Tales of American Witches: The Screecham Sisters (a.k.a. Pirate Witches)
American Witches in Folklore
The belief in witches dates back thousands of years and can be found worldwide. Here in the United States, many of us forget about our beginnings, and often we don't realize just how steeped in folklore our country really is—folklore that was brought from other countries, but also folklore that originates here and is unique to this country alone. The indigenous peoples' legends mixed and melted with the immigrants from Europe and Africa. Some of my favorite stories of witches come from the United States—witches along the shorelines of New England, witches high up in the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, witches living amongst us.
In this series of articles, I will present to you my favorite and most intriguing tales of American witches in the hopes that it will inspire you and light a spark in your imagination. Some will be called witches, some shamans, and others midwives, grannies, and healers, but all are an integral part of American history and folklore and thus should be appreciated.
The Pirate Captain Kidd
Before we can go into detail of the Screecham Sisters, we have to discuss the life and times of a pirate named Captain Kidd.
Captain Kidd, a.k.a. William Kidd, was born in Scotland in the mid-sixteen hundreds to his poor mother and a father who had been lost at sea. Whether it was in his blood to sail or just out of pure necessity, Kidd became a sailor after settling in New York with his mother. Towards the latter sixteen hundreds, Kidd had become well-known for sailing and the governor of New York employed Kidd to attack pirates who were ravaging the seas at that time. Other wealthy men joined the governor's request by adding funds to Kidd's reward.
With a bigger ship, more men, and a goal, Kidd set sail across the Atlantic going as far as the seas around Madagascar, to find the pirates on his list. Unfortunately, there were accusations made against Kidd from previous crew members (among others) and Kidd was eventually captured and tried for murder and piracy. Kidd was found guilty and executed, with what was left over on his ship being auctioned off separate from the trial itself.
Captain Kidd's story was well-known because of the treasure he was said to have left in various places along the American Eastern coastline. One of his supposed favored spots for burying his treasure was close to Cape Cod, MA, at a place called Noisy Point that was also known as Screecham Island. But Kidd enlisted some help in burying and hiding his treasure...
The Screecham Sisters (a.k.a. Pirate Witches)
Captain Kidd was a pirate with resources. He had connections. One of those connections was with a pair of sisters by the names Sarah and Hannah Screecham. Sarah and Hannah lived off of Noisy Point, near Cape Cod, now known as land owned by the Oyster Harbors resort.
Hannah was said to be the friend of Captain Kidd, and when Kidd needed a place to bury his treasure quickly and efficiently, he requested the help of Hannah Screecham. Local legend called Hannah a witch, for various purposes, but her involvement with the pirate sealed her reputation. Captain Kidd was said to bury his treasure on Screecham Island, where Hannah would aid in killing the crew member who buried the gold. She would do this by pushing the man into the hole with the treasure and furthermore burying him alive. This was done so that no one else knew where the treasure was buried except for Hannah and Captain Kidd. Legend says the dead men's ghosts guard the buried treasure to this day.
Hannah Screecham was thought to be the main sister who had dealings with Captain Kidd. There are conflicting accounts on her actual life and history. One legend says Hannah would kill the unsuspecting crew member who'd buried Kidd's treasure and then screech to let him know the task had been completed, while another legend says that Hannah would screech in order to bring the Kidd's ship closer to shore so they could pick him up. Either way, Hannah had dealings with the pirate Captain Kidd and was said to help other pirates along the coast, as well. The locals came to call her and her sister Sarah witches.
Sarah's story is a bit more tragic. Sarah Screecham was said to have built a cottage in the Mashpee woods on a pond now called Witch Pond. Legend claimed Sarah had the ability to shapeshift, like most other well-known American witches at the time. She fell in love with a local Mashpee man, who convinced her to be tied to a tree while in the form of a black mare, then ran to gather the townsfolk to show off his catch. "Look here's the witch! I've caught her!" She escaped before he could return with the townspeople; however, and the next day he found her in her cottage with a wounded hand (where he had nailed a silver nail to the black mare's hoof). Sarah's life ended when Sarah had shifted into the likeness of a black doe, she was shot with a silver bullet by a local hunter, and found dead in her cottage with a shot to the head.
There are conflicting stories for both Sarah and Hannah Screecham's lives, but I like to think they were witches in their own right. It makes the story more interesting, doesn't it? Some say their screeches can still be heard through the trees and over the sea-wind at Oyster Harbors. Some say Hannah guards one of Captain Kidd's treasures, while the ghost of Sarah can be seen in the form of a black doe in the Mashpee woods.