The Moll Dyer Witch Haunting in Leonardtown, Maryland
Ever Been to Leonardtown?
Not far southeast from Washington D.C., there is a quaint old town in Southern Maryland called Leonardtown. Leonardtown is located in the county seat of St. Mary's County and was established in the late seventeenth century. Because of its spot on the Chesapeake Bay, in the 1800s it was known to be a busy port for incoming and outgoing steamboats. Before the settlers came, Leonardtown was a wooded area sparsely populated by a Native American tribe known as the Piscataway tribe. There is much history to be learned there.
The town is now well-known for its seafood, notably hosting an annual oyster-shucking competition. Mostly a place to conduct court and business, Leonardtown still does not boast a large population but is the only incorporated town in the county of St. Mary's. Downtown Leonardtown is a bustling spot with new restaurants and offices opening in recent years. One can visit the Courthouse and other historic buildings including the old jail and then stop and grab a bite to eat while exploring. But before you get too comfortable, don't forget that there is a place not far outside downtown Leonardtown that is said to be extremely haunted...by a witch known as Moll Dyer. This is her story.
Moll Dyer: Leonardtown's Famous "Witch"
In the 1600s, before Leonardtown had even acquired its official name, it was home to a fairly small colony of English settlers. On the outskirts of town lived a woman known as Moll Dyer. Moll was a quiet lady who kept to herself and lived by herself in a small cabin in the woods.This cabin was often called a "hut" but was home to Moll and kept her warm in the winter months. This hut is said to have been located on a small creek just outside of Leonardtown, now called Moll Dyer Run by the locals.
Although we do not know for sure if Moll considered herself a witch or magical practitioner of any kind, she is known to have traveled the county's countryside begging for alms and other things to use in her "incantations", according to one source—Robt. Pogue's "Old Maryland's Landmarks". Some say she was an old hag, while others say she was a polite and somewhat beautiful old woman. Her presence commanded one's attention, as she was tall and mysterious.
As was common in those days, whenever the local settlers experienced problems with crops or weather of any kind they would put the blame on supernatural forces...on witchcraft and the like. In this particular case, there were whispers in town that the old witch Moll Dyer was to blame for an unusually cold winter in the year of 1697. The townsfolk's whispers turned into angry accusations and they came up with a plan to be rid of Moll Dyer...forever.
The Death of Moll Dyer, the Witch
While the witch trials were happening hundreds of miles north of Maryland in the New England states, Maryland was also a small part of the witch craze that swept through Salem and other colonies. It seemed that no matter where you went in the New World, you could not escape the belief in superstition...and the inherent belief in witches and their destructive witchcraft.
Let us continue where we left off. So in the winter of 1697, Moll Dyer was accused of being a witch and was hated and feared by the local community of Leonardtown, Maryland. She was an poor old woman, who lived alone and therefore was an easy target. Many people believed she was angry and wanted to make others miserable by exacting her revenge through the form of hexes and curses. So naturally, the townsfolk decided to eradicate the witch from their precious town.
The townsfolk marched right to the home of poor Moll Dyer on a particularly cold winter's night. There would be no trial for this accused witch...no chance for her to even claim her innocence. They were going to be rid of her, once and for all. By using lit torches, the townsfolk set Moll's cabin on fire and left her in the flames to perish. "Burn the witch!" they all cried. But Moll Dyer escaped the flames that engulfed her ramshackle home and fled to the woods, where she was not ran down by the townsfolk. They believed she was inside and had died in the fire, so they left the woods brimming with satisfaction that the witch was dead.
Moll Dyer ran from her home and into the freezing cold woods outside, all by herself. She just wanted to survive, but unfortunately the temperature dropped so low that Moll Dyer froze to death. Her body was found by a boy a few days later...frozen in an unusual position. Moll Dyer was kneeling on a rock, with one hand pointed towards the Heavens, as if she died praying. But because she was an accused witch, the townsfolk people said she was actually cursing them with more misfortune to get revenge. They believed she would haunt them forever...
Moll Dyer Rock
There is a rock known as Moll Dyer rock that can be seen outside of the Old Jail and courthouse in Leonardtown, Maryland to this day. This is supposedly the rock to which Moll Dyer's frozen body was affixed...back in 1697. Locals claim that the rock is actually haunted, cursed by Moll Dyer. The legend has it that at one time you could see the imprint of Moll Dyer's knees and hand in the rock; however, these imprints have long eroded with time and the elements. Do we know for sure this is the actual Moll Dyer rock? The rock was found in a ravine in 1972 and moved outside of the Old Jail, but there is no real evidence that this is the actual rock where Moll Dyer was found some three-hundred years ago.
Visitors say that if you visit Moll Dyer's rock, you will get a sick feeling in your stomach. Some say that none of the photographs taken of Moll Dyer rock will develop, or that their cameras malfunction or are drained of battery. As you can see from the photograph above, I have successfully taken a picture of Moll Dyer rock. And to be honest, I did not feel sick while being around the stone...perhaps this means that Moll Dyer's soul is at peace? Or perhaps she haunts the nearby woods where her home used to be...
Moll Dyer Rd in Leonardtown, MD
Haunted Moll Dyer Road and Moll Dyer Run
There is a spooky area close to Moll Dyer Road that is heavily wooded and is split by a small creek that is said to be haunted by the ghost of the accused witch Moll Dyer. Local people believe that this is the area where Moll Dyer's cabin once stood and where her dead body was found in the late 1600s. The curse of Moll Dyer put upon the land ensures that crops are unable to grow heartily and that thunderstorms will plague the town's residents.
One eyewitness tells her story of going out into the woods to explore on a sunny day. Out of nowhere a huge thunderstorm rushed her and her friends from the woods, but as soon as they had left the area they saw the sun shining as if it had never stopped. They believed it was Moll Dyer running them off from her territory. Unusual amounts of lightning have been reported in the region surrounding Moll Dyer Road and the creek called Moll Dyer Run.
Other people who have been in the woods on hunting trips state they have seen the apparition of Moll Dyer herself...still roaming around probably searching for the men who ran her out of her home and into the cold grip of death. There are also stories of unusual amounts of car accidents on the main road outside of Moll Dyer Rd.
Does Moll Dyer's ghost still haunt Leonardtown, Maryland even after three hundred years? Is she still looking for the people who caused her untimely death or is she simply looking to return to her home in peace?
There is no legitimate documented evidence of Moll Dyer's life or death in St. Mary's County, as records state a fire in the eighteenth century destroyed many of the early historical documents in Leonardtown. There is documentation, however, that a family of Dyers lived close to Leonardtown in the seventeenth century with a woman named Mary Dyer being on record. "Moll" was known to be a nickname for Mary back in those days, so it is possible that Moll Dyer did indeed exist. But is the legend true or is it just another intriguing piece of folklore that has been twisted over the years to add to its elaborateness?
If you decide to visit Moll Dyer Road or Moll Dyer Run and you meet an old woman there, don't say the townspeople of Leonardtown didn't warn you...
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© 2015 Nicole Canfield