The compelling story of Rhoda Derry begins in the mid 19th century in Quincy, Illinois. Legends, myths and folklore persisted well into the 20th century about the unfortunate and tragic life of this enigmatic woman. Her life began innocently enough in 1834, however, at the tender age of 16, her life took a dramatic and tragic turn.
Rumors of the practice of witchcraft surrounded her family for many years. It is likely such rumors were due to the myths and legends of her grandmother, Mollie Derry - The Fortuneteller of the Revolution. Mollie and her husband, Valentine, came to America during the Revolution as Hessian soldiers; deserted the British and then fought under General Morgan as sharpshooters. After the war, they traveled over the Allegheny Mountains from Loudoun County, Virginia and settled in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. There, Mollie became both respected and feared for her practice of witchcraft. Many different descriptions of Mollie varied around Fayette County, Pennsylvania. One describes her as “able to ride great distances on a broomstick” and that she “walked with a cane.” Certainly, these myths and legends have all the attributes of what we think a witch might be like. It was said that she lived in absolute destitution in a hovel in the mountains above Uniontown, and that she could “command rattlesnakes to guard her and her cabin,” yet she was widely known throughout South West Pennsylvania as “a healer, using herbs and roots.” Mollie was a renowned practitioner of both “Pow-wowing” and “Der Hexen Hammer” (The witches hammer). She is said to have owned an “Erd Spiegel,” meaning “Earth Mirror,” some type of crystal ball by which she could foretell the future.
Rhoda's father and mother, Jacob and Rachel, moved west from Pennsylvania to Illinois, first stopping in Indiana where Rhoda was born (the youngest of eight children), and then on to Quincy, Illinois. Rhoda it was said, was a “beautiful young woman,” and in 1850, Rhoda met and fell in love with a neighbor boy, Charles Phenix. Charles' mother, Nancy, was not amused and forbid Charles from marrying Rhoda. Believing Charles' mother had placed a curse upon her, Rhoda's life took a terrifying and tragic turn. Her life began a downward spiral into the little known world of the insane. Inexplicable events began to happen, which many attributed to the “evils of witchcraft.” Then, after more than forty years of being subjected to incredibly deplorable conditions in a Quincy, Illinois Almshouse, her salvation.
Now, after many years of research, Rhoda's story is told in the book entitled, Rhoda, A Tragic & True Story of a Farmer's Daughter. The book is a compilation of information derived from many sources, including family, census archives, library archives and historic documents. I am D. Doc Derry, Rhoda's g-g-nephew, and the g-g-grandson of her father and mother, Jacob and Rachel Derry.
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