PATTY CANNON'S HOUSE
Just across the state line from Delaware, reads a sign along Route 392:
Patty Cannon's House at Johnson's Crossroads
where the noted kidnapping group had headquarters as described in George Alfred Townsend's novel "The Entailed Hat". The house borders on Caroline and Dorchester Counties and the state of Delaware.
Some folks believe that this Patty Cannon, infamous kidnapper, smuggler and murderess, has returned to haunt her former home in Reliance, Maryland. Her notorious deeds, which took place nearly 200 years ago, are still recalled and discussed in the area... as is her ghost.
No one really knows where Patty Cannon came from, although some believe Canada, but all historians agree that she began her life of crime in the early 1800's as the leader of a gang that was organized to kidnap free blacks and sell them into black market slavery. Legends say that she was a large, unruly woman with enormous strength and a ruthless streak that few dared to cross.
It was said that the locals knew of the gang's activities and that they used a tavern, run by Patty's son-in-law Joe Johnson, as a headquarters and a holding place for the kidnap victims. There was little that the citizens of Johnson's Corners, as Reliance was called then, or the surrounding area were going to do about it. Even law enforcement officials were reluctant to halt the illegal operations, given the lack of concern that most felt for blacks in those days. And besides that.... they were simply scared of the woman.
In the late 1820's, however, a farming who was working his field near the tavern discovered several skeletons beneath the earth. Patty and her gang were soon linked to over a dozen murders, including her own husband's. Patty was arrested in 1829 and was taken to Georgetown, Delaware to await her murder trial. She was never brought to trial however..... as she committed suicide with poison that she had smuggled into the prison under her skirts.
Over the years, stories of Patty Cannon and her crimes lingered on in the area. It was decided to change the name of the town from Johnson's Corners to Reliance, just to free it from any bad associations. There were stories told about the house and tavern.... stories that told of murder and torture and kidnap victims being chained in the attic. Despite these gruesome stories, though, the two buildings saw many occupants over the years.
Johnson's Tavern still stands today, although it has been renovated over the years, and a sign outside speaks of its historic significance to the area.
Past owners of the building have told a number of odd tales which lead many to believe that Patty Cannon's ghost still lingers behind in the building... perhaps finally paying for the crimes that she committed long ago. Strange noises have been heard throughout the building, the sounds of footsteps have been heard crossing the floor in empty rooms and doors have slammed shut on their own. There is even talk of feeling a powerful and antagonistic presence in the house, namely in the attic "dungeon" area, which was once open to admission-paying tourists.
One previous owner even abandoned the house when he could stand the ghostly goings-on no longer!
Has Patty Cannon really returned to the scene of her crimes? She would certainly be a likely candidate for a ghost, although the legends of her life may have added greatly to the legends of her after-life, so we'll probably never really know for sure. But something still walks in the old tavern, whether it is Patty Cannon or not.
Update: Thanks to the PBS television show "History Detectives", the current Patty Cannon house was not actually her house. The structure on the site was built after her death. The owners of the property are planning to approach the state to have the above mentioned marker removed.
Reliance, Maryland is located in the extreme eastern part of the state and the tavern site is near the Delaware state line. The house is a private residence, although a historic marker outside details the building's history.
Copyright 1998 by Troy Taylor
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