Witchcraft in America

Moll Pitcher

Moll Pitcher

Moll Pitcher, a successful sorcerer, and fortune-teller of old Lynn, Massachusetts has figured in obsolete poems, plays, and romances. She lived in a cottage at the foot of High Rock, where she was consulted, not merely by people of respectability, but by those who had devilish schemes to and who wanted to learn in advance the outcome of their designs. Many a ship was deserted at the hour of sailing because she boded evil of the voyage. She was of medium height, big-headed, tangle-haired, long-nosed, and had a searching black eye. The sticks that she carried were cut from a hazel that hung about a brook where an unwedded mother had drowned her child. A girl, who went to her for news of her lover, lost her reason when the witch, moved by a malignant impulse, described his death in a fiercely dramatic manner. One day the missing ship came bowling into port, and the shock of joy that the girl experienced when the sailor clasped her in his arms restored her erring senses. When Moll Pitcher died she was attended by the little daughter of the woman she had so afflicted.

John, or Edward, Diamond, grandfather of Moll Pitcher, was a benevolent wizard. When vessels were trying to enter the port of Marblehead, Massachusetts in a heavy gale or at night, their crews were startled to hear a trumpet voice pealing from the skies, plainly audible above the howling and hissing of any tempest, telling them how to lay their course so as to reach smooth water. This was the voice of Diamond, speaking from his station, miles away in the village cemetery. He always repaired to this place in troublous weather and shouted orders to the ships that were made visible to him by mystic power as he strode to and fro among the graves. When thieves came to him for advice he charmed them and made them take back their plunder or caused them to tramp helplessly about the streets bearing heavy burdens.

Old Mammy Redd

Old Mammy Redd

Old Mammy Redd, of Marblehead, a notorious witch, could curdle the milk as it came from the cow, and afterward, transform it into blue wool. She had the evil eye, and, if she willed, her glance or touch could blight like palsy. It only needed that she should wish a bloody cleaver to be found in a cradle to cause the little occupant to die, while the whole town ascribed to her the annoyances of daily housework and business. Her unpleasant celebrity led to her death at the hands of her fellow-citizens who had been “worrited” by no end of queer happenings: ships had appeared just before they were wrecked and had vanished while people looked at them; men were seen walking on the water after they had been comfortably buried; the wind was heard to name the sailors doomed never to return; footsteps and voices were heard in the streets before the great were to die; one man was chased by a corpse in its coffin; another was pursued by the devil in a carriage drawn by four white horses; a young woman who had just received a present of some fine fish from her lover was amazed to see him melt into the air, and was heart-broken when she learned next morning that he had died at sea. So far away as Amesbury the devil’s power was shown by the appearance of a man who walked the roads carrying his head under his arm, and by the freak of a windmill that the miller always used to shut up at sundown but that started by itself at midnight. Evidently, it was high time to be rid of Mammy Redd.

Margaret Wesson, “old Meg,” lived in Gloucester, Massachusetts until she came to her death by a shot fired at the siege of Louisburg, five hundred miles away, in 1745. Two soldiers of Gloucester, while before the walls of the French town, were annoyed by a crow, that flew over and around them, cawing harshly and disregarding stones and shot, until it occurred to them that the bird could be no other than old Meg in another form, and, as silver bullets are an esteemed antidote for the evils of witchcraft, they cut two silver buttons from their uniforms and fired them at the crow. At the first shot its leg was broken; at the second, it fell dead. On returning to Gloucester they learned that old Meg had fallen and broken her leg at the moment when the crow was fired on, and that she died quickly after. An examination of her body was made, and the identical buttons were extracted from her flesh that had been shot into the crow at Louisburg.

Witch's cauldron

Witch’s cauldron

As a citizen of New Haven was riding home — this was at the time of the goings on at Salem — he saw shapes of women near his horse’s head, whispering earnestly together and keeping time with the trot of his animal without effort of their own. “In the name of God, tell me who you are,” cried the traveler, and at the name of God they vanished. Next day the man’s orchard was shaken by viewless hands and the fruit thrown down. Hogs ran about the neighborhood on their hind legs; children cried that somebody was sticking pins into them; one man would roll across the floor as if pushed, and he had to be watched lest he should go into the fire; when housewives made their bread they found it as full of hair as food in a city boarding-house; when they made soft soap it ran from the kettle and over the floor like lava; stones fell down chimneys and smashed crockery. One of the farmers cut off an ear from a pig that was walking on its hind legs, and an eccentric old body of the neighborhood appeared presently with one of her ears in a muffle, thus satisfying that community that she had caused the troubles. When a woman was making potash it began to leap about, and a rifle was fired into the pot, causing a sudden calm. In the morning the witch was found dead on her floor. Yet killing only made her worse, for she moved to a deserted house near her own, and there kept a mad revel every night; fiddles were heard, lights flashed, stones were thrown, and yells gave people at a distance a series of cold shivers, but the populace tried the effect of tearing down the house, and quiet was brought to the town.

In the early days of the 19th century, a skinny old woman known as Aunt Woodward lived by herself in a log cabin at Minot Corner, Maine, enjoying the awe of the people in that secluded burg. They moved around but little at night, on her account, and one poor girl was in mortal fear lest by mysterious arts she should be changed, between two days, into a white horse. One citizen kept her away from his house by nailing a horseshoe to his door, while another took the force out of her spells by keeping a branch of “round wood” at his threshold. At night she haunted a big, square house where the ghost of a murdered infant was often heard to cry, and by day she laid charms on her neighbors’ provisions and utensils and turned their cream to buttermilk. “Uncle” Blaisdell hurried into the settlement to tell the farmers that Aunt Woodward had climbed into his sled in the middle of the road, and that his four yokes of oxen could not stir it an inch, but that after she had leaped down one yoke of cattle drew the load of wood without an effort. Yet she died in her bed.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October 2018.

Also See:

Ghostly Legends

Legends, Ghosts, Myths & Mysteries

Moll Pitcher – Famous Fortune Teller

Native American Legends & Tales

About the Author: Charles Montgomery Skinner (1852-1907), an American writer, is best known for his collections of myths, legends and folklore found both in the United States and across the world. His writings were wide-ranging, including his popular folklore tales, as well as guides to gardening and urban beautification, and natural history. This tale is from his nine volume set of Myths and Legends of Our Own Land, published in 1896. However, the story, as it appears here is not verbatim, as it has been edited for clarification, additional information, and ease of the modern reader. However, the context remains essentially the same.

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