Tag Archives: Edward Rowe Snow

Watching a fictional witch become a historical woman

It was a dark and stormy night … in late nineteenth Century Strafford County, New Hampshire, near Dover and the seacoast. The Bartlett family’s fields were soaked too wet for haying the next day. There was time to swap tales with a visitor at the kitchen table. One story went like this.

Well, then; up in Barrington, take the road that leads through Fly Market, then up around by Jerry Kingman’s and Eliphalet Foss’s, over Muchdo hill, past Robert Stacy’s to Hardscrabble, and there on till you take the road that leads over to the Leathers’s, and when you are pretty well on your way, you will pass an old cellar-hole. There was where the old witch lived, and her name was Moll Ellsworth.

She lived alone, except a black cat without a white hair on it. She planted her own garden, and raised enough for her. She went out carding and weaving. Sometimes she laid out the dead and watched all night with them alone.

She would take no money but silver, and she always bit it when she took it, else it would have worked harm to her, as a witch. Even witches have their limits like other people.

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The many makeovers of Boston’s best known ghost

Pirate Anne Bonney helping to shape the spirit’s spirit

The tragedy of the Lady in Black who haunts the fortress on George’s Island in Boston harbor is so closely linked with New England’s celebrated popular historian Edward Rowe Snow (1902-1982) that some people think he invented the story himself. Here’s how Snow told it for a Boston television show in 1970 (video link).

The Lady in Black is perhaps New England’s most unusual ghost story. It all began in the Civil War in 1861 when a young Confederate captain, [was] captured and taken to Fort Warren, where he was lodged in the Corridor of Dungeons.

His wife found out, landed at this fort on a rainy night, came up, whistled to him, he answered and a rope was lowered and she was taken into the fort at one of the long musketry embrasures here.

They met. They planned not to escape from the fort, but to capture the fort, turn the guns of the fort against Bos[ton, to change] the entire course of the war. But it was not to be, because they were detected, and in the battle which followed, her husband was mortally wounded.

After his funeral, she was told that she must be executed as a spy. And they gave her a final request, and she asked that she be given a lady’s dress to wear. They gave her the lady’s dress, and wearing it, she was swung out into eternity.

And after that, after she was buried by the side of her husband, seven weeks went by, and then the first ghost-like [ events] came. A group of officers, after a fresh snow storm, were crossing the beautiful parade grounds. They got about halfway across, and the leader, looking down into the snow, noticed tracks of a lady’s slipper, going nowhere.

Cue some ominous music. We can be sure that that version of the story is made up. How?

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