Sunday, November 2, 2014

Moll Dyer – Witch Legend

Moll Dyer
The most haunting story in Maryland is the story of witchy legend known as Moll Dyer, a 17th century legend which is about a resident of Leonardtown, Maryland, more than 300 years back. She was considered to have been accused of witchcraft and driven out of her home by the local folks of the town on a cold winter night.

This legend is well known and often related in St. Mary’s County which is the site of the earliest successful English colonies in US territory which dates back to 1634 and the witch legend goes back to the late 1600s which has been fabricated by the locals here. Legend state that few days later, her body was found which was partially frozen on a large stone and as she placed one hand and knee on the rock, she called down a curse on her persecutors and the land.

 Her knee and hand left permanent impressions on the rock and stories were circulated that her spirit haunted the land looking out for the men who had forced her out from her home. It is also said that the land is cursed surrounding her cabin and does not grow any good crops with a number of unusual lightning strikes, that have been recorded there.

Large Rock with Imprints of hand and Knee

Though there are no records with regards to her existence, there is a road as well as a stream which is named after her in south of Leonard town where the lands there bear her name from 1890s. There is a large rock which is presumed to be her last resting place where she has probably left imprints of her hands and knees on the stone which was moved in 1972 towards the front of the circuit courthouse in Leonard town.

According to tradition, Moll Dyer was considered to be an outcast in that community between Leonard town and Redgate and though she resided in a hut, she lived on the generosity of the people through the alms house which is where Leonard town Middle School presently is.

The story has been related through the generations with changes in telling and in 1994, a series of interviews were conducted by Thomas Jarboe along with several locals who included a member of the Dyer family, a local historian and others from the families who had lived in the county since 1600.

Various Versions on her Existence

As per the interviews it was said that Moll Dyer came from Ireland, Virginia, Kentucky, in New England or Connecticut and was a widow who had been disappointed in love or a mother of two sons.

She could have been born as a Dyer or had married a Dyer while two of them considered her to be named as `Moldy Dyer and that she could have been an Indian maid abandoned by her lover after the birth of a child. Her death date varied from the mid-1600s to late 1700swith several of them thinking that Moll Dyer seemed to be a Catholic or could have come to Maryland due to it being more religiously tolerant than other colonies.

With no historical records available to validate the existence of Moll Dyer from that period, her name seems to have lived on. Around four miles southeast of the old jailhouse is a Moll Dyer Road which is a dead end, thickly forested residential road with a stream nearby which is also called Moll Dyer’s Run.

Legend Survives for Generations

The story of Moll Dyer has survived for generations irrespective of no historical records being found with regards to her existence. Records from colonial period tend to be incomplete and the county courthouse had been burned in 1831 with the earlier documents being lost. Some of the historical evidence available included –

Immigration records which showed that Mary Dyer, Marg Dyer and Malligo Dyer, - Moll was the nickname for Mary, were transported by Captain Thomas Taylor on a ship commanded by him,to Maryland in October 1677.

A great epidemic had occurred in Southern Maryland in 1697-98

In the 18th August 1892 edition of the St. Mary’s Beacon, Joseph F. Morgan had written that Moll lived in that area for several years and the cottage had been burned while Cotton Mather held sway in Puritans and this story has been reprinted in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s that are available at the St. Mary’s County Historical Society.

Witches Uncommon But Widely Believed

Witches were not common though it was widely believed that they did exist with several witchcraft trails being there in Maryland, beginning from 1654 and proceeding till 1712. One was of Rebecca Fowler of neighbouring Calvert County being hanged as a witch on 9th October 1685 while another in June 1654 is considered to be the crew of a ship Charity en route to Maryland from England, which tells about the hanging of a passenger, Mary Lee on suspicion of practicing witchcraft as per the Proceedings of the Council of Maryland, while yet another tells that in 1674, John Cowman of St. Mary’s County was convicted and condemned for witchcraft, conjuration or enchantment on the body of Eliza Goodall as per an 1885 edition of the Baltimore Time though he was pardoned by Charles Calvert.

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