By Thomas D’Agostino
New England is full of tales regarding witches, wizards and other seers that made their living through the telling of fortunes, but none are so recognized and once revered as Marblehead’s own Moll Pitcher.
Moll Pitcher was the granddaughter of famed Marblehead wizard John Dimond who was known to summon ships to safety in storms from atop Burial Hill in the small village. Moll was born Mary “Moll” Dimond (some spell it Diamond) in 1736 in a house called the Old Brig at the foot of Burial Hill. She married Richard Pitcher on October 2, 1760, and had four children: John, Rebecca, Ruth and Lydia. They later moved to nearby Lynn. She soon gained a reputation far and wide for telling fortunes, as she appeared to have gained her grandfather’s uncanny ability.
When her parents died in 1788, she inherited their property and continued to tell fortunes to all who sought her talents.
From royalty to rags, they came seeking the prophesies of Moll Pitcher. It is said that she even predicted the outcome of the Battle of Breed’s Hill. Generals such as Burgoyne, Pitcairn, Gage and even Washington himself were among those who listened to the predictions of the Oracle of Marblehead.
Sailors and sea captains often came to see Moll before setting sail and would often postpone their journeys based on her predictions. Businessmen were wont to seek her advice before making important decisions. Moll used cards and read palms on occasion but her main method of fortune telling was derived from tealeaves. She would boil the leaves then dump them into the client’s cup. From there she would read the leaves that settled at the bottom of the cup.
Their position revealed the fate of the inquirer. If the leaves fell scattered, unfortunate would the client be in love. If they fell crowded together, that meant happiness and wealth. If they arranged themselves in a series or lines, they were to live long, have many children and prosper. If but a few remained in the cup, the inquirer would die young. Whether or not her predictions held much preciseness is a matter of modern conjecture but to those who sought her wisdom in her day, they were the words of a seer. It is told that treasure hunters often sought out Moll for locations of lost booty. She would say something to the fact, “Fools, if I knew where money was buried, do you think I would tell you where it is?”
Moll Pitcher died on April 9, 1813, and was buried in the West Lynn Burial Ground. Her stone states her name, Mary Pitcher, with her birth date being 1738. Her original grave was unmarked until 1887 when a proper monument was erected in her honor.
Many of the depictions of Moll may be based on Whittier’s poem of her, describing her as an old hag with a crooked nose and awkward gait but a description on her marker puts her at medium height, normal figure and gait with not unattractive, if not interesting, facial features. So the stereotype of old hags crouching over crystal balls or tea leaves certainly did not apply to Moll Pitcher, but the legacy of her predictions live on in a book published in 1895 called “The Celebrated Moll Pitcher’s Prophecies.”