Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mount Calvert, Maryland

I have a new blog post up on my other blog, Tobaccoland, about Mount Calvert in Prince George's County, Maryland.

Two women, Hannah Edwards and Rebecca Fowler, were both accused of using witchcraft in this area in the 1680s. Edwards was acquitted. Fowler was convicted and hanged.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Speaking at the Kensington Row Bookshop

I will be at the Kensington Row Bookshop on October 20, between 6 - 8, talking about my book, Justice at Salem, and my research on Maryland witches.

Joining me will be Conrad Bladey from the Center for Fawkesian Pursuits Bonfire Society, who will discuss the Gunpowder Plot.

Look below to find the bookshop on Google Maps:

View Larger Map

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ghost Adventures: Salem Witch House Ritual

I am not overly impressed with the ghost hunting shows on TV and usually don't watch them.
But this episode of Ghost Adventures caught my attention, especially as it dealt with Bridget Bishop.
In my book, Justice At Salem: Reexamining The Witch Trials, I argued that she was in fact a witch.

It is worth watching the entire episode. They next asked the ghost if she really did practice witchcraft and got a response that sounded like "I did" or "I didn't". It wasn't very clear. Of course, these communications are never clear, which leads skeptics to claim that it is just static and that these people are just hearing what they want to hear.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sarah McDaniel, another witch of Annapolis

Elihu Samuel Riley, author of "The Ancient City": A History of Annapolis, in Maryland, 1649 - 1887, published in 1887, tells the story of a "witch" who correctly foretold that a certain ship ready to launch would not make it to the water on that day.

The incident had to have happened between 1769 and 1776 as the same story is recounted another book that he wrote/edited  Correspondence of "First Citizen"--Charles Carroll of Carrolton, Ang "Antilon"--Daniel Dulany, Jr., 1773: With a History of Governor Eden's Administration in Maryland. 1769-1776 (1902).

Riley wrote in The Ancient City:
Tradition tells us, that they built the "Brig, Lovely Nancy"—at the launch of which the following incident occurred: "She was on the stocks, and the day appointed to place her on her destined element, a large concourse of persons assembled to witness the launch, among whom was an old white woman named Sarah McDaniel, who professed fortune-telling, and was called 'a witch.' She was heard to remark— 'The Lovely Nancy will not see water today.' The brig moved finely at first, and when expectation was at its height to see her glide into the water, she suddenly stopped, and could not be again moved on that day. This occurrence created much excitement amongst the spectators ; and Captain Slade and the sailors were so fully persuaded that she had been 'bewitched,' that they resolved to duck the old woman. In the meantime she had disappeared from the crowd; they kept up the search for two or three days, during which time she lay concealed in a house."
"The 'Lovely Nancy,' did afterwards leave the stocks, and is said to have made several prosperous voyages.
 Another source, A NOTICE OF SOME OF THE FIRST BUILDINGS WITH NOTES OF SOME OF THE EARLY RESIDENTS, by Rebecca Key, published in the Maryland Historical Magazine, vol. 14 gives us what reports to be a first-hand account of the incident. Key was born in 1754 so the dates are consistent.

Key wrote:
The only vessel whose name I recollect was called "The Lovely Nancy" after Mrs. Roberts, an intimate acquaintance with whom I used to play in childhood. I remember the name from an incident connected with the launching. She was on the stocks and a large concourse of people assembled to see the launching. An old woman named Sarah McDaniel (white), a fortune-teller and witch, who was standing by said: "The 'Lovely Nancy ' will not see water to-day." She moved finely for a while but stuck at last and Captain Slade with his sailors, fully under the impression that the vessel had been bewitched, determined to duck the old woman. They searched for her busily two or three days during which time she lay secreted in my father's kitchen, which stood adjacent to his dwelling on the lot opposite to Mrs. Walshe's residence.
It is interesting to note that the woman's statement had an effect on the minds of the crew, so much so that the Captain sought to get revenge on her. And while, if he had caught her, he would have probably gotten away with dunking her, killing her would have been out of the question. Maryland at the time was under the laws of England and the The Witchcraft Act of 1735 removed the death penalty for witchcraft and instead punished anyone who "pretended" to use witchcraft with imprisonment for up to a year.The ruling classes, under the influence of the spirit of the age, ceased to believe that old women casting spells could have any effect on the health of a person or the safety of ships at sea, but the law still recognized that the common people could be tricked and thus victimized by those who pretended to practice the black arts.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tripping on witches' ointment

Archaeologist James Grant in his book The Mysteries of All Nations: Rise and Progress of Superstition, Laws Against and Trials of Witches, Ancient and Modern Delusions; Together With Strange Customs, Fables, and Tales... - which is available as a free ebook from Project Gutenberg tells a brief story about the use of what was called witches' ointment:
An incredible story is told of a gentlewoman in Lyons, who possessed a pot of ointment of such rare virtue, that the application of it to one's body proved sufficient to transport the individual, in an instant, through the air to distant towns and countries. The lady being one evening in a room with her lover, anointing herself with part of the ointment, and repeating words in an under tone, was in the twinkling of an eye carried away through the air. Her companion, though astonished and somewhat[Pg 423] alarmed, did as he had observed his fair friend do, and presto he was conveyed away many miles to an assembly of witches. Afraid at what he beheld, he uttered a holy ejaculation. In an instant the assembly vanished, leaving him alone. He returned on foot to Lyons, and brought an accusation of witchcraft against his lover. The charge being proven, the woman, with her ointment, was consigned to the flames.
Grant then went on to give the ingredients typically found in such ointments: "Mountain parsley, wolves-bane, leaves of the poplar, and soot were frequently used in the preparation of witch ointment; and so were yellow water-cresses, the blood of a mouse, night-shade, oil, etc."

I am not the first to observe that night-shade can cause hallucinations or that the experiences described sound exactly like psychedelic experiences. The people at this time were unable to differentiate between what we call the real world and the world of dreams and visions. The whole history of spiritual experiences reported by people in every major and minor religion throughout history is replete with people who did not recognize this divide. To them it was all part of their reality, their universe. Today we think differently and as a result, dreams and visions no longer haunt or inspire us, but are relegated to the artificial world which is merely created by drugs and our minds.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Katie Coburn, the witch of Talbot County, Maryland

I came across a story recently regarding an alleged witch in Talbot County, Maryland. I can find no mention of any court cases involving her or any information about when she allegedly lived. The only information is that she lived in the area of Plain Dealing Creek, so-called because the area was settled by Quakers who dealt plainly with the Indians of the area (as opposed to the Catholics, Anglicans, and everyone else who had no qualms about ripping them off). I did drive to the area and found that the creek is now surrounded by private homes and there did not appear to be a suitable place to get out and search around. There was an old church nearby, but it was in disrepair and appeared to be part of a private residence. If any locals would like to provide me with additional information or point me in a better direction I would appreciate it.

The main source for the story appears to be a book published in 1898, Land of Legendary Lore: sketches of romance and reality on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake, by Prentiss Ingraham.

According to Ingraham:
It was the ideal spot for spooks to haunt, while to enhance the dismalness of the old abode, it became the dwelling place of an old woman known as "Katie Coburn, the Witch." This "witch," the last of her kind known in Talbot, was old, deformed, hideous, and was guilty of diabolical ways and impish incantations to make herself feared. That she was dreaded by all, especially the children and negroes, there was no doubt, for the former were kept out of mischief by being threatened with her, and the latter felt that the sight of her was a hoodoo upon them. The negroes accordingly gave Witch Katie a very wide margin of room when they met her, and wore charms to counteract her spells, the "left hind foot of a rabbit, killed at the dark of the moou," doubtless being in great demand after a meeting with the "Witch of Plaindealing."

Not far from Plaindealing there lived a farmer whose cows pastured near the old burying-ground. One afternoon the boy whose duty it was to drive the cows home had to go near the lonely spot, and beheld to his amazement a stranger there ;—a man tall, stately, in the ancient garb like that worn by those whose portraits were in the deserted mansion. The man spoke to the boy, but the latter tied for home, told his story, and it was not believed. Again he saw the same man, and again, until at last he spoke to him, and for response saw him walk to a certain spot in the burying-ground and point downward, at the same time stamping his foot. This same performance was gone through with several evenings after, between the boy and the silent spectre in quaint old time costume.

On one occasion the spectre led the boy, now no longer afraid of him, into the old home and pointed to a portrait on the wall. The boy saw that the "ghost" was strangely like the portrait, dress and all. Then he was led back to the grave yard and the spectre pointed downward and stamped his foot, as before. As it was growing dark, and the cows had gone on ahead, the boy suddenly decided to go home, and he lost no time in doing so, his parents again laughing at his story. But then came the rumor that "Witch Katie" had not only disappeared from Plaindealing, but also from the country. The boy had not seen her since the coming of the quaint man of the grave-yard.

A similar version of the story is told in an 1876 edition of McBride's Magazine.
According to McBride's:

It [Plain Dealing] was the very place for a first-class ghost story, and its fitness was heightened by the residence on the premises of Katie Coburn, the last witch of Talbot. This poor old creature, lonely, deformed, repulsively ugly and wretchedly poor, was a terror to negroes and children far and near, who had marvelous tales of her impish ways and diabolical cantrips.
It seems reasonable to think that at least part of the legend is true. A deformed woman may have lived in the area and some, especially the young and uneducated, may have believed that she was a witch. Whether or not she actually was or really wanted others to think that is anyone's guess. But as I argued in Justice At Salem: Reexamining The Witch Trials, there could be certain advantages to having other people think that you were a witch. Others might think twice about harming or taking advantage of you because they fear your supernatural ability to seek revenge. For a poor defenseless woman who no power in her society, this could have been her only means of self-defense against the the unthinking rabble.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Alleged witch's grave in Annapolis, MD

According to a local legend a witch once lived in what is now Truxton Park in Annapolis and/or was hanged in the area.
The legend also says she she is buried there.
This, of course, is widely believed to be untrue. The grave likely belongs to a Methodist, which might make the story close enough.

There does appear to be a small graveyard just on the outskirts of Truxton Park where one crypt appears to have survived. I had to do a little searching around to find it as all the sources on the internet only give vague directions.  In case you want to visit it, here is the location on GPS is 38 57 44.03 n, 76 30 07.50 W.

Here are some pictures I took of the alleged witch's grave:

I did not do any digging around the site to find out more because I didn't have a shovel and that would be illegal.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

More Maryland witch traditions

My previous post involved witch lore on Maryland's eastern shore.
Looking at Studies in philology by University of North Carolina (1793-1962) I came across some more information on witchcraft in Maryland.

According to this author, to keep out witches, "In many sections, including the highlands of the South, a broom laid across the doorway is sufficient protection,2" the true explanation of its value being that offered in Maryland: the witch cannot enter until she has counted all the straws of which the broom is made."

The main fear relates to sleep paralysis. "Human beings are, of course, often "ridden" by witches, and it is recorded that a girl in one of the mountain districts of the South was 'pressed to death' by a witch who came night after night in the form of a black cat and sat on her chest."

Witches could also enter and leave a house through a keyhole. "A miller in Frederick County, Maryland, who was troubled with nightmare, decided that his nocturnal visitor was a witch and accordingly one night stopped the keyhole of his room." Strangely, not only did the nightmares end, but the next day he "found a beautiful girl cowering in the cupboard." He forced her to become his servant and then eventually married her. However, when the man eventually unstopped the keyhole, she escaped. It is hard to imagine that this actually happened, but may have been inspired by a true story. If he believed that taking this action would prevent future nightmares it is possible that it did. Perhaps shortly thereafter, after getting a good night's sleep, he met a young woman who he later had a nasty break-up with. I don't know, but that is my theory.

There are stories from western Maryland that involve witches killing cattle. The author wrote "Among the white population of the Alleghany Mountains witches kill cattle by shooting them with balls of hair,174 and in western Maryland 'witches' bullets' of pith or hair are often found in the bodies of dead animals." I wonder if this could be produced by cats or other animals eating some of the dead cattle and coughing up hairballs? Either that, or there really are witches out there killing cattle by this strange method.

Killing or harming witches appear to be the same on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay. The author notes that "[i]n western Maryland shooting the hag's picture with a bullet made from a silver coin is an effective means of retaliation."

If you are not wealthy enough to have silver, a cheaper method will provide you with some protection. "In western Maryland a witch is rendered powerless if salt is sprinkled under her chair . . . ." Apparently the Devil doesn't like salt.

Dorchester County, MD - witchcraft

I ran across this passage from History of Dorchester County, Maryland by Elias Jones.
The book was published in 1902.

Dorchester County  is located on Maryland's Eastern Shore. I am not aware of any witch trial originating out of the county, but would be happy to be corrected if wrong. It is of interest that the author advises the use of witchcraft to kill a witch. Of course, the author may not have been completely serious.

A broomstick laid across the doorway will prevent a witch from entering the house.

If a witch sits down in a chair in which is sticking or is afterwards stuck a fork, she cannot rise as long as the fork stays there. An example of this was tested at the "Dr. Johnson" place in "Lakes" with old "Suf," who was said to be a witch.

A witch can take a horse from a locked stable and ride it all night; the evidence of this being the foaming sweat on the horse and the witchknots tied in its tail and mane, often seen the next morning.

A witch can turn people into horses and ride on them. One man in Dorchester County died from the effects of such a trip, the clay being found under his finger and toe nails. He had refused to let the witch have his horse to ride, so she rode the owner instead.

If a witch is about to turn a sleeping person into a horse and the sleeper awakes in time, seizes the witch and holds her without speaking until daybreak, she will assume her proper form.

A witch can also turn herself into any animal she pleases for hunter's dogs often trail and tree witches at night that take the form of some animal to avoid detection.

To kill a witch, draw a picture of her and shoot at it with pieces of silver instead of lead, bullets or shot; just where the picture is shot the witch will be wounded; if in vital parts of the body, she will die from the effects.

Monday, February 14, 2011 The Afflicted Girls (9780615323138): Suzy Witten: Books The Afflicted Girls (9780615323138): Suzy Witten: Books

The author of this book was nice enough to send me a copy to review. I haven't had the chance to look at it yet and have a few books ahead of it on my list, so it might be a while before I have the chance to pick it up.

However, it looks fairly interesting and I encourage the readers of this blog to get a copy and to give it a review.

A kindle version is also available.

The book's website is here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thomas Jefferson on witchcraft

In an attempt to make the criminal law of his day more humane, Thomas Jefferson proposed "a Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments" in 1778 to the Virginia House. Although many of the punishments may seem harsh, and were even later questioned by Jefferson himself, it was an improvement over the then current law which basically mandated the death penalty for all felonies. Jefferson's proposed bill was defeated because it was seen as too soft on crime. It is interesting to note that Jefferson believed that witches should be punished, not for using any supernatural power, but for fraud.

Amendment VIII: Thomas Jefferson, A Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments: "All attempts to delude the people, or to abuse their understanding by exercise of the pretended arts of witchcraft, conjuration, inchantment, or sorcery or by pretended prophecies, shall be punished by ducking and whipping at the discretion of a jury, not exceeding 15. stripes."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Romanian witches could face jail if predictions don't come true -

Romanian witches could face jail if predictions don't come true -: "Romanian witches could face jail if predictions don't come true"

USA Today reports that Romanian authorities are considering a law that would criminalize inaccurate fortune telling. Not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, there is something to be said for offering honest services. On the other hand, I'm not sure how you could enforce this.

I'm not really sure why the Romanian authorities have decided to get into a pissing contest with witches. The whole thing just seems odd. Is this just the modern way of persecuting witches since they can no longer punish them for engaging in witchcraft itself?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Kindle/Ebook price increase for Justice at Salem

You might have noticed that I increased the price for the Kindle version of Justice at Salem from 99 cents to $2.99.  There is a very simple and good explanation for this - the Kindle version was professionally redone. Previously if you downloaded the Kindle version the formatting was horrible and the endnotes were not hyper-linked. Now, you should be able to easily navigate between the numerous endnotes and the text. With the proper formatting it should be easy to read.
Despite the prince increase, the book is currently listed as #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > History > United States > State & Local > New England.
$2.99 may be higher than 99 cents, but it is still a good deal.

Don't have a Kindle, the book is also available in Epub format at Barnes and Noble here.

A PDF is still available free of charge at Justice at Salem . I request a donation, but it is not required. The PDF will not read nearly as well on your ebook reader, however, so you may be better off with the paid versions.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Iceland Review Online: Daily News from Iceland, Current Affairs, Business, Politics, Sports, Culture

Iceland Review Online: Daily News from Iceland, Current Affairs, Business, Politics, Sports, Culture: "An American billionaire and internet innovator Brewter Kahle met with Industrial Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Interior Minister Ögmundur Jónasson to discuss the possibilty that Iceland move all its books to digital form."

This is a great idea. I have a ebook reader and really enjoy it. I read more now than I ever have in the past.
Of course, my books, North Pole Lost and Justice at Salem are both available in digital form.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kensington Celebrates Day of the Book

On Sunday, April 17, 2001 I will be at the Kensington Bookstore's Day of the Book event selling copies of North Pole Lost and Justice at Salem. I might also give a short talk on the subject of the Salem witch trials.

I hope to see you there.

Book sales and Kindle

Sales of Justice at Salem have been remarkably good recently with books going out to such diverse places as Atlanta, GA, Hartford, CT, Tampa, FL, Tucson, AZ, and Washington, DC. Sales have also been decent in the UK as well.

Kindle sales have been extremely good. Right now the price is only .99 cents, which is a steal. The formatting isn't perfect, but it is still easy to read. I am getting the Kindle version professionally updated and will probably increase the price as well, to about $1.99 as a result. That should be done in the next week or two.  The book will also soon be available as an Epub so you can read it on other Ereaders. Hope to get an ebook version on Barnes and Noble and other sites.

I really appreciate the interest in my book. Please keep in touch with me through our Facebook Page, this blog, or the book's website. If you enjoyed the book a positive review on Amazon or Google would be greatly appreciated.