Some Reported Witch Tales

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For years stories were told in newspapers of the witchery that supposedly happened in Appalachia. From the Richmond Dispatch of June 9, 1891, comes a few stories of witches in Southwest Virginia.

Sally Slate was a witch who lived in the mountains of western Virginia. The story goes that Sally, who had achieved a sort of fame in those parts for practicing the black arts, had decided to turn her neighbor’s worker into a horse, upon which she rode around foraging for food.

This worker, named Caesar, was an African American man from Georgia who had come north to work for Sally’s neighbor. His story was that the same night he arrived in Virginia Sally came to visit him. According to Caesar he was greeted by an old woman with a red beard and a hump on her back. She ordered him to get up and he promptly did so. This surprised him as he was not accustomed to taking orders from strangers. He said she jumped on his back and off they went into a cornfield, over fences and then up a shaft of moonlight all while she filled a yellow sack with corn. They then went to a house where they were greeted by a yardful of black cats that “meowed us a welcome.” Sally then pulled out a blacksnake whip and hit Caesar with it and told him to scat, which he did. When he got home he found he was a human being again.

When Caesar told his boss what had happened, he also said all that nighttime activity had worn him out and he asked to not have to work that day.

Another witch was Lidy Hughes, who lived in the county poorhouse. She had gotten there after she had supposedly caused the death of a cow. The cow’s owner, apparently a witch doctor, had drawn Lidy’s portrait on a piece of paper with the juice of a plant root. He then tacked the picture on a beech tree and shot it with a silver bullet, right in the hip. The next day Lidy was unable to walk, favoring that hip, and hence unable to take care of herself, which is why she was in the poorhouse.

There were reports that the animals at the poorhouse (which was more of a farm than an old folks home) were deathly afraid of Lidy. The old woman could scatter an entire flock of sheep, it was said, by simply standing in the door of her cabin and pointing her cane at them, from as far away as a half a mile.

Finally there is the story of Sally Friddly. This Sally kept a linen towel behind her closet door. When she was in need of some milk she would take her milk pail and drop a silver dollar in it. Then she would go and get that towel and, while holding it, would repeat this hex:

The milk for her
The cream for me
Saw, Brownie, saw.

And then her bucket would fill with her neighbor’s cow’s milk.

Being a considerate witch, Sally would only do this once every couple of weeks.

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