The Pine Barrens are home to more than one mystery. Although you have heard our Jersey Devil series and read the old blog post about time travel in the Pine Barrens...you might not have heard of the Pine Barrens Witch (or, at least one of them): Peggy Clevenger.
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Peggy lived in a now defunct Piney town - Pasadena. She lived with her husband, William (Bill) Clevenger during the 1800s and, at one time, helped operate a stagecoach Inn in the late 1800s.
From "The Pine Barrens by John McPhee" here is a poem about Peggy:
The Pine Barrens once had their own particular witch
Pineys put salt over their doors to discourage visits
From the witch of the Pines, Peggy Clevenger
It was known she could turn herself into a rabbit,
For a dog was once seen chasing a rabbit
And the rabbit jumped
Through the window of a house,
And there - in the same instant
In the window - stood Peggy Clevenger
On another occasion, a man saw a lizard
And tried to kill it with a large rock
When the rock hit the lizard, the lizard disappeared
And Peggy Clevenger materialized on the spot
And smacked the man in the face
Clevenger is a Hessian name
Peggy lived in Pasadena
Another of the now vanished towns
Five miles east of Mt. Misery
It was said she had a stocking full of gold
Her remains were found one morning
In the smoking ruins of her cabin, but
There was no trace of the gold.
The Witch of the Pines
Pineys put salt over their door to discourage visits
from the witch of the pines - Peggy Clevenger
It was known
she could turn into a rabbit
For a dog
was once seen chasing a rabbit
and the rabbit jumped through the window of a house
There in the same instant in the window
Stood the form of one Peggy Clevenger
Again, a man saw a lizard to kill
Crushing it with a large rock
The rock hit the lizard and the lizard disappeared
There on the spot to smack the man in the face
Stood Peggy, the Hessian Clevenger
In Pasadena, another
Of the now vanished towns
It was said Peggy
Had a stocking full of gold
In the ruins of the cabin there was no trace of the gold
Only the remains of the witch, Peggy Clevenger
Peggy clearly has some "classic" with capabilities - like the ability to turn into a hare (you might remember some of the witch/hare lore from our Bell Witch series). Her other likenesses, such as a Lizard, also align with several aspects of witch lore. Not to mention, she allegedly dwelt only a few miles from Mt. Misery, which sounds very fitting for a witch!
Interestingly we enough, we track down Peggy's identity through two articles, from December 1857, about Peggy Clevenger's death.
The first is entitled "A Terrible Affair" and was published in the New Jersey Mirror 10 December 1857. The article confirms both her location and fiery death saying, " situate on the Old Shore road, about half way between Mount Misery and Cedar Bridge, was destroyed by fire, one night last week, and sad to relate, Mrs. C. perished in the flames."
The article continues on describing her as "Old Mother Clevenger" and also noting her advanced age and the fact that she lived alone. Although her residence was only a one-story cabin, she was "well known to persons in the habit of travelling the road."
The writer also noted an interesting detail about the week preceding her death: "A night or two previous to the fire, her hogs were poisoned and her horses throat was cut." This seems strangely specific and is quite unsettling.
Despite her rumors to be a witch, the paper did want to see the culprits brought to justice. The guessed reasoning behind the arson was believed to be because she refused to supply "he drunken brutes at the Coalings with liquor." Although, that is just gossip. Furthermore, this article also mentions that it was known she was "in possession of some money" , which the poem also notes.
The following week, the New Jersey Mirror 17 December 1857 was released with a correction to the article from one of the accused party's employer, JW Cox, stating, "I have made as thorough an investigation as I could, and from the facts I gather from her children and others who were present, I am fully satisfied that no one was implicated in the matter—but that the fire originated from the chimney or fire-place. The old lady was in the habit of providing a bountiful supply of fuel, and piling it up near the fire, when about retiring for the night."
Not only does Cox deny that the fire was on purpose, he also discredits Peggy's character saying, "the day previous to the fire, provided herself with a quantity of opium, to the use of which she was much addicted. When under the influence of opium, she was frequently much deranged."
Although we may never know what really happened that night, or how Peggy became known as a witch, it is an interesting story in Piney history.
This image is entitled Pine Barrens 2, Author Jim Lukach. It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.