She stood upon a bare tall craig
Which overlooked her rugged cot –
A wasted, gray, and meagre hag,
In featured evil as her lot.
She had the crooked nose of a witch,
And a crooked back and chin;
And in her gait she had a hitch,
And in her hand she carried a switch,
To aid her work of sin.
— John Greenleaf Whittier
Moll Pitcher (1736-1813) – Said to have descended from a long line of “wizards,” Moll Pitcher was a clairvoyant and fortune-teller from Lynn, Massachusetts. She was born as Mary Diamond in about 1736 to Aholiab Diamond and Lydia Silsbee Diamond in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Her father was a shoemaker in Lynn, Massachusetts. Though there were no public schools for girls when she was young, she seems to have received some education. She grew up to marry Robert Pitcher on October 2, 1760, who was thought to have been an apprentice of her father.
The couple lived with her parents and would have four children. Shortly after her marriage, she became known as a fortune-teller of significant skills. To many, this came as no surprise, as her grandfather, Captain Aholiab Diamond, had long been known as “The Wizard of Marblehead,” who had a reputation of using his powers to save sailors from shipwrecks during storms, as well as locating thieves and lost objects. Moll would grow to share his reputation, with numerous stories circulating about her prowess, even including that she had passed British military secrets to George Washington, and that she prophesied he would become President.
By reading tea leaves for her clients, her reputation increased over the some 50 years that she “operated,” astounding people with her successful predictions. She was consulted by all classes, including educated and the uneducated alike, some of whom were known to be visiting noblemen from Europe. Her predictions concerned love affairs, legacies, crime, and, of course, seeing into the future. But, her most important predictions involved the outcome of voyages. Crews were said to refuse to sail on voyages she predicted would be disastrous, and ship owners would refuse to risk their ships. Treasure-seekers also consulted her, but she was said to have little patience with them, sometimes responding “Fools, if I knew where money was buried, do you think I would part with the secret?” Many thought that she was a witch. Indeed, had she been born a century before, she probably would have been hanged.
Moll Pitcher died at the age of 74 on April 9, 1813. The home where she was born and lived continues to stand in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Afterwards, she would become the subject of books, plays and a 900-line poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. The poem is not complimentary, describing her as a witch engaged in sinful work. Initially buried in an unmarked grave, in 1887 a tombstone with the following epitaph, from John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, was erected in her memory:
Even she, our own weird heroine,
Sole Pythoness of ancient Lynn,
Sleeps calmly where the living laid her;
And the wide realm of sorcery,
Left, by its latest mistress, free,
Hath found no gray and skilled invader.
On July 12, 1879, the Boston Traveler published an article about her. It not only tells more about the woman herself but, also debunks her once revered talents.
One of the quaintest and most peculiar female characters this country ever produced was Moll Pitcher, the famous fortune teller, who resided at Lynn, but, was of Marblehead extraction. But, little has been written about her, because, except what can be gleaned from old people in whose memory she still lives, nothing of great and interesting importance has been preserved. She was very celebrated, and there was not a port in Europe into which American vessels sailed, flying the American flag, that had not heard of the wonderful powers of Moll Pitcher. Indeed, it is said that when such a vessel appeared in some of the smaller ports, interested persons would crowd upon the piers to inquire of the sailors of the “old woman across the sea.” Sometimes, too, people on the continent who could not come across the ocean would send through their friends, the necessary information to Moll and have their fortunes told. Her habitation, on what is now called Essex Street, was a curiosity in itself. It was a black two-story hovel, which stood in a large field, familiarly called in those days the Pitcher field. There was a well-beaten pathway running from the old rickety gate up to the single door. Before the door was placed an irregular block of stone, and even that, to the superstitious, had its terrors.
The door stood to the extreme left of the house and opened into a small entryway, which, in turn, opened into a rather large room, where Moll received her visitors. There were two small rooms adjoining this large one, which was used for various purposes. The neighborhood in those days was very scantily settled; indeed, it was one of the most lonesome quarters of the city. The boys were afraid after dark to play anywhere near the Pitcher cottage, for Moll was a terror to them. Now Essex Street is one the pleasantest and most desirable in the city. The field where the cottage stood has been filled with nice dwellings, and there is not a sign left of the mysterious dwelling place of this most remarkable woman of her day, except the remodeled hovel which stands in the rear. It has been materially changed and would scarcely be recognized.