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Possible 19th-Century Witch Bottle Uncovered in Virginia

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Virginia Witch BottleWILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—According to a statement released by the College of William & Mary, archaeologists led by Joe Jones of the college’s Center for Archaeological Research (WMCAR) recovered a nineteenth-century glass bottle full of nails near a brick-lined hearth ahead of road construction in eastern Virginia. The hearth had been part of Redoubt 9, one of 14 mini-forts constructed by Confederate troops between the James and York rivers. Redoubt 9 was captured by Union troops after the Battle of Williamsburg in 1862. At first, researchers thought Union troops used the bottle to hold nails while repairing the fortifications, but WMCAR researchers Oliver Mueller-Heubach and Robert Hunter think it may have been intended as a ritual item called a witch bottle. Heat from a hearth was believed to energize the nails in such a bottle to ward off evil spirits and break a witch’s spell, Jones explained. Markings on this bottle indicate it was manufactured in Pennsylvania. Jones said the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry occupied Redoubt 9 intermittently between May 1862 and August 1863, during Confederate attempts to retake the territory. A witch bottle could reflect the Pennsylvania soldiers’ fears, Jones added. To read about the hunt on an English farm for evidence of a seventeenth-century family accused of witchcraft, go to "Searching for the Witches' Tower."

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