Who is Moll Dyer? The Witch of Leonardtown, Maryland
Not far south of Washington D.C., there’s a quaint town in Southern Maryland called Leonardtown. Leonardtown is located in the county seat of St. Mary’s County and was first colonized in the late seventeenth century. Before the settlers came, Leonardtown was a wooded area sparsely populated by the Piscataway tribe. When the English settled there in the sixteen hundreds, they brought their superstition with them. Soon there were tales of a witch named Moll Dyer circulating among the fearful colonists.
Moll Dyer: Leonardtown’s Famous “Witch”
In the 1600’s, before Leonardtown had 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 lived by herself in a small cabin in the woods. This cabin by today’s standards would be considered a “hut”, but it was home to Moll and kept her warm in the winter months. Moll’s hut was located on a creek just outside of Leonardtown, now called Moll Dyer Run.
Was Moll Really A Witch? Her Trek from the Caribbean to Maryland
Although we don’t know if Moll considered herself a witch, she did things to set the colony wondering. Poor Moll begged for alms and foraged for herbs to use in her “incantations”, according to Robt. Pogue’s “Old Maryland’s Landmarks”. Some say she was an old hag, while others say she was a polite and beautiful old woman. It didn’t help that Moll was tall and towered over most of the colonists. In addition, there’s new research that suggests Moll was first an indentured servant in the Caribbean before making her way to Leonardtown. The theory goes she may have learned African folk magic from the people in the Caribbean before settling down in Maryland, once her indentured contract was up.
Because Maryland was a state in which freedom of religion was crucial, there were more instances of women using herbal remedies and “white magic” than in other Puritan colonies. Catholics and Quakers were allowed to settle in the state that’s now Maryland. The people didn’t tend to worry about the midwives and healers, except if the individual doing the “healing” harmed someone. Either directly or indirectly. And until the “devil” was brought into the equation. Then it was considered a crime and folks were tried. Most of the cases of witch trials in Maryland at that time were found not guilty, with only a few leading to guilty verdicts.
Bad Weather, Illness & A Poor Harvest = Witchcraft?
Moll Dyer’s case isn’t the first or only witch hunt that occurred in colonial Maryland. There were quite a few others including a woman named Elizabeth Richardson who was executed at sea on her way to the colony in 1657. And yet another woman before her, Mary Lee, who was also killed at sea in 1654 amid accusations of witchcraft. Around the same time, witchcraft lawsuits were becoming a common practice in Southern Maryland. And the good ol’ fashioned Witch Trial wasn’t unheard of. The only person to be executed on Maryland soil, following a Witch Trial, was Rebecca Fowler. She was accused of using dark magic to harm a man and of performing witchcraft in certain public places. She was hung in October of 1685.
When people died of unexpected causes, the colonists had to blame someone for their misfortunes. As was common in those days, whenever the local settlers experienced problems with crops or endured severe weather, they’d blame it on supernatural forces too – either god or the Devil. In this particular case, there were whispers in town the old witch had cursed the colony with an unusually cold winter in 1697. Records show that people were dying of some sort of illness, likely influenza, and grew fearful of witchcraft being used against them. Whispers turned into angry accusations and the colonists came up with a plan to get rid of Moll Dyer forever.
The Death of the Witch
In the winter of 1697, Moll Dyer was accused of being a witch and was both hated and feared by the Leonardtown settlement. She was a poor old woman who lived alone, and therefore was an easy target. Many people said she was angry and wanted revenge through hexes and curses. So naturally, the townsfolk decided to eradicate the witch from their precious town.
Her Home Set Ablaze
The townsfolk marched to the her home on a particularly cold winter’s night. There would be no trial for this accused witch…no chance for her to defend her position. I don’t quite understand why she wasn’t at least arrested and tried, but the answer is likely mass hysteria and mob mentality. With 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 escaped the angry mob. They believed they’d killed her in the fire, so they left the woods brimming with satisfaction.
I should add, the above is my dramatization and what I see happening to poor Moll Dyer. However, the descendants of the people believed to have run Moll out of her home claim their ancestors didn’t mean her harm. That they merely wanted to “run her out of town”. I’ll let you be the judge.
Moll Dyer’s Tragic Death
Unfortunately, the temperature dropped so low Moll Dyer froze to death. Her body was found a few days later…frozen in an unusual position. Moll Dyer was kneeling on a rock, with one hand pointed towards the Heavens, and one hand plastered to the rock itself. Because she was an accused witch, the townsfolk people believed she cursed them in death. They believed she would haunt them forever.
Moll Dyer Rock
Moll Dyer’s rock once sat outside of the Old Jail in Leonardtown, Maryland. This is the rock where Moll Dyer’s body was found in 1697. Locals claim the rock is haunted, cursed by Moll Dyer the witch. 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 been erased in time. 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 to confirm this is the actual rock where Moll Dyer was found some three-hundred years ago. On February 26th, 2021, the rock was moved from outside of the Old Jail to the inside of Tudor Hall and is now preserved for future visitors. THANKS TO MY MOM Jeannie Carrico, who pushed and lobbied for the rock to be moved inside, out of the elements. The Mayor of Leonardtown also proclaimed February 26th as the Official Moll Dyer day!
Strange Paranormal Rock Experiences
Visitors say when you visit the rock, you 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 when it sat outside the Old Jail. And to be honest, I did not feel sick while being around the stone. In 2020, the Three Notch Paranormal Investigations Team investigated Moll Dyer rock. They found some startling evidence. To learn more check out their FaceBook page here.
Haunted Moll Dyer Road
There’s a spooky area of town close to Moll Dyer Road that is heavily wooded and split by a small creek. Locals believe this is where Moll Dyer’s cabin once stood and close to where her dead body was found in the late 1600’s. The legendary curse of Moll Dyer ensures crops are unable to grow and that thunderstorms will plague the town’s residents.
One eyewitness tells her story of going into the woods to explore on a sunny day. Out of nowhere, a huge thunderstorm chased her and her friends out of the woods, and as soon as they left the forest they saw the sun shining as if nothing had happened. They believed it was Moll Dyer running them off. Unusual amounts of lightning have been reported in the region around Moll Dyer Road and the creek Moll Dyer Run.
A few hunters claim they’ve seen the apparition of the accused witch herself…still roaming the woods searching for the men who caused her death. There are stories of unusual amounts of car accidents on the main road off Moll Dyer Road.
Was She a Real Person?
Hard documented evidence of Moll Dyer’s life or death in St. Mary’s County do not exist, and if they did, they were destroyed in a fire in the eighteenth century. 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’s possible Moll Dyer did indeed exist. But is the legend true or is it just another mythical story told by the locals? I believe she did indeed exist. There have been too many generations in the area that have passed on the tale and too many experiences at the rock and road for it to be all a farse.
Might Moll Dyer Be My Ancestor?
In recent years, I’ve done a lot of genealogy online. I’ve built an extensive family tree of ancestors. Within the past few months, I was surprised to find the family name Dyer on my maternal grandmother’s side. My grandmother’s maternal grandmother’s last name was Dyer and her family lived in Leonardtown in the seventeen hundreds. It is likely they descended from the same Dyers who settled in Leonardtown in the sixteen hundreds – which also means I may be related to Moll Dyer. Perhaps that’s why I experienced nothing negative while visiting Moll Dyer rock. Perhaps that’s why her story has captivated me for years.
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 doesn’t have a large population BUT is the only incorporated town in the county. Downtown bustles with new restaurants and offices opening in recent years. One can visit the Courthouse and other historic buildings and then grab a bite to eat at a cafe. But before you get too comfortable, don’t forget there is a place not far from downtown that’s haunted by the local legendary witch.
If you found the tale of Moll Dyer captivating, you can read more about her in a few nonfiction and fictional tales:
- Moll Dyer and Other Witch Tales of Southern Maryland by Lynn Buonviri (nonfiction)
- Sister Witch: The Life of Moll Dyer by David Thompson (fiction)