The Halloween Reader

Moll Dyer and Other Witch Tales of ­Southern Maryland

      The Moll Dyer chronicled for us by historian Lynn J. Buonviri is not the powerful spell-caster of spooky Halloween stories. Instead, she is a real woman controlled and eventually crushed by the forces of history. 

      Starting from a St. Mary’s County legend preserved in place names and a landmark stone (outside the county Visitors Center), Buonviri places her Moll (short for Mary) in recorded history. Born in Devon, England, in 1643 as one of seven children, she grew up in poverty in a nation torn by civil war, emigrated to eight years indentured servitude on a West Indian sugar plantation, endured another ocean voyage to more years of servitude in Maryland, eventually earning the freedom to live as best she could manage in the lowest tier of unenslaved New World society. 

      She lived the fate she was born for and was rescued from anonymity only by a worse turn of fortune. The year 1697 brought starvation, forcing a despairing subsistence community to seek a scapegoat for its woes. That was Moll: “an old spinster Catholic woman who practiced [white] witchcraft and even more unusual African rituals … from the West Indies.” 

      Moll Dyer’s three-century-old story speaks to issues raging still in our time: class division, income inequailty, #metoo and willful ignorance about truth.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Haunted Southern ­Maryland

       Author David W. Thompson is no novice when it comes to spinning spooky tales. In 2017 he published Sister Witch: The Life of Moll Dyer based on the life of the legendary sorceress who was murdered by an angry mob in 1697. His Father’s Blood and Sons and Brothers, the second and third volumes of the Legends of the Family Dyer series, followed.

      His new book, Haunted Southern Maryland is a departure from historical fiction. The collection of short but frightening tales takes readers on a chronological journey from the Wendigo, a Bigfoot-like creature who terrorized the pre-colonial indigenous people of the Chesapeake, to the sound of the disembodied footsteps of a high school teacher murdered in 1983. 

       Ghost-hunting readers will find familiar and accessible Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s County sites throughout the book. Point Lookout, a former Civil War prison camp and now a state park, is famous for the reported sightings of long-dead Confederate soldiers. Phantom voices proclaiming Dr. Samuel Mudd’s innocence are often heard in his home, which now operates as a museum. Thompson describes Sotterley Plantation as “a virtual paranormal cornucopia.”

      Most of Thompson’s tales provide a brief history lesson and eye-witness accounts of the unexplained. Others are the retelling of macabre legends, such as that of poor Ann Chew, who mysteriously died on her wedding day, and Blue, a fearless dog who was killed defending his master. Either way, ghost-story enthusiasts will find Haunted Southern Maryland an enjoyable Halloween bedtime read. 

–Susan Nolan