There was a notable character, a Mrs. Henagar, who had the reputation of being a witch. Her upper eye-lids were paralyzed and drooped over her eyes, giving her the appearance of being blind. Whenever she read her Bible she was obliged to stoop over it and hold the lids up with her hands. Then her vision was perfect.
Mrs. Preston asked her, “Why, Mrs. Henagar, do people say you are a witch?”
“Law, bless your sweet soul, honey,” she replied, “it’s because I have got more sense than all of ‘em put together.”
This bad reputation, however, clung to her, and every rise that had “a spell” upon it, and every child that had convulsions in the neighborhood was supposed to be bewitched by Mrs. Henagar. So fixed was this belief that Charley Talbot, a notable hunter and marksman, once had ” a spell ” on his gun, and he could not win at shooting matches nor kill a deer in the woods.
He said that Mrs. Henager had a ” grudge ” against him, and had put the ” spell ” on his gun. To avenge himself and rid the neighborhood of this supposed meddlesome person, he determined to practice a “spell ” upon her. To accomplish this it was necessary to draw an outline of her figure upon a tree and shoot it in the heart with a bullet in which there was a large portion of silver. This he did, but, to his surprise, Mrs. Henager did not “pine away and die,” but continued in her usual health. He was, therefore, convinced that it was not Mrs, Henagar that had “spelled ” his gun, but some other witch.
Many other stories of witchcraft were circulated and believed, but, perhaps the best authenticated was that of the children of young Mrs. Talbot and her cousin, Mrs. Henagar. They lived together on the north side of the river, about a mile from the King Salt-Works. Their children were little girls, nearly of the same age, and had learned to talk well enough to be understood. On a bright summer day the two mothers barred the door of the house in which the children were left, and went to the river side to do their washing.
Suddenly there was a noise and shrill outcry from the house, and the mothers ran back to it. On entering the door one of the children was found sitting in the “crib,” and the other greatly excited and alarmed running about the floor.
Soon it was discovered that the one on the floor had lost the power of articulation; was, indeed, dumb, and the other, in the cradle, was paralyzed in its lower limbs, but could speak. No intelligent explanation of what had occurred could be given by the only child which could talk, and, as far as she could indicate, the only cause for alarm was that a black cat had come down the chimney with a cap on its head.
Subsequent events confirmed the opinion. On the anniversary of this event the mothers and children went to bed just as they had done for a year; but, lo! when they awoke next morning the paralyzed child sprang up and ran about the floor as actively as her cousin had done the day before, but that cousin sat in bed talking in the advanced language of a year, but could not move her legs.
This periodical interchange of condition continued for two or more years, and until the paralyzed child sickened and died. The dumb one lived to be an old woman.
source: “HISTORICAL SKETCHES AND REMINISCENCES OF AN OCTOGENARIAN.,” by Thomas L Preston, BF Johnson Publishing Co, Richmond, VA, 1900
Preston was the son of Gen. Francis Preston & grandson of Gen. William Campbell & Elizabeth Henry Campbell Russell (sister of Patrick Henry. The historical sketches referred to in the title are first hand accounts of Washington County, VA & of the Preston Saltworks at Saltville, which Preston operated before the Civil War. According to the 1850 Federal Census for Smyth County, Preston was worth over $500,000 on paper, making him one of the wealthiest men in America (he was actually heavily in debt at the time.)