Sacandaga Valley Folklore A Witch at Fish House?

Folklore stories are susceptible to changes made over the years of telling. Some may deviate from the original by information added or omitted or an educated guess here or there. This one is no different.


This story takes place in the area known as Fish House being the first settlement along the Sacandaga River Valley. Settled in 1771 (possibly a little before that) by Godfrey Shew devoted patriot and prominent citizen. Pamelia Shew was the daughter of Henry, granddaughter of Godfrey and in papers penned by family members mention is made of the following story:


It was an evening in November 1857. The cold rain pelted the ground . Pamelia, her husband Samuel Finch, and their two daughters were inside a warm cabin with the supper soup simmering over the fireplace when a knock came to the heavy plank door and a thin, high, voice called “Hello is anyone home?” Not thinking anyone would be out on a cold, wet, night such as this, Samuel paused before opening the door. Again a knock came … and a voice… “Hello?”


Samuel opened the door and there stood a woman in a thoroughly soaked cloak . Her dark eyes were wide and dark hair hung in wet lanks. She informed him she was a stranger in these parts and could not find lodging. She was welcomed in and provided with warm clothing while hers dried by the fire. The family invited her to their table for warm soup and home made bread to which the woman expressed her thanks and told them, in a cryptic kind of way, that they would not be sorry for their hospitality.


After the dishes were done and the children were in bed the stranger informed the couple that she could see into the past and the future. The Finchs were god fearing people but curiosity getting the better of them or maybe not wanting to be rude they sat as the stranger continued .


She asked for a pencil , but wanted no paper. And then she curled her fingers around it with her left hand and made movements as if to write then stated “This is how the Reverend Jonathan Finch had to write after he received a wound in the Revolutionary War”. The war had ended some 74 years earlier in 1783. Indeed this injury was known to the family, but how this stranger would know was a question that was left unasked. She went on to say “ You had a baby born to you. But you waited to long to name him and he was taken from you by death. If you ever have another son you should name him after his father’s mother who is no longer living”


Stunned the Finch’s sat at the table when Samuel replied “My mother’s name was Betsy Clement” The woman again said “If you want this son to live, remember what I have said”


The woman spent the night and after breakfast in the morning expressed her thanks, left, and was never seen or heard from again. In time, the Finch’s did give birth to a son and they remembered what the stranger had said and named him Henry Clement Finch.


A few years later preparations were being made for Henry Shew’s 75th birthday. Pamelia had left the house and the sisters had been left to care for their younger brother. At four years old Henry Clement was adventurous boy and he and a friend were outside playing that winter day when a horse drawn log truck from Maxon Mountain came down the road with a full load on it’s way to the banks of the Sacandaga to dump it to await the spring river drive to Conklingville.


The two boys hitched a ride. After the driver had dumped the load and left they continued their play on the ice covered logs that had been dumped there from previous loads. Henry Clement spying a snow mound, which he thought he could slide down, climbed upon it. The mound was an air hill. He broke through it to the freezing cold water below. His young friend, terrified, fled and left him there. He struggled to pull the weight of himself and his soaking wet clothes by pushing his hands against the ice that remained around the hole he was in and got himself out. Then walked home. His sisters removed him from his frozen clothes, warmed him up and changed him into party attire then attended their grandfathers party. Aside from hot sweats and cold chills, their brother was fine.


It’s just an educated guess but the assumption can be made that the sisters were probably well scolded for not paying closer attention to their brother as the story was revealed. They were probably busy getting themselves ready for the party. Henry Clement Finch may have become less adventurous after that incident .He grew to reach adulthood and became a doctor. As for the stranger, many people in those days labeled others with unusual demeanor or aptitude with the name “witch” or “seer” or worse. Her message appeared quite dark, so could be misconstrued as evil or foreboding. However great faith could also overcome anything. So this story can also remind one of a verse that reads: Be kind to strangers; for many have entertained angels unaware.


Reference Shoo-fly and other folk tales from upstate NY D. Sawyer

by Lorraine Frasier