witch trial

The legend of Moll Dyer has just about everything you’d ever want from great American folklore. You have your frontier town filled with god-fearing, hard working frontier folk. You have your supposed witch living on the outskirts of town and you have terrible weather making everyones life absolutely miserable.

It’s a perfect storm that will create one of the Americas greatest witch stories. A story that still haunts to this day.

It all starts in and around the year 1697 in the small Maryland town of Seymortown (later to be called Leonardtown).

It is said that Moll Dyer lived in a small cottage just outside of town and that prior to 1697 she had been largely ignored by the people of Seymortown.

Now we should take a quick break here for a moment and explain that there is quite a bit of dispute as to whether Moll Dyer even existed in the first place, let alone was subject to the following legend. What we do know for sure is that we have immigration papers for a Mary Dyer, Moll is a nickname for Mary, arriving in Maryland in October 1677. That same Mary is known to have arrived in Seymortown shortly after that. It stands to reason that both are the same person and so it is completely possible that a Moll Dyer was present in 1697 Seymortown.

By all accounts Moll had been left to build her cottage outside of town and left alone. She had become somewhat of a town healer, specializing in growing and farming rare herbs which she would then trade back in town for other goods.

Now, witchcraft trials had begun in Maryland as early as 1654 but for the most part, the people of Seymortown left Moll alone. Unfortunately, that was about to change.

The events that lead to Moll Dyer being chased out of town are very unclear but from what we understand they are twofold. The first is that the winter of 1697 was particularly brutal and quite unrelenting. The second is that there was a great epidemic of some sort hitting all of Southern Maryland, most likely influenza. The end result of both of these factors was people were sick and many more were dying.

Surrounded by death and fear the townsfolk noticed that their enigmatic healer was doing just fine out there in her cottage outside of town. They’d always been suspicious of Moll but now they had reason to accuse her of witchcraft.

As the legend goes, on the coldest night of winter they formed a mob and with pitchforks and torches in hand they went to go chase Moll Dyer out of her cottage and into the woods, never to return.

Days after chasing Moll into the woods her frozen body is found, kneeling in front of a boulder, one hand clawing into its surface another stretched up towards the sky.

From here the story takes a haunting twist.

It’s said that the men responsible for Moll’s death all take a terrible turn for the worse. They get sick, livestock die, lands become barren and so on. This curse follows their families even through death, often through generations.

The woods around Moll Dyer’s cabin become cursed too, never being able to grow crops again. It’s even said that a lady in white can be seen late at night wandering the woods, especially on cold winter nights.

The boulder that is found with Moll also becomes famous. It was moved to the Leonardtown Courthouse in 1972 and comes with its own curse now. Anyone touching the boulder can become terribly ill and experience terrible pain.

The legend of Moll Dyer has since become famous and it’s also said that the story was the inspiration for the witch used in the Blair Witch Project.

Whether you believe in the legend or not, whether Moll Dyer even existed or not, there is no denying that it is a deeply compelling story. The combination of setting and witchcraft and a cursed land is just too much to ignore. It makes the legend of Moll Dyer some of the best American folklore around.

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