Once upon a time, the world beat a path to the door of a tiny log cabin some 20 kilometres south of here. The great and the not-so-great came to consult Mother Elizabeth Barnes, the legendary. Witch of Plum Hollow. In her mysterious attic room, she received neighbors and politicians seeking advice on everything from lost sheep and lost loves to lost seats in Parliament. Plum Hollow still sees its share of visitors but they’re more intent on purchasing fresh curd from the Plum Hollow Cream and Cheese Co-op than on having their tea leaves read. Few are aware that near the shore of nearby Lake Eloida the derelict abode of the Witch of Plum Hollow sits empty, ravaged by time and vandals. . However for three generations of Joynt women, descendants of Mother Barnes, a visit to the tiny cabin shortly before Halloween proved a sentimental journey of sorts. Lera Joynt, daughter Carol, 11-year-old Susan Joynt and Lisa Joynt, 14, had varied reactions to the forlorn cottage.
“I recall Grandpa Samuel Barnes telling of hitching up the horses for the long ride from Smiths Falls to Plum Hollow,” Lera reminisced. Sam, one of Barnes’ nine children, was a blacksmith and mayor of Smiths Falls in 1906. Her daughter Carol felt a strong bond with her famous ancestor. Mother Barnes ‘gift’ to foresee the future appeared in every generation, she said. Lisa and Susan, daughters of Witch of Plum Hollow Painted by Henry Vyfinkel well-known farmer and auctioneer John Joynt, were fascinated. With visions of bats, broomsticks and black cats racing through their heads, they gingerly tip-toed through the debris. “There’s an old piece of wood in here that’s marked made in 1805,” Susan called out excitedly. Lisa reported with disappointment the rickety old stairs were gone. “I’ll come back in my old clothes and climb up there,” she told her grandmother. “I want to see the room where Mother Barnes read the tea leaves for all those people.” Lera Joynt’ disapproves of the dubious title of witch applied to her ancestor. “We don’t like it at all. Her kindly advice and honest predictions helped countless numbers of people.” . -1 Over at Plum Hollow Cheese factory, Claude Flood explains why he and his late wife Ella erected a monument to Mother Barnes in nearby Sheldon Cemetery.
“During the SO years I made cheese here people were always coming in with stories about Mother Barnes. Lera Joynt and other family members felt the same. Some years ago, they purchased the two acres with its original cabin, its apple trees, tumble-down barn and abandoned well. Lera and husband Percy re-shingled, the roof and cleaned up the grounds when they took over the property but it hasn’t weathered the years very well. Weeds have taken over, the roof sinks in and vandals have removed the original pine doors and smashed the windows. The Witch of Plum Hollow has. served as title for a book by Thad Leavitt now out of print a musical show produced in Toronto and an oil painting by area artist Henry VyfinkeL The huge painting dominates his studio near Brockville. “When I read that the last man hung in Brockville had been convicted of murder through her police assistance,” Vyfinkel recalled, “I believed there was something to what they were saying about her.” A seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Mother Barnes was born Jane Elizabeth Martin in the County of Cork, Ireland, in November, 1800. She was the daughter of an Irish landowner of English descent who was a colonel in the British Army, and of an Irish woman of Spanish gypsy descent.
Although her father had arranged a marriage for her to a colonel friend of wealth and distinction, 20-year-old Elizabeth eloped on the night of her wedding with a ‘Canadian army sergeant, Robert Joseph Harrison. Disowned by her parents, the couple sailed to America where Elizabeth bore a son and became a widow at 27. Several years later, she married shoemaker David Barnes, had six sons and three daughters and moved to Sheldon’s Corners near Plum Hollow in 1843. David left Elizabeth and several of the children to live in Smiths Falls with his son Sam, a blacksmith and Mother Barnes turned to fortune-telling to support the family. No explanation has ever been heard by the family as to why David walked out and his grave has never been located. Mother Barnes success brought her fame and she moved to the small cabin near Lake Eloida. Countless stories are passed along of her predictions but the one referred to by artist Vyfinkel is perhaps the most famous.
A local law enforcement officer consulted her regarding the mysterious disappearance of an English immigrant named Hunter. His friend reported the immigrant drowned, leading a search party to Charleston Lake without success. The story goes that Mother Barnes told the constable the man’s body was hidden under a fallen tree, partly submerged in water. The body was found and the friend charged with murder, found guilty and hanged in Brockville. Elizabeth Barnes was 91 when she died, leaving seven children and a legacy of love
Who was Mother Barnes? Find Out About the Witch of Plum Hollow April 7 Only 100 seats available!
Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun andScreamin’ Mamas (USA)
Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.