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. 


Joe Citro said...

I think we need to start using "grouty" more...

Peter Muise said...

Agreed, Joe! I feel myself becoming more grouty as I get older!