Articles & Stories



Did "Witch Burnings" Take Place

In Fleming County, Kentucky?

Editor's Note: The Kentucky Explorer welcomes Ward Harrison of Jeffersonville, Indiana, back as a contributing writer after several years. In the past he has written many articles for this magazine about country music singers and actors with Kentucky connections. This month Mr. Harrison will stir the interest of readers with a "witch burning" story that supposedly took place in 1898 in Fleming County, Kentucky.

By Ward Harrison - 2005

The most interesting book, To Shoot, Burn, And Hang, was written by Daniel N. Rolph and published by The University of Tennessee Press of Knoxville in 1994. Mr. Rolph draws largely on oral narratives of his own family members and of other residents of Fleming County, Kentucky, to relate four dramatic episodes that took place in this county from 1884 to 1910; the most fascinating of the four being a "witch burning" that supposedly took place in 1898!
This "witch burning" is traditionally said to have occurred near Rolph Hollow (later known as Mt. Carmel) and Beechburg. Although there is no written documentation nor mention of the woman's name, it is has been speculated that it was Hulda Collins Lamar. Mr. Rolph contends that witches and the subsequent burning of them have existed with his family's oral repertoire for many years. He mentions three suspected witches of Fleming County, by name. They were Hulda, Sarah and Mariah Collins; the daughters of Edward "Ned" and Cassy Collins. At the death of their parents the three daughters inherited the farm bordering that of the Rolph family farm.
As one particular story goes: "Mrs. Rolph was returning home in her buggy late one evening. When coming to the rise in a hill she heard a commotion and experienced a horrible smell. Upon reaching the summit she saw many people gathered around a woman tied to a stake and burning alive. Later, when learning the woman had been judged a witch because she used herbs to heal people, Mrs. Rolph became frightful because, she too, used herbs for the same reason."
Barbour R. Rolph, a relative and former resident of Rolph Hollow, recalled in a letter to the author, that his mother, Ida Mae Pollitt Rolph stated Hulda's son, Washington "Wash" Lamar, lived with her two old maid sisters, Mariah and Sarah, after Hulda had passed away. "Wash" considered these two aunts to be witches, as they practiced healing with herbs and roots and spoke in strange chants associated with witchcraft. Elderly residents of Fleming County, of many years past, attested that a much earlier "witch burning" had taken place on the western side of Fleming County at Elizaville. Here, a woman suspected of being a witch, or of practicing witchcraft, was taken and put on a platform, which was built right in the town square, or at the crossroads, where she was tied to a stake and burnt to death.
In England, Scotland, Colonial America and Rolph Hollow, the witch was usually a mature woman, though not necessarily elderly. She was likely quarrelsome and had a reputation for having supernatural powers she used for either healing or harming. Is one to believe that these "witch burnings" actually took place in Fleming County, Kentucky, as late as 1898? As previously stated the author found no documented proof, but does this necessarily mean it didn't happen. The Collins sisters, their parents, and Wash Lamar appear on the 1850 and subsequent Federal Census Records for Fleming County, as well as the 1852-61 Vital Statistics and in Order Book 1 of Fleming County.
If any reader has any old stories of witchcraft practiced in the state of Kentucky, please write to The Kentucky Explorer.

Ward Harrison, 1800 Dutch Lane #21, Jeffersonville, IN 47130; [email protected]