The legend of “Wizard Clip” (Smithfield/Middleway), Jefferson County, West Virginia

Posted on October 31, 2011 by

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Thomas K. Cartmell

Laid out ca. 1794, and better known as Smithfield or Middleway, Wizard Clip has a peculiar story, related by Confederate veteran, clerk, and author Thomas Kemp Cartmell (1838-1930), in his book, Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and their Descendants (1909)…

One of the newcomers was Adam Livingston, who purchased desirable property in the vicinity of this village, and established his home there a few years before the town was laid out as Smithfield. The notice given this man and an incident in his life, by several writers, gives the impression that the quiet villagers were much disturbed at the occurrences, which savored strongly of witchcraft. We give the story for what it is worth, showing that even at that time, the old superstitions were not entirely extinct. Livingston is reputed to have been an exemplary protestant, and a man of strong mental character; but had a few grains of prejudice towards the Romish Church; and none were surprised when he refused shelter to a stranger after discovering that he was a Catholic. No inducement by reason of sickness of the belated stranger, could remove the prejudice; and under protest he took him in only for the night. The sick stranger, being conscious of his extreme condition, requested the services of a priest. Livingston was horrified at the thought of his house being converted so suddenly into a confessional. So he informed the dying man that there was no Catholic priest to be had – none in his region; and besides, no priest could cross his threshold. No importunities offered by the faithful Romanist could move the bigoted Protestant; and amid such gloom, the unshriven soul of the stranger was launched into the great Beyond. The dead stranger was released from his earthly woes, while his host was left to encounter the woes that resulted in the destruction of his earthly home, and perhaps weakened his faith relating to his future. Strange scenes are chronicles, as they appeared to some who were keeping watch over the bier. Flickering and disappearing lights, mysterious footsteps and mournful noises, awakened emotions that could not be suppressed, and the watchers had all their superstitions aroused. Each succeeding night brought new wonders – the steady tramp of horses around the house; the furniture displaced by unseen hands, warnings from strange voices, soon affected the stalwart Livingston; but he firmly held out in his denunciation of all evil spirits. When the strange visitors, however, introduced their clipping programme, the old Englishman weakened when he beheld the destruction to his clothing and bedding, all in ribbons, the tails of all his animals clipped, and nameless other woes. Other persons suffered similar losses, until driven to despair, he was apprised of a mode of relief, revealed to him in a dream. He must seek help from one who could stay the mysterious work of the spirits. He called on Father Cahill, a Catholic priest who was then at Shepherdstown. The priest was a willing listener; and proceeded at once to the scene of all this woe; and by faithful prayers and free use of holy water, the wizard was appeased and driven out of Smithfield, as good St. Patrick once drive the snakes out of Ireland. Then it was the new name appeared; and from that day, it was known as the Wizard’s Clip, abbreviated sometimes to Clip; but the generations as they came and went, heard the story; and the present generation shows a few who wag the head when the subject is mentioned, and related much more than the writer has given concerning this story of the last appearance of wizards in the Lower Valley. The writer has seen extended notices carefully prepared by intelligent Catholics, who credit the work of Father Dennis Cahill.

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