Currituck County Tales and Legends

Tales from Aunt Eva
Submitted by Roy E. Sawyer, Jr.

The following stories were told to me in the 1970s by Aunt Eva Morrisette Helms, the sister of my grandmother, Linda Morrisette Garrenton. Aunt Eva was born in 1896 and died in 1978. She married, in Berkley, VA, George Helms who was from Monroe, NC. She dipped snuff. She cussed. She was sassy. I loved her dearly.

Photo left: Bettie Gilden Garrenton right: Eva Blanche Morrisette Helms, clowning, pretending to be fighting, 1948.

The Tony Field

Tony was an old Negro man. The poor fellow was plagued by witches. He would tell tall tales of the witches "riding him" throughout the night. He would complain of being sore and tired because of this "riding". One day he came up to William Morrisette and asked him, "Would you like to purchase my parcel of land? Last night the witches rode me through the deep swamp with a brass bridle in my mouth. They left me walking in the middle of the road, and it was so pitch-black dark that I didn't know where I was. After the sun rose, I knew where I was so I could go home. I just can't take no more of this." Of course William Morrisette did buy Tony's field, and it has since been known as "the Tony Field". Tony left for parts unknown--Aunt Eva didn't know whatever became of him.

Oliver Dowdy and the Sanctified Sect

Oliver Dowdy lived just a few hundred feet north of the Morrisette home. He belonged to the Sanctified Sect, whose members were quite fundamental in their religious beliefs. Some even considered them "nutty". They believed that if the Lord called you, you should follow. They had a large boat they called "the Ark", which they sailed across the sounds to neighboring counties. They would camp, preach for a couple of weeks, and then move on. If a man's wife did not go off with the Sanctified Sect in the Ark, then it was all right to take another woman with him while he was away from home.

One day, the Sanctified meeting was being held inside Oliver Dowdy's house and the parishioners were heated with excitement over the preacher's message. The preacher declared, "The End is Near!", at which time some children playing in the yard threw a slab of wood up against the house. "Boom!" The worshippers inside the house were frightened nearly to death, thinking that this was an omen of the Lord and that the End was near. They jumped up and began running out of the house. The first one to pass through the threshold fell. Consequently the second person fell on top of him, as did the third person, and so on. The door was piled with fallen worshippers so that no one could get out of the house. Aunt Eva went on to explain that some of the children received whippings.

William and the Witch

In another story, William Morrisette and another man went deep into the woods near the swamp where cedars grew and were cutting posts for fences. Suddenly there came a great gust of wind that was quite violent. It lodged the tree that William Morrisette was cutting so that it would not fall freely to the ground. It was such a fine cedar too--one suitable for a gatepost. William Morrisette worked the tree, trying to free it from the surrounding trees, and somehow these movements caused his axe to jerk free from his hand and come right down on his foot between his big toe and the next toe. It was quite a severe cut, but he managed to make it up to the house, where his wife, Charlotte, cleansed the wound and bandaged his foot.

Soon thereafter, Oliver Dowdy's mother came for a visit and said, "I hear you cut your foot, William." William Morrisette knew there was absolutely no way that she could have been told that he had cut his foot, so he declared, "You're a damned witch! Don't ever come in my house again!"

Aunt Eva didn't know the name of Oliver Dowdy's mother, so I found Oliver Dowdy's entry for the 1860 census. His wife was named Matilda, and they had a daughter, Sarah, and a son, Trimegan. From the marriage records, I learned that Oliver & Matilda had a son, Oliver (born after 1860) who married Polly Jones 14 May 1880 before J. P. Williams, minister at Poplar Branch Baptist Church. Another son, William E., married Louisa Burgess 26 Feb. 1888 before Dr. V. L. Pitts (physician & school teacher who lived north of Grandy where Jim & Hazel Beasley lived).

Next I looked at the 1850 census, and found that Oliver Dowdy was then listed as being 18. His father was Edmond Dowdy, and his mother was named Matilda, as his wife was. So this tells us that it was Matilda Dowdy who William Morrisette declared to be a witch.

Elizabeth Morrisette's Rattlesnake Coffee

William and Levi Morrisette had a brother John. His wife was named Elizabeth and her maiden name was Jones. John and Elizabeth did not have any children and apparently didn't get along too well. Aunt Eva was a little more explicit. She said, "Why, the b____ was meaner than hell!" One day, Elizabeth had an old Negro man go out in the woods and kill two rattlesnakes and bring the heads back to her. She boiled those two snakeheads in a pot of coffee, which she served to John. Aunt Eva said that he lived less than a week and that he really suffered.

As Aunt Eva would say, "And that's the God's honest truth."

The parents of Linda Morrisette Garrenton and Eva Morrisette Helms were William and Charlotte Rooks Morrisette. Their grandparents were Nathan and Sarah (Sallie) Gilden Morrisette, and James Arthur and Melissa Cooper Rooks. James Arthur Rooks was from Bertie County.

No part of this document may be used for any commercial purposes. However, please feel free to copy any of this material for your own personal use and family research.



Marty Holland