Aunt Tabby and The Oak Level Witch

Aunt Tabby’s “plantation,” from the Times Dispatch, August 7, 1904.

In the early 1900s, a cabin sat near Oak Level (then known as Stebbins), Virginia. The shack was known as “Aunt Tabby Anderson’s Place.” Tabitha Anderson, or “Aunt Tabby,” has gone through a sweeping change in just under a century. It is best to study both versions because they’re staggeringly different. This is also a classic example of the problems that arise from relying on oral history. The first and original tale was gleaned through newspapers from the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Original Story from the 1900s

Aunt Tabby was a poor widow with four children in 1861. Because of their disadvantage, landowner A. A. Forner let them live in the house free. The family kept the place relatively maintained and in exchange, they were free to enjoy the place as if it were their own.

Joe, Aunt Tabby’s 16-year-old son, came in one day and revealed he had to join Lee’s army. He later told his mother that he had a vision of being killed in battle, but he knew it was meant for him to try. He said if the worst happened, he wanted his remains to be buried at the end of the cabin in the family cemetery. Aunt Tabby consented as well as any mother could have in that situation. She still had three young children to consider. Meredith was the next in line, at 15, and the other two little ones had suffered enough that she didn’t want an argument with Joe.

The day came and Joe left for the battle. Weeks passed with no news of him. Around a month after his departure, Meredith came home screaming. He fell into convulsions on the front doorstep. Aunt Tabby nursed him back to consciousness, but not to health. When he woke, he said he saw something. They tried for days, but he couldn’t recall what brought on his fit. Whatever he witnessed plagued him for 35 years.

Some time later, Aunt Tabby wanted to write Joe. Meredith’s condition worried her and she didn’t have anyone else to speak with about it. He’d recovered, but he was far from being the Meredith she knew. Since she couldn’t write herself, she decided she would get local merchant Chelsea Anderson to author it. Before she even got out of the chair to visit the merchant, the letter appeared, fully written at her feet. It detailed exactly what she’d wanted to say.

News eventually came to the Anderson household that Joe had been killed in battle. Aunt Tabby struggled to get his remains back home, just as he wished. Two months later, a box arrived that was supposed to contain his remains. She buried him just as he requested.

The same strangeness that began with Meredith’s fit, that wrote the letter to Joe, now manifested in a dramatically different manner. Rocks commonly fell on the cabin, sometimes upon the occupants inside. The stones came from impossible directions. The roof was intact, there were no cracks in the walls, yet the stones appeared and fell indoors. Doors arose from their hinges and moved by themselves. Furniture and clothing moved of its own accord, frequently winding up in the trees and bushes outside.

Spectators visited often, but no one could figure the activity out. The plow moved by itself, sometimes through the house, and the water buckets would move by themselves. This activity carried on for 43 years.

Aunt Tabby lived in the home until her death in 1896. By that point, Meredith had been blind for 20 years. He died in 1901. Out of all four children, she had a single granddaughter who burned to death when she was a baby. The entire family was gone.

By 1904, another family braved the home. Mr. Willie Dunn and his family studied the goings-on. The husband was far more fascinated by the activity than the wife, who claimed she had no interest in the “ghost work.”

Today, Aunt Tabby’s life and history is far different. Perhaps, the tale has been altered to suit ulterior purposes of some kind. Here is the “revised” Aunt Tabby of the Twentieth Century.

After Aunt Tabby’s “Makeover”

Aunt Tabby was born on a plantation in 1810 and she lived there all her life. She lived with her husband until the 1880s. The couple only had one son, Joe. The Confederate draft began and Joe fled the call to war. He dodged the draft and hid in the family’s basement. Aunt Tabby pointed him out to Confederate authorities when they came looking for him.

Since she revealed him to his pursuers, he cursed her and that curse started the famous haunting. Aunt Tabby also had a slave girl who was killed and now her ghost haunts the field where she died.

 

Summary:

Mrs. Anderson had a difficult life, to say the least. It’s amazing that a single, impoverished widow with four children can become a plantation heiress within a few decades. History should be entertaining and engrossing, but it should retain enough truth to be presented accurately. The material written just after her death never mentioned any point made in the modern legend. As matter of fact, pictures of her house were circulated throughout many newspapers across the nation. It was far from being a plantation. She’d been a widow for some time before the Civil War started, in the 1860s.

Like the Bell Witch, the original documents imply the odd activity began when Meredith was first stricken by illness, not when Joe died. The same thing happened decades earlier with John Bell, in Adams, Tennessee. A major portion of the original story has been omitted to create some kind of war drama, or perhaps to give some kind of justification for the haunting, itself.

The new account also fails to mention Meredith never fully recovered and dealt with his mysterious sickness until his death, nearly 40 years later. No physicians ever diagnosed his condition.

 

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