Folklore Miscellaneous

Pirate Witches: The American Tale of the Screecham Sisters

In this series titled Tales of American Witches, you’ll read stories of witches from the United States dating back centuries. Witches from the mountains, the swamps, the woods and more. The Salem witches will not be included, as we present only the legends of witches that have been nearly forgotten. In this article, we learn of the infamous pirate witches, the Screecham Sisters. Grab your broom and mount up!

American Witches

The belief in witches dates back thousands of years and is a worldwide phenomenon. In the United States, many of us don’t realize just how much folklore we have here. Our folklore was brought from other countries, but we have our own as well. The indigenous peoples’ legends (sometimes forcibly) melded with immigrants’ stories from Europe and Africa. My favorite witch stories come from the U.S.—from the shores of New England, to the Rockies, witches living among us. This is a tale of the Screecham Sisters, also known as Pirate Witches of MA.

The Pirate Captain Kidd

Captain Kidd, a.k.a. William Kidd, was born in Scotland in the mid 1600’s to a poor mother and a father lost at sea. Whether it was in his blood to sail or out of necessity, Kidd became a sailor after moving to New York. He quickly became well-known for sailing. And eventually the governor of New York employed him to attack pirates ravaging the seas at that time. Other wealthy men joined the governor’s request by adding funds to Kidd’s reward.

From Glory to Defeat

With a bigger ship, more men, and a goal, Kidd set sail across the Atlantic all the way to Madagascar, to find the pirates. Unfortunately, disgruntled crew members accused Kidd of things he didn’t do. Following, Kidd was captured and tried for murder and piracy. The Captain was found guilty and executed while his ship’s leftovers were auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Allen & Ginter (American, Richmond, Virginia) Captain Kidd, Burying Treasure, from the Pirates of the Spanish Main series (N19) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes, ca. 1888 American, Commercial color lithograph

Kidd’s Treasure

Captain Kidd’s story was well-known because of the treasure he left in various places along the American Eastern coastline. One of his favorite spots for burying treasure was close to Cape Cod, MA, at a place called Noisy Point aka Screecham Island. Kidd enlisted some help in burying and hiding his treasure…which is where the Screecham Sisters, the pirate witches, come in.

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 on Noisy Point, near Cape Cod, MA now known as the Oyster Harbors resort.

Hannah was a friend of Captain Kidd, and when Kidd needed a place to bury his treasure quickly, 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 buried his treasure on Screecham Island, where Hannah would aid in killing the crew member who buried the gold for Kidd. She would push the unsuspecting man into the hole with the treasure and bury him alive so that no one else knew the treasure’s location. Legend says the dead men’s ghosts guard the buried treasure to this day.

There are conflicting accounts on Hannah’s actual life and history. One legend says Hannah Screecham would kill the crew member and then screech to let Captain Kidd know the task was complete, while another legend says Hannah would screech to call Kidd’s crew and ship closer to shore. Either way, Hannah had dealings with the pirate Captain Kidd and helped other pirates along the coast, as well. The locals called Hannah and Sarah Scheecham pirate witches.

American Witches: The Screecham Sisters / pirate witches (or how I picture them)
How I picture the Screecham Sisters

Sarah Screecham’s Sad Story

Sarah’s story is a bit more tragic. Sarah Screecham lived in a cottage in the Mashpee woods on a pond called Witch Pond. Legend says Sarah could shapeshift, like most other well-known American witches at the time. She fell in love with a local Mashpee man, who deceivingly tied her to a tree while in the form of a black mare, then ran to gather the townsfolk to show off his catch. Sarah Screecham escaped before the spiteful man could return with the townspeople. The next day he found Sarah in her cottage with a wounded hand (where a silver nail had been driven into the the black mare’s hoof). Sarah shifted into a black doe and was shot with a silver bullet. She died in her cottage with a bullet in her head.

The Screeching Ghosts

There are conflicting stories for both Sarah and Hannah Screecham’s lives, but I like to think they were pirate witches in their own right. It makes the story more interesting, doesn’t it? Their screeches ring out through the trees and over the sea-wind at Oyster Harbor. 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.

Tales of American Witches: The Screecham Sisters / Pirate Witches

7 Comments

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