Friday, October 11, 2013

The Ghost of Patty Cannon - Woodland Ferry, Delaware

In the late 1700s at a place known as Woodland Ferry, located in Colonial Delaware, a woman by the name of Martha "Patty" Cannon ran a ferry that transported folks across the Nanticoke River.  Patty lived just north in the nearby town of Johnson's Corners.  Patty was not an ordinary woman, on many levels.  She was large and burly in appearance and stood over 6 feet tall.  Some say that she could best any man in a fight.  What was really scary about Patty Cannon though, was that she was just as nasty on the inside as she appeared on the outside and was a very murderous woman.

The skull of Patty Cannon is all that is left as a reminder of her brutal legacy.  It is kept in a hat box in a library office.
The skull of Patty Cannon is all that is left as a reminder of her brutal legacy.  It is kept in a hat box in a library office.

When Patty's ferry traffic was wavering, she would dabble in human trafficking.  Capturing freed slaves in the area and then re-selling them to plantation owners in the south.  She had a band of men who would help her capture these freed slaves and shackle them in hiding places such as buildings near the ferry and a tiny secluded island just off the waterways of the Naticoke River. Many slaves died over the years, meeting their death in shackles in one of Patty's hiding spots.  Patty's exploits were eventually discovered by local authorities in 1829 when remains of some of those she killed was found in a field near her home and she was arrested. She admitted to murdering eleven people including her husband and one of her children in 1826.  Scheduled for execution, she took some poison that someone had smuggled into her jail cell during a visit.  And just to be sure that Patty was dead, the jailers cut off her head.  

The Woodland Ferry circa 1930 with the ferry master's building in the background on the shore.  Photo: Delaware Department of Transportation

Woodland Ferry still exists to this day.  It is said that the ghost of Patty Cannon can be seen lingering around the area where the ferry master's building was located. It is perhaps because after her original grave in the yard of the Sussex County Jail was exhumed to make way for construction, her severed skull was removed from the grave when it was relocated. After exchanging hands for a while, and even being put on display in a museum in Dover, it ended up being stored in a hat box in a library.  Some claim to have seen the ghostly figures of some of her former slaves she kept in the basement the house as well.  There are strange disturbances and the phantom sounds of rattling chains may be heard on occasion.

The remote island known by locals as "Shackle Island" where she reportedly kept slaves in transit is believed to have been found by a few as they describe many strange experiences take place in this location as well.  Until recent years, this island was believed to be lost in the shifting waters of the Naticoke River.

Johnson's Corners, which is now situated right on the border with Maryland, was renamed by locals to Reliance, Maryland because of the bad stigma associated with the place due to Patty Cannon's rain of terror.  They did not care for the negative association and as for them, they never cared to hear about or see the Ghost of Patty Cannon ever again.

Woodland Ferry is located at:
5123 Woodland Church Road, Seaford, DE 19973, USA
Latitude: 38.600342  Longitude: -75.657569 

Related stories: Shackle Island, the Ghost Slaves of Patty Cannon - near Phillips Landing, Delaware


Delaware Department of Transportation

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