We all have heard of witches, old women in
Europe who cast spells on the innocent. Witches are not solely a European peculiarity. Even our has had witches, or rather, people who were believed to be witches. In reality, actuality, and factuality, Schoharie County has had a few. Schoharie County
Deadman’s Creek, now called Swart Hollow, is about three miles south of West Fulton. In the mid 1800s, there lived a woman by the name of Margaret Hemstreet, who people believed was a witch. Of course, the people had stories to back up their clams.
Mrs. Hemstreet wished to buy a pig from a man named William Swart. Now this pig was his best, being that it was his fattest, so he refused to sell it to her. A few nights later, Mr. Swart was awakened by noises in his pig-pen. When he got there, the pig was having a “fit”. Swart figured that Mrs. Hemstreet put a spell on the pig. Apparently he knew a way to calm down a pig with a spell on it, so he wrestled the pig to the ground, cut of it’s ear, and burned it. According to Mr. Swart, the pig instantly grew calm, although it’s hard to believe that a pig, whose ear had just been cut off, would be calm.
Another story surrounding Mrs. Hemstreet involves the Swart family again. William Swart was visiting the Swart household, when Mrs. Hemstreet walked up to him. “You’ll have company on your way home”, she said to his. As he walked home across a moonlit, snow laden field, a black cat came up to him. The cat played with him, and gave him company on his way home, but when he got home, the cat disappeared. The next day, he saw his tracks in the snow, but no cat prints.
One time Mrs. Hemstreet asked a woman, named Jerusha Chase for thread. Mrs. Chase, who had just left her house, didn’t want to go back inside, so she didn’t give Mrs. Hemstreet the thread she asked for. That night, Mr. Chase was awakened by Mrs. Chase turning in bed. While asleep, Mrs. Chase began shouting that Mrs. Hemstreet was dragging her to a creek, and her husband discovered that she was soaking wet. Then Jerusha began shouting, “She’s poking needles under my finger nails.” Sure enough, blood sprouted from her fingers.
Mrs. Hemstreet would never be seen outside without her trusty white cap that covered her head and ears. When she eventually did die, her neighbors found that she was still wearing her hat. As curiosity is always a factor, they wanted to remove the hat, but Mrs. Hemstreet’s husband prevented them from doing so.
A woman named Eva Boeke, who lived in Huntersville, was believed to be a witch until her death in 1870. A woman called Aunt Jane Buell, who lived in Conesville, was believed to be a “white witch”, or healer. Actually, many would consider a healer a good thing.
All the accounts that I have related have been given the benefit of the doubt, although maybe such luxuries should be bestowed upon them. Although I don’t know people’s feeling towards Mrs. Hemstreet, it is possible that people lied about being a witch simply because they didn’t like her. Also, I believe this report is appropriate with Halloween on the horizon. Happy Halloween.
County Historical Review.
Historical Society. Schoharie County 1992. Schoharie, N.Y.