The Wicked Lady: A Slave To Crime
We tend to focus on the evil men in the world and overlook some of the truly evil women.
Rockport, Texas – The story of Patty Cannon is a gruesome one. She was a an especially evil woman who, at the time, was known as the most evil woman in America.
Patty Cannon committed crimes so ferocious they are still remembered throughout Delaware and Maryland today.
No one really knows where Patty Cannon came from, although some believe Canada. She is described as a large, unruly woman with enormous strength and a ruthless streak that few dared to cross.
Historians say she began her life of crime in the early 1800’s as the leader of a gang that was organized to kidnap free blacks and sell them into black market slavery.
The U.S. Congress banned the importation of slaves in 1808. At that point, because of the restriction of supply, the cash value of slaves shot upwards, hitting over $1,000 in the South and creating a strong incentive for kidnappers.
Because her house sat right on the line between the two states, Patty could literally kidnap and kill someone and then just walk a few feet to dispose of their body in another state. This practice eluded authorities for years!
It’s not that the authorities didn’t suspect Patty was up to something nefarious. That’s why she chose her living accommodations with such care.
When the Maryland constables came looking for her, she’d hotfoot it across the road into Delaware and stay in her barn until they’d given up and gone home. When the Delaware authorities showed up, she’d cross back over the state line and sit on the porch of her Maryland home.
Kidnapped subjects faced all manner of sadistic brutality from Cannon’s gang. If they were unhealthy or weak, or if Patty didn’t think she could get a good price for them, she would kill them in a hideous way.
She would then drag their lifeless bodies to a corner of the basement, rummage through their packs and clothing for whatever she might be able to turn into a profit, and then stack their remains up in the corner until she could safely dispose of them.
No sense in calling too much attention to herself, so she’d wait until there was a good load to put in her wagon and then haul them away for a quick burial at some isolated field in the middle of the night.
The subjects she decided to keep alive to sell were kept chained by the neck and ankle to the wall in her basement until she collected enough of them to arrange a makeshift slave auction.
Georgia and South Carolina slave traders came up the Nanticoke River near her home and, on an island in the river, they’d attend Patty’s appalling auctions for her human goods.
As it happens, Patty Cannon’s undoing was directly connected to one of the slave auctions.
Patty killed a slave trader and, for some reason, put his body in a blue trunk she owned and then buried it behind her own house. Some time later, she decided to rent out the land.
One day a tenant’s plow horse tumbled into a fissure that had suddenly opened in the ground. After he pulled out his horse from the bottom of the hole, he spied Patty’s blue chest.
Thinking he’d found Captain Kidd’s or Blackbeard’s treasure, he pulled it out and forced open the lid.
Of course, there was no treasure, only the rotting carcass of the old slave trader, still neatly wrapped in one of Patty Cannon’s tablecloths. Even the butcher knife she’d used to kill him with was in the trunk.
Patty had gone to far this time.
There was her trunk. There was the body. There was her tablecloth. And there was the murder weapon.
Perhaps after so many years of cleverly eluding authorities she thought her deeds would forever go unpunished. If so, that was her final, fatal mistake.
Lawmen skillfully lured her into Delaware where members of her gang had already been jailed. They’d turned states’ evidence by providing enough testimony about murders and kidnappings to hang their old boss several times over.
Patty Cannon’s arrest and jailing made news throughout western Delaware. Criminal trials were often the spectator sport of choice in early America – on the days before her trial was to start the lines of eager onlookers, all hoping to get good seats, already stretched around the block.
But Patty had the last laugh.
On the night before the trial she slit open the hem of her dress and took out a vial of arsenic – a means of disposal with which she was very familiar.
Disappointing several hundreds who had came to see her hang, she drank the poison down.
Patty was buried in a paupers grave and was laid to rest for decades, her notorious deeds able to slip into memory – for awhile.
Decades later, officials decided to enlarge the Sussex County Courthouse and Jail so all the paupers graves – including Patty’s – had to be relocated.
Somehow, someone got hold of her skull and passed it from hand to hand and it eventually got donated to the Dover Delaware Pubic Library with enough documentation to authenticate that it was indeed Patty’s skull.
Officials insist the library where Patty’s skull is sometimes put on display for Halloween and ghost-stories.is not haunted.
But the homestead where Patty Cannon lived is another story.
Past owners of the building have told a number of odd tales which lead many to believe that Patty Cannon’s ghost still lingers behind in the building – perhaps finally paying for the crimes that she committed long ago.
Strange noises have been heard throughout the building, the sounds of footsteps have been heard crossing the floor in empty rooms and doors have slammed shut on their own.
There is even talk of feeling a powerful and antagonistic presence in the house, with one previous owner even abandoned the house when he could stand the ghostly goings-on no longer!
Could it be Patty making her presence known at her former residence?
Or is it possibly one of her more than 40 victims crying out in anguish? – Dean Terry
More great information: Patty Cannon website