During the Depression the Federal Writers’ Project provided wages for unemployed clerks, writers, editors, lawyers, teachers, librarians, and similar workers, and sought to compile anthologies of oral history, folklore, and music, as well as state, local and specialized guidebooks.
The Virginia Writers’ Project (VWP) was the state-sponsored segment of the Federal Writers’ Project. The VWP collected over 3,850 items from 62 counties between mid-1937 and mid-1942.
In 1991 Thomas E. Barden published 150 of the pieces from the VWP Collection (now housed at the University of Virginia) in ‘Virginia Folk Legends,” from which this oral history was taken.
Montague and Duck Moore
‘An unknown informant, interviewed by Raymond Sloan in Rocky Mount, Franklin County VA, no date
A family moved into Franklin County about thirty years ago, or rather, “appeared” in Franklin County, settling in a little cabin on a farm near the foothills of the Blue Ridge in the western section of the county. No one seemed to know where they might have come from. Evidently just wanderers, Montague Moore and his wife, known only as “Duck,” were a peculiar acting couple. And they both dressed oddly and shabbily. No more than paupers really, and without any education or skill, they must have struck a likely place to remain—for they did remain, and fared well.
Living near the Moores were several families that were very superstitious, and it wasn’t long before reports began to be circulated that the Moores were witches. Soon proofs of the accusations were forthcoming in the death of livestock from strange causes. Any strange happening was soon attributed to Montague and Duck Moore.
On being approached concerning their ability to hex, to make it stranger still, both freely admitted the fact. Yes, they were witches, but Montague stated that although he had the ability to bewitch, his greatest accomplishment was the ability to “take off the spell.” It was his wife Duck, he affirmed, who did all the hexing. It was not very difficult for Montague to follow this up and make it profitable, for in her visits to the neighborhood, Duck often threatened those who displeased her with a “spell.” Dismayed, the superstitious neighbors were relieved, next day, when Montague appeared and announced that he would gladly remove the “spell” for a bushel of potatoes or other household necessities.
In this manner, Montague and Duck continued their racket. Duck was occult in manner and professed to know many secrets in gaining good fortune and preventing bad luck. This information she dispensed for articles of clothing, food, and even money. The “spells” were of many types. Duck would suggest causing everything from a headache to rheumatism in the line of common ailments, and often would vent her powers on livestock.
Children were especially afraid of her and Montague, and would not pass near the little shack in which they lived. Even now, years after their death, many are superstitious about the little shack in which they lived, and especially wary of the two mounds on the hill, the graves of Montague and Duck Moore.
Possibly the greatest accomplishment attributed to Duck was the spell she put upon a young man in the neighborhood. He began to act very strangely and his family thought he was under her spell. What Montague could do for him didn’t help and he went off in the woods and killed himself.
When they had just died neighbors that had never dared to cross their doorsill came in crowds to ransack the place. Only a few crude pieces of furniture were in the little hovel, but a large cave in the hillside nearby was filled with stuff—tribute they’d got from their neighbors to ward off their witchery.