The Legend of Moll Dyer: A Witch in Maryland
The first time I heard this story was in Maryland. It was told by a woman in her thirties, who identified herself as being of Irish heritage, which made the story of Moll Dyer more close to her heart. She was also an anthropology major who has had contact with local folklorists in the past. This is where she first learned of the story of Moll Dyer, which she recounted to me as follows:
Moll Dyer was an Irish immigrant to Saint Mary’s County, where people began to think she was a witch. When all of the children of the town became sick, the people blamed her and tried to kill her. She ran away from them and they chased her to a large rock. She placed one hand on the rock and raised the other hand towards the sky [gestures with one hand lowered, flat, as if on the rock, and the other hand raised towards the sky], praying. She froze like that and you can still see her hand print on the rock. I’ve actually seen it and put my hand in the place. It’s pretty freaky since it really does fit a human hand. It’s at the courthouse in St. Mary’s County if you want to go see it.
Although most of the stories are relatively similar to this version, there are slight differences or additions. In one of the other versions collected, it is said that Moll Dyer lived in a remote cottage outside of Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County in the 1700s. This version stated that, while most of the townspeople knew nothing of her past, they believed Moll Dyer was from a wealthy family and came to this country to escape some mysterious event. This version also gave more details of the history of the townspeople’s interactions with Moll. According to this version, she was given the label of witch because she was seen gathering herbs and “simples” and was then accused of casting spells “on animals and people alike.” Eventually, Moll was blamed for any misfortune that came upon the small town of Leonardtown. The final straw that caused the townspeople to attack Moll was an epidemic that swept through the town, in this case affecting all of the residents, not only the children. Moll’s ability to escape her persecutors into the woods is the same in all of the tales, but in this version she was kneeling on the stone, and these indentations are left rather than handprints. She is also said to have issued a curse upon the land and upon her persecutors. She was said to have been found by a child several days later, frozen to the rock. Her curse seems to have come true; her land has been barren since that day, and the decedents of her tormentors are alleged to have been killed in house fires themselves. There is also a ghost-like element to this version, as it is rumored that on the anniversary of her death, the ghost of Moll can be seen dashing across back roads, as if she were being chased (Carey, 1989).
Other versions of the story say that Moll left handprints and knee prints on the rock, while some only refer...