To an outsider travelling through New Hampshire in the late 1700s, Rhoda Dustin was a peaceful innkeeper. But to the tongue wagging gossips around her hometown, she was the Witch of Weare.
William Dustin had a career as an innkeeper and farmer, as well as a soldier who fought with General John Stark’s militia in the Revolutionary war. The inn he ran with his wife was a popular stop for farmers travelling to and from markets in Massachusetts.
William and Rhoda had been born in southern New Hampshire in Rockingham County, she in 1736 and he in 1740. After they married, they came to Weare. William had nothing but an axe and a jug. But they eventually prospered as farmers and innkeeprs, raising nine children. But around the town Rhoda was best known for her powers of witchcraft, which she deployed to plague her neighbors.
Whether Rhoda did anything to encourage this superstition isn’t clear, but she was accused of making all sorts of mischief. If she was angry, her neighbors 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 had the ability to fly and inflict illness on people and animals. When a young man, Reuben Favor, was taken ill, the family blamed Rhoda. They 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 was brought 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 with an axe, demanding that she leave the boy alone. She promised to stop any tormenting. The boy soon recovered.
The story is the most dramatic concerning the witch of Weare, but hardly the only one. When an animal would get sick, and its owner believed Rhoda was behind 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, when a cow was sick and vomiting its owner concluded that it could only be Rhoda’s work.
In one last tale, Rhoda was able to travel 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 would allow the animal to fly.