Roxbury & Woodbury, Connecticut
By Lorien Crow | October 31, 2011
On a chilly autumn afternoon, Upper Grassy Hill Road in Roxbury, Connecticut, can seem a lonely place as the last orange leaves hang by a thread from nearly bare branches.
The charcoal grey clouds shroud the sun, and the rusted metal rods of the small, strange weather tower clank and groan in the wind. The sleepy hills of Roxbury, neighboring Woodbury, and Watertown roll away toward the valley.
The airport road, as it is known locally, is one of my favorite places on earth. As a teenager I came up here alone at night, to stare past the quiet hills into the far distance. I might have thought twice if I’d heard of Moll Cramer - the “Witch of Woodbury.”
I first became aware of Moll many years later while on a tour of Glebe House, an eighteenth-century farmhouse that sits near the historic center of Woodbury.
The tour guide briefly mentioned the witch, then breezed into the next room and another subject. But my mind kept returning to Moll. Who was she? Was she really a witch?
Very little has been written about Moll Cramer, most of the stories being passed down from generation to generation. An exception is History of Ancient Woodbury, Connecticut: From the First Indian Deed in 1659 to 1854. Volume 2 by William Cothren. This 1,600 plus page tome was published in 1872 and dedicates just a few scant pages to the story. It tells the tale of a tortured soul who fell victim to vicious gossip and religious mores of the time.
According to Cothren, Moll was married to Adam Cramer, a blacksmith and devout Christian, in the early-to-mid 1700’s. Adam found Moll to be of an unpleasant disposition, and he went to great pains not to upset her, for “whenever he was so unlucky as to fall under her ire, everything went wrong with him,” and he was unable to shoe horses.
When the townspeople began to avoid his smithy for fear of her, and accused him of “holding familiarity with Satan,” Adam threw out both her and their young son, who was also called Adam. The townsfolk claimed the boy was bewitched by his mother.
Shunned by the public, Moll built a tiny shack in the southwestern woods off where Grassy Hill Road now runs, far from the town center. Woodbury and Roxbury were one town then, so Moll’s threadbare cabin likely stood close to where the airport road is today.
If being labeled a witch made Moll’s life difficult, at least it made begging easier for her. The residents of Woodbury so feared Moll that they were afraid to deny her anything. So when she appeared on a doorstep begging for food they gave it to her. It was rumored that “if she asked for a piece of pork, and it was denied, a blight fell upon that man’s swine, and no wealth of meal and potatoes could ever fatten them.”
Still, she was reduced to the life of a savage. Her very presence unwelcome in town, Moll and her son lived as outcasts. Cothren describes how they “slept on straw, in a filthy way, and eked out a scanty subsistence by begging from the much enraged neighborhood.”
Whether Moll was truly a witch is, at best, questionable, but the behavior of her neighbors is not. The true horror of the tale is the suspicion, piousness, and severe cruelty that drove good people to heinous behavior.
When the wind blows, the coyotes howl, and the first flakes of snow hit the bare branches of the trees, I think of Moll and wonder how she and her son could have possibly survived alone in this bleak landscape.
There is no record of either her death or that of her son, so what happened to them is a mystery. Today, some believe they moved away once he was older, disappearing into another town, perhaps finding work as servants or farmhands. Others report that the church eventually took pity on them and provided her with enough meager provisions that they no longer had to live in the wild.
But a lot of folks, especially those who live on the windy hill, believe that Moll and her son died in the woods during a cold winter, and that her angry spirit roams the hills and town of Woodbury, knocking on kitchen doors, and taking revenge upon those who don’t offer a morsel of bread or a sip of ale.