The story of John Troyer, a legendary witch hunter in the 1800s

A fascinating story here from Rosemary Counter, who found out that an uncle was a famous witch hunter in the 1800s.

In the summer of 1829, in a sleepy Ontario sheep-farming settlement called Baldoon, the McDonald family found themselves tormented by their two-storey home. Without warning, beams would drop from the ceiling, and at night, the kitchen filled with the noise of marching feet. Over the years, the disturbances grew more terrifying. Fires spontaneously ignited. Rocks and bullets rained down on the house. Once, a twenty-five-centimetre hunting knife tore through the air.

By 1831, a desperate McDonald family realized they needed professional help, so the patriarch, John, travelled 200 kilometres—three days on horseback, riding dawn to dusk—to consult with a highly recommended healer. According to an 1871 account by John’s son, the diagnosis required gazing into a moonstone, which revealed “a long low log house” where lived a witch and the source of the McDonalds’ suffering. The witch took the form of a black-headed stray goose, and it was decided that, if they shot the goose’s wing with a sterling silver bullet, they’d at once stop her—which they did. The ghost never struck again.

Two centuries later, the Baldoon mystery reigns as one of Canada’s greatest ghost stories—you can find tellings and retellings in just about every collection of Canadian folklore. Less well known, perhaps, is the person who ultimately solved it: John Troyer, a man legendary at the time for his unconventional talents in herbal remedies, fortune telling, white magic, bloodletting, water dowsing, exorcisms, and of course, witch hunting. He was also my distant uncle.

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