Grave-tober 18 – Mary Nasson, the “Witch” of York, Maine

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October 18, 2018 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)

Today’s grave, like Joseph Palmer’s, is relatively well known, having been covered by many sites of a historical or occult bent.  Besides, who does not like a good… albeit wholly bogus… tale of witchcraft?  Let’s take a look at the gravestone of Mary Nasson:


Here liest quite free from Lifes
Distressing Care,
A loving Wife
A tender Parent dear
Cut down in midst of days
As you may see
But – stop – my Grief
I soon shall equal be
when death shall stop my breath
And end my Time
God grant my Dust
May mingle, then, with thine.

Sacred to the memory of Mrs. MARY NASSON, wife of Mr. SAMUEL NASSON, who departed this life Aug. 18th 1774, AEtat 29

Sounds pretty normal – loving wife and mother who died too young.  Even the fact that there is, what I presume to be, a portrait of Mary in the tympanum is not too unusual for that era.


Detail of the tympanum; I wonder if she’s the inspiration for Dracula’s hairstyle…

Mary Nasson’s gravestones were carved by Joseph Lamson, of Boston, not too uncommon for York, though it suggests that Mr. Nasson was well-to-do.  You  will note I said gravestones because we have not just a headstone, but a finely made footstone as well.  There is also slab that run between the head- and footstone, covering where Mary’s body was laid to rest.


Headstone, footstone, and the slab.

The purpose of the slab over Mary Nasson’s grave has been a point of debate.  Some sources claim it was to protect her burial from wandering cattle.  In this period graveyards were, in fact, often used for grazing.  Others claim it was a wolf-stone, a stone placed over a grave to protect it from the depredation of wandering animals.  It seems somewhat unlikely that there were lots of wolves in coastal Maine c. 1774, but I cannot find evidence to support my instincts on this point  Here’s an example of wolf-stones being uncovered, in this case in Connecticut.

It is very likely this slab id the source of the folk belief that Mrs. Nasson was a witch – though I’ve noticed that any unusual burial site arouses the suspicion that the deceased was a witch.  The fact that witchcraft accusations were on the decline by the late 18th century and there hadn’t been a witch trial in over seventy years doesn’t temper these sort of wholly fantastic claims. Here’s the New England Folklore blog on Mary Nasson.  We see there that the witch story about Nasson is an old one:

From The Ancient City of Gorgeana and Modern Town of York (Maine) from Its Earliest Settlement‬: ‪Also Its Beaches and Summer Resorts‬ (1894) by George Alexander Emery:

Near the southwest corner of the old burying-ground is a grave, with head and foot stones, between which and lying on the grave is a large flat rock, as large as the grave itself. The inscription reads thus: – “Mary Nasson, wife of Samuel Nasson, died August 28, 1774, aged 29 years.” No one, at least in this town, seems to know anything about her origin, death or even of the singular looking grave. No other occupant of a grave bearing this cognomen can be found in this cemetery, and the name is unknown in the town. A great many surmises and conjectures have been advanced in regard to this matter, in order to arrive at the facts, if there be any, and to clear up the dark affair, but nothing definite has ever come out of the effort. The writer of this, when a youth, living in York, was given to understand that this stone was placed there to keep down a witch that was buried beneath it.

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