Moll Dyer (died c. 1697?) is the name of a legendary 17th-century resident of Leonardtown, Maryland, who was said to have been accused of witchcraft and chased out of her home by the local townsfolk on a winter night. Her body was found a few days later, partially frozen to a large stone. Stories say her spirit haunts the land, looking for the men who forced her from her home. The land near her cabin is said to be cursed, never again growing good crops, and an unusual number of lightning strikes have been recorded there.
As with all folktales, the story has been passed down through the generations and changes with the telling. In 1994 Thomas Jarboe conducted a series of interviews with ten local residents, including a member of the Dyer family, a local historian, and several people from families that have lived in the county since the 1600s. According to these interviews, Moll Dyer is said to have come from Ireland, Virginia, Kentucky, New England, or Connecticut. She is said to have been a widow, a woman disappointed in love, or the mother of two sons. She may have born a Dyer or married a man named Dyer. Two people said they had heard her name as "Moldy Dyer" and that she was an Indian maid abandoned by her "paleface" lover after the birth of a child. The date of her death varied from the mid-1600s to the late 1700s. Several people said they thought Moll Dyer was Catholic or that she had come to Maryland because it was more religiously tolerant than other colonies. A white dog is mentioned as causing accidents on Moll Dyer road.
One interviewee reported that while hunting along Moll Dyer's Run around 1970 he saw a "very dense fog patch, cylindrical in shape, with the light emanating about eight inches down from the top.... It crossed the stream and went east ... moving across the wind instead of with the wind ... then turned and went south.... But what made it really strange was that it did it twice! ... I'm not saying that it was the spirit of Moll Dyer. I just don't know what it was."
The story has survived for generations, though no historical record has been found of Moll Dyer's existence. Records from the colonial period are often incomplete and the county courthouse burned in 1831 so early documents were lost. Historical evidence includes:
- An immigration record shows that Mary Dyer, Marg. Dyer, and Malligo Dyer were transported to Maryland in October 1677 on a ship commanded by Capt. Thomas Taylor (Maryland Hall of Records Land Books, Liber 15, Folio 438). (Moll is a nickname for Mary.)
- A "great epidemic" occurred in Southern Maryland in 1697/98. (Archives of MD, V23, p. 396)
- In the 18 August 1892 edition of The St. Mary's Beacon (Edition 604, Volume LII), Joseph F. Morgan wrote that Moll lived in the area for many years, and that her cottage was burned while "Cotton Mather held sway in the land of the Puritans." (Mather was born in 1663 and died in 1728.) This story has been reprinted in the "Chronicles of St. Mary's," which are available from the St. Mary's County Historical Society.
- There were several witchcraft trials in Maryland, starting in 1654 and continuing until 1712. Rebecca Fowler of neighboring Calvert County was hanged as a witch on 9 October 1685 (Maryland Historical Magazine XXXL pP. 271-298).
Moll Dyer's Rock
According to legend, Moll Dyer rested on a large stone before she died, leaving indentations (either hands or knees or both) behind. In 1972, an 875-pound boulder was moved from a wooded ravine near Moll Dyer Road to the Leonardtown courthouse lawn in front of the old 1848 jailhouse, which now serves as the St. Mary's County Historical Society building, and is there to this day.
The Legend of the Witch, Moll Dyer was choreographed by St. Mary's Ballet founder Jane Caputo and set to the music of Loreena McKennitt in 1999. The ballet was performed at St. Mary's Ryken High School and at the College of Southern Maryland's Leonardtown campus as part of the county's yearly Halloween celebration from 1999 to 2003 and again in 2006. The ballet recasts the legend in the mold of a morality tale of feminism and tolerance. According to ballet company's literature, "The ballet is a poignant and beautiful look at the unfortunate results of intolerance in societies and is relevant to our own time."
The song "Fire and Snow" (2007) by folk/rock duo Hobbyhorse of San Francisco is about Moll Dyer.
Moll Dyer Road, 3.4 miles south of Leonardtown, is named after her, as is the creek, Moll Dyer's Run, which parallels the road then crosses Route 5, goes past Our Lady's Chapel on Medley's Neck Road, and eventually flows into Breton Bay.
- "Witchcraft a part of Maryland's past". Washington Times. 10 October 2004. Retrieved 2009-05-21.
- "Witch or not, Moll Dyer legend lives on". The Enterprise. 30 October 2009.
- Shoemaker, Sandy. "Tobacco to Tomcats... St. Mary's County since the Revolution". StreamLine Enterprises. Retrieved 2009-05-21.
- Brice Davis, Ellynne (11 October 2006). "Ballet recalls witch legend". Southern Maryland News. Retrieved 2009-05-21.
- "Spooktacular Wreck: Crack-up at Moll Dyer Road Sends 2 on Fly-out LEONARDTOWN". St. Mary's Today. 27 October 2005. Retrieved 2009-05-21.[dead link]
- Matt Lake and Mark Moran, Weird Maryland, pp. 24–26 (2006 Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.), ISBN 1-4027-3906-0, found at Weird Maryland at Google Books. Accessed May 19, 2009.
- Hammett, Regina Combs (1977). History of St. Mary's County, Maryland. Ridge, Maryland.
- Pogue, Robert E. T. (1972). Old Maryland Landmarks. Bushwood, Maryland.
- Okonowicz, Ed (2007). Haunted Maryland: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Old Line State. Stackpole Books. pp. 97–99. ISBN 9780811734097.
- Knight, Jr., George Morgan (c. 1938). Intimate glimpses of old St. Mary's. Baltimore, Maryland: Meyer & Thalheimer.
- St. Mary's County Historical Society Museum exhibits
- Old Jail Museum in Leonardtown
- St. Mary's County Historical Society