April 24, 2022

Edward Dimond, the Wizard of Marblehead

This is my final Marblehead post, at least for now. It's a fascinating town and I hope to write more about it in the future. But today I just want to talk about Edward Dimond, the wizard of Marblehead. 

Witches and magicians of all types were generally viewed with suspicion in early New England. People definitely consulted fortune tellers and herbal healers in times of need (despite their Puritan ministers telling them not to), but those fortune tellers and healers often became scapegoats when things went wrong. Openly practicing magic was a risky business, and you might find yourself hanging by your neck from a tree. 

Edward Dimond of Marblehead seems to be an exception to this rule. He had a reputation in town as a powerful magician, and was known as Wizard Dimond. But unlike many others who practiced magic, he was a well-respected member of the community. 

The Old Brig, Edward Dimond's house. Photo from the Phillips
Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Born in 1641, Dimond claimed he came from a long line of famous astrologers and necromancers. Records indicate Wizard Dimond’s profession was “shoreman” and tradition says he was a retired sea captain. Like most Marblehead residents he had a strong connection to the ocean and his house, called the Old Brig, was supposedly constructed from the planks of a ship. It still stands today on Orne Street. 

Unlike most towns in Massachusetts, Marblehead wasn’t founded by Puritans looking to practice their religion but instead by fisherman and sailors who just wanted to earn a living. They were more tolerant of magic and fortune-telling than their Puritan neighbors, particularly if it helped them in their daily lives. In other towns Wizard Dimond would have been accused of witchcraft. In Marblehead, he was a valued member of the community.  

According to legends, Dimond used his magic to help ships off the coast of Marblehead when they encountered trouble. On stormy nights, Wizard Dimond positioned himself in the graveyard on Burial Hill, roaming around the tombstones and shouting orders to ships miles away. The sailors on those ships should have been too far away to hear his voice, but amazingly they did, and they also knew to follow his commands if they wanted to safely reach the harbor. The hungry waves claimed those who didn’t heed the wizard of Marblehead.

Old Burial Hill, Marblehead.

People also came to Wizard Dimond to learn the future, but one of his specialties was finding lost or stolen objects. He once helped an elderly couple locate their stolen money and also identified the man who stole it. 

Another well-known Marblehead legend tells how he helped an elderly widow. The widow, who was quite poor, came to Dimond’s house on a cold winter night. All her firewood had been stolen, she said, and she would freeze to death unless he found the thief. Using his magical abilities, Wizard Dimond first learned the thief’s name. Going further, he then cast a spell on him, cursing him to walk up and down the Marblehead streets until sunrise with a huge, heavy log tied to his back. In the morning the thief, cold and exhausted, confessed to the widow and returned her firewood. He learned his lesson and never stole again. 

Dimond claimed that magical powers ran in his family. His granddaughter was Moll Pitcher, the famous fortune-teller of Lynn, so maybe there is some truth to that claim. 

Edward Dimond died in 1732 at the venerable age of 91. His grave site has been long forgotten, but perhaps his spirit is still roving around Burial Hill on stormy nights, giving orders to ships at sea.


If you like reading about Massachusetts's magical past, you may enjoy my book Witches and Warlocks of Massachusetts, which was published last October. It's available wherever you buy books online


April 09, 2022

Wilmot Redd, the Witch of Marblehead

This is my second post about Marblehead. As I mentioned in my last one, Marblehead is incredibly charming and beautiful. It's the archetypal old New England seaside town. And as we all know, old New England towns often have some weird legends attached to them...

Engraving of a witch by James Caulfield, courtesy the Wellcome Collection

In Marblehead, that weird legend is about Mammy Redd, a fearsome witch who lived in the 17th century. According to various 19th century sources, Mammy Redd was a hideous old woman who terrorized the people of Marblehead. In New England Legends and Folklore (1883), Samuel Adams Drake wrote the following about her:

This woman was believed to possess the power of malignant touch and sight, and she was able, so it was whispered, to cast a spell over those whom she might in her malevolence wish to injure. To some she sent sickness and death, by merely wishing that a 'bloody cleaver' might be found in the cradle of their infant children.

A popular rhyme about Mammy Redd from the 19th century described another of her evil powers:

Old Mammy Redd

Of Marblehead

Sweet milk could turn

To mould in churn

Other versions of the rhyme specify that the mold looked like "blue wool," which sounds pretty gross. Ruining dairy products (milk, cream, or butter) is a classic New England witch's hex. 

Photo by my friend Onix Marrero

The legend of Mammy Redd is based, quite loosely, on Wilmot Redd (or Read, depending on the source), a Marblehead woman who was executed during the Salem witch trials. She was the wife of a fisherman and, like many of the woman accused of witchcraft by the Puritans, was older and cantankerous. Some sources describe her as "grouty," which means rude or ill-tempered. She was not a witch, but was simply unpopular. 

Most records from her trial are lost, but those that remain describe an argument Redd had with a neighbor, Mrs. Syms. Syms believed Redd's maid had stolen some bed linens, and  exchanged harsh words with Redd. At the end of the argument, Redd supposedly cursed Syms, telling her she would never defecate or urinate again. Soon after, Syms began to suffer from constipation and had difficulty urinating. These problems only ended once she moved away from Marblehead. 

This is an absurd thing to be executed for, but the Salem judges accepted even the most ridiculous accusations at face value. During her questioning, the afflicted Salem girls (the driving force behind the witch hunt) claimed they saw Wilmot Redd's spirit offering them the Devil's black book to sign. This alleged vision sent the girls into convulsions. While most people in the courtroom took them seriously, Wilmot Redd did not. When a judge asked her opinion of the girls' convulsions, she said "My opinion is they are in a sad condition." Grouty to the end, Wilmot Redd was hanged on September 22, 1692 at Gallows Hill in Salem. 

Photo by Onix Marrero

Like everyone executed for witchcraft in Salem, Redd's body was discarded in an unmarked grave somewhere near Gallow's Hill. Perhaps her family retrieved it and secretly reburied her, perhaps not. Many years later, the town of Marblehead erected a monument to her in Old Burial Hill graveyard. As you can see from the photo, people leave coins at her grave to honor her memory. 

The town also named this small behind pond behind Old Burial Hill Redd's Pond in her honor. She and her husband lived next to the pond in the 17th century, and although her house is long gone her memory and legend still survives to this day. 

Photo of Redd's Pond by Onix Marrero


If you like witch legends and the history behind them, you might like my newest book, Witches and Warlocks of Massachusetts, which is available wherever you buy books online.