A Visit to “Cursed” Moll Dyer Rock
On February 26, 2022 I drove three hours south of Baltimore to historic Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County for Moll Dyer Day. It was just like many small-town festivals, with live music, people in costumes, specially drinks at local bars and restaurants, and families and kids on a scavenger hunt.
But this event honors a witch.
Or a woman accused of being a witch who, in 1697, was chased out of her tiny home after it was set aflame by the people in her village on a bitter winter evening. A witch who, fearing for her life and having no place to go, froze to death on a rock, with one hand pointed to the heavens, calling down a horrible curse on those who murdered her and their descendants.
That 875-pound rock — Moll Dyer rock, with the alleged imprint of her frozen hand and knee on its surface — now sits in a special place of honor in Leonardtown, outside of historic Tudor Hall.
The folklore says Moll Dyer came from the old country to settle in Maryland. She became known as a healer in her small village, practicing herbal medicine, and preferred the company of the local indigenous people, with whom she traded healing wisdom, to her own. She was physically unattractive — so ugly it hurt, one colonist wrote in a letter — and preferred to live alone, away from the rest of her village.
A two-year drought began in 1695, and decimated the village’s crops and livestock. It was followed by a brutal, record-cold winter and an outbreak of deadly disease, probably flu. The villagers looked for a the cause of their horrible misfortune, and as was sadly common in that era, fingers naturally pointed to the lonely, old woman and convenient scapegoat — the witch, Moll Dyer.
The villagers carried torches and weapons through the bitter cold night to Moll’s hut. They set it ablaze, and she managed to flee as it burned to the ground, disappearing into the freezing darkness.
A few days later, a child looking for his lost cow found Moll Dyer’s corpse frozen to a boulder, one arm outstretched to the sky. When her body was removed, her hand and and knee had mysteriously left indentations on the rock. Since then, many stories about the strange and unsettling powers of the Moll Dyer rock have been shared among locals and written about in the press. People are afraid to touch it because of its reputed bad luck — the remnants of her dying curse.
That’s the legend — but is there any truth?
Author and historian Lynn J. Buonviri’s meticulous research is recounted in her book, Moll Dyer and Other Witch Tales of Southern Maryland. She discovered there was, in fact, a Mary Dyer in the county records (Moll is a term of endearment for Mary). She was born in Devon England and fled the English civil war to the West Indies as a poor, indentured servant in 1669. As a servant on a sugar planation for eight years, it is likely she learned of the magical traditions and herbal medicine of the enslaved Africans who worked beside her.
Moll, 43 years old and unmarried, then sailed to the Maryland colonies in 1677 where she settled alone on a small piece of land in what is now Leonardtown. Practicing magic and herbal healing or witchcraft, was considered fine, as long as it didn’t harm anyone or involve the Devil, so it’s likely Moll was consulted for her services—until those years of drought and that horrific winter when the people she had helped turned against her.
In 1968 the rock was located by the St. Mary’s Historical Society, and in 1972 it was moved to a prominent location in Leonardtown near the old jail. Now it sits outside the historic Tudor House, which is also home to the St. Mary’s Historical Society.
Moll Dyer, incidentally, was one of the inspirations for The Blair Witch Project.
I took a trip to Moll Dyer Road, where her ghost has been sighted and aspectral white dog is alleged to cause accidents. I visited Moll Dyer Run, a peaceful, gurgling stream that bears her name. But the No Trespassing signs unnerved me more than any spiritual presence and kept me from wandering deeper into Moll Dyer’s legendary woods.
So, of course I touched the rock. Is there a palpable energy? It sure seemed so. It felt powerful. Even alive, with a very real presence. Or it may have been my imagination, of course.
But does saying that downplay the power of the imagination to bring a legend to manifestation? Maybe the legend is simply that — a folktale. Maybe Moll Dyer wasn’t a witch, and didn’t die frozen to that rock. Maybe it’s just an ordinary rock that became associated with the legend over hundreds of years as the myth spread and grew.
But can our collective imaginations imbue an 875-pound boulder with a life of its own? Most of the world’s major religions recognize physical objects of reputed spiritual power, after all — relics of Catholic saints, sacred temples, megaliths like Stonehenge, the Black Stone in Mecca. Why not Moll Dyer rock? Could it become a gathering place for witches to reclaim their power against oppression and prejudice?
Is the rock drawing us to its spiritual power, or are we giving it power?
And I did have one very odd experience. My iPhone gimbal completely failed each time I tried to use it. It had never malfunctioned before. As soon as I brought it home it worked just fine.
You can visit Moll Dyer Rock in Leonardtown year round or on her special day, February 26. You can raise a glass of Moll Dyer Cinnamon Whiskey in her honor. And you can tell her I sent you.
Michael M. Hughes is a writer, speaker, and magical thinker. He is the author of Magic for the Resistance: Rituals and Spells for Change as well as numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction, and he speaks and teaches classes on magic, tarot, occultism, and more.
His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, CNN, The L.A. Times, Rolling Stone, Comedy Central, Wired, Elle, Vox, Cosmopolitan, and even the ultraconservative The American Spectator, which wrote: “He may play footsie with the devil, but at least the man has a sense of humor.”