To an outsider travelling through New Hampshire in the late 1700s, Rhoda Dustin seemed a peaceful innkeeper. But the tongue-wagging gossips around her hometown called her the Witch of Weare.
William and Rhoda Dustin kept an inn. Farmers traveling to and from markets in Massachusetts liked to stop at the Dustins’ inn.
William, who had fought with Gen. John Stark’s militia in the American Revolution, also farmed.
William and Rhoda Dustin were born in southern New Hampshire in Rockingham County, she in 1736 and he in 1740. After they married, they came to Weare, a town near Concord.
William Dustin had nothing but an axe and a jug. But the couple eventually prospered as farmers and innkeepers, raising nine children. But Rhoda Dustin had a reputation around the town for her powers of witchcraft. She supposedly deployed them to plague her neighbors.
Whether Rhoda Dustin did anything to encourage this superstition isn’t clear, but her neighbors accused her of making all sorts of mischief. If she was angry, they said, she could prevent butter from forming in their churns. The only solution was to take a flat iron and burn out the inside of the churn to remove Rhoda’s curse.
Townspeople also claimed she could fly and inflict illness on people and animals. When a young man named Reuben Favor took ill, the family blamed Rhoda Dustin.
Tales of Torment
Reuben Favor’s family first tried to drive her spell away by boiling his urine. In this unusual ceremony, everyone in the room had to remain silent while the urine came to a boil. But someone slipped and spoke, which the family believed prevented the ceremony from working.
Following that, Reuben’s father and a group of his friends confronted Rhoda Dustin with an axe, demanding she leave the boy alone. She promised to stop any tormenting. The boy soon recovered.
It’s the most dramatic story about the Witch of Weare, but hardly the only one. When an animal took sick, and its owner believed Rhoda caused it, he would cut off the animal’s tail or an ear and burn it to rid it of Rhoda’s spell. This supposedly caused a boil to form on Rhoda’s skin.
In another instance, a cow got sick and vomited, so its owner concluded Rhoda caused the illness.
In one last tale, Rhoda Dustin traveled more than 100 miles from Weare to Whitefield, N.H., to attend to her pregnant daughter in a remarkable six hours. She accomplished this by fitting her horse with a special bridle provided by the devil that allowed the animal to fly.