers looking for a safe place to call home, if just for a night.
Many travelers were welcomed by Lavinia, a young woman that was known for her elegant dressings and youthful beauty. But underneath her Southern hospitality, something sinister lurked. Greeting her guests on the wide porch of her boarding house, Six Miles Inn, Lavinia would gladly offer travelers a room in the home. What travelers didn’t know, was that they were stepping into a den of thieves. Apparently many highwaymen used various roadside inns as a ‘home base’, gathering there when there wasn’t enough work or when authorities were looking to make arrests. In 1819, the Fishers were caught harboring some of these thieves and established a reputation for violence, and Lavinia was no saint herself.
Despite the rumors and reputation of Six Mile Inn, travelers were happy to be inside a warm home and provided dinner by their hospitable hosts. One guest, a fur trader named John Peoples, stopped at the inn for a night and quickly grew suspicious of the Fishers’ overly friendly approaches. After dinner had been cleared away and he was shown to his room, Peoples decided to not sleep in the bed and instead, perch in a corner facing the door to see if he would be attacked. Peoples suspicions were confirmed when during the night, a trapdoor sprung open under the bed where it dropped below to a waiting John Fisher, with an axe in hand. Peoples escaped and hurried back to Charleston to tell the authorities. During a search of their inn, John and Lavinia Fisher’s other guests, those that had not escaped, were found buried on the property.
Their other guests met their untimely end when given a simple cup of tea, one laced with oleander that is. Once guests were peacefully asleep thanks to the poison, John Fisher would murder them. Some tales vary on the total amount of victims who came to their demise by the hands of the Fishers, ranging from a dozen to hundreds buried in the cellar underneath their home. While awaiting trial, the Fishers resided in the Old City Jail where they attempted to escape at least once.
Unrepentant, both of them went to the gallows in 1820 with Lavinia wearing her wedding dress. Legend says she did so to remind authorities that she was still a married woman, in a state that didn’t allow for married women to be executed. To circumvent this rule, they simply let John Fisher go before her, instantly making her a widow. Before her execution, Fisher is reported to have said, “If anyone has a message for the devil, give it to me and I’ll take it to him! ” Then before her executioner could hang her, she jumped – taking her final moments in her own hands.
Lavinia Fisher has earned herself the reputation as “America’s First Female Serial Killer, ” and is known to haunt the Unitarian Church cemetery, where it is said that she was buried. However, Lavinia’s final resting place is not at the Unitarian Church, but rather underneath what is now the location of the Medical University of South Carolina, on the western edge of the downtown Charleston peninsula.
Note: Looking to experience your own haunted version of Charleston? You can take a tour of the Old City Jail which even today, is said to be haunted by Lavinia Fisher. Book a stay in one of the historical homes within the Luxury Simplified Retreats portfolio, with many dating to the 1800’s, and some even located nearby to the Old City Jail.