Cape Hatteras Notebook: The Witches of Trent Woods

The Cora Tree. Photo by Brigand's Bay Homeowners Association

The Cora Tree. Photo by Brigand’s Bay Homeowners Association

This Halloween morning I woke up at home here in the woods of our village of Frisco to gloomy, gray skies and a biting wind blowing through the trees.  The spooky weather brought to mind the stories of both of the Trent Woods Witches that I grew up hearing about around this time of year. Trent is the original name of the village of Frisco, the change came about when the post office was established about a hundred years ago and there was already a Trent, NC. Locals still call our village Trent.  The woods here are part of the unique maritime forest that Cape Hatteras is blessed to have.  They are a comfort from the winds, shelter from ocean, and full of folklore. One of my favorite storytellers here on Hatteras Island is Daniel Couch of Hatteras Tours.  He can take you all over the island and share these tales with you!

Both stories concern misunderstood women, Polly Poiner and Cora, who lived on the fringes of village society in the 1700’s. They are both probably a variation of the same tale. They are never referred to together or as knowing one another. Or perhaps there were two women who dabbled in the occult or simply got themselves on the bad side of their neighbors.

The most famous story here is the Cora Tree. Cora was accused of bewitching and killing people in town and was taken to be hung from an old oak tree. As the rope dropped, a lightening bolt came down from the heavens and struck the tree. She disappeared. The tree still stands in the neighborhood of Brigand’s Bay.  The full story can be read on the Brigand Bay Homeowners website.

The story of Polly Poiner may have more fact behind it. Polly was accused of killing off her neighbor’s cattle and horses. She denied it but mocked the man who accused her and repeatedly was heard to cackle and laugh at his continued misfortune.  I have heard she spun wool on a spinning wheel and he constantly lost sheep.  On the day the man had had enough, he killed her as she sat working at her wheel.  He was arrested and put on trial for murder, sentenced to hang at the county seat.  For years after, no one could grow crops on the land the murder occurred. And the while the stories of Polly vary, they almost all state that the witch is still a-spinning.  Some see a ghost of her at her wheel, some say a noose spins on the ground. One version is in the book Seaside Specters by Daniel Barefoot and can be read here (click on Dare County). Either way, I do not care to witness it!  I myself spin yarn for knitting and I do believe I will not be spinning on my wheel this Halloween night!

If any of this has any truth to it I am not sure, but what I do know is this. These women have held us spellbound for centuries….by their stories.

Natalie Perry Kavanagh

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