He’s referring to Patty Cannon, whose crimes and murders were recounted in my last blog post. Although there are many unsubstantiated myths and legends surrounding this woman, the evidence discovered at her home confirmed that she kidnapped and sold black men and women into slavery, and that she was guilty of numerous murders, the remains of which were unearthed in her fields and garden.
Fowler writes, “Her destructiveness and also acquisitiveness, as well as nativeness, were enormous, as seen in the engravings of her skull.”
A letter written by Alfred W. Joseph relates that not long after the turn of the century, several bodies were exhumed to build a parking lot. His uncle by marriage, James Marsh, took the position of deputy sheriff and somehow came into possession of Patty Cannon’s skull. When he moved out of the area, he gave the skull to Alfred’s father, who for years kept it on a nail in his barn. After a time, to save it from damage or possible theft, he stored it in a box in his attic. In 1946, after his father’s death, Alfred inherited the artifact and in 1961, gave the skull on a loan to the Dover Library, where it was brought out for a Halloween display that also promoted reading about Cannon's disgraceful chapter of Delaware history.
The grisly artifact's first examinations were performed by O.S. Fowler, a phrenologist in the early 1800’s, who was interested in Patty’s skull because of her dark family history. Phrenology is a process that involves observing and/or feeling the skull to determine an individual's psychological attributes. It was mostly discredited as a scientific theory by the 1840s and is today recognized as pseudoscience. Fowler, however, was interested in the possibility that evil traits could be passed down from the parents and evidenced in the shape of the skull.
Her brother, James Cannon, was also said to have lived a riotous and dissipated life, and was hung for horse stealing in Canada. Patty’s sister, Betsy (possibly Twiford) was also descripted as “depraved and prone to violence.”
Not surprisingly, he also said, “Her ghost and the ghosts of her band are supposedly roaming the swamps around the Pocomoke River; up in Nassawango Creek; down by Shad Landing. She had camps out there where she had slave pens. If anybody told on her, they would die, their children would die, and their animals would die. She was feared; that’s how she ran her regime.”