Vintage Vermont Lore V: Mrs. Krieger, Vermont’s Only Witch


In my last article in the Vintage Vermont Lore series, I mentioned that like other New England states, Vermont had a witch trial of its very own, with a promise of a follow-up. The story of the sole recorded witch trial in the green mountain state starts in Pownal, just fifteen minutes south of campus, and concerns a woman known only as “the Widow Krieger”, or Mrs. Krieger. Widows were easy targets for accusations of witchcraft, as they often were seen as a burden on the community and did not have a family willing to defend them. Of the nineteen people who were executed in Salem, Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693, at least six of them were elderly widowers, and many more were accused and acquitted. Whether our own Mrs. Krieger was in fact a widow is unknown, but given the reputation of widowers, it is likely that she was one.

What makes this trial so interesting in New England’s history is the time frame in which it was carried out. Following the witch trials in Salem, all official trials ended in the late 1690s, however that didn’t mean much for the hundreds of small communities in the northeast. Fears of witchcraft and accusations persisted well into the early nineteenth century, and it would seem that Mrs. Krieger was one of these later victims. Though an exact year is not given, as only a brief record of the incident exists, clues are available to those who dig deep enough. According to town records, the Kriegers, a Dutch family, first settled in Pownal in the early 1700s, and are mentioned in the original town charter of 1760. Based on this evidence, it would be fair to assume that our accused witch belonged to this family, which would put her trial anytime after 1760, and logically, through to the 1820s when witch hysteria began to die out.

With all of that said, Mrs. Krieger was not directly accused of witchcraft or of being a witch in so many words. Instead, her accusers asserted that she“possessed extraordinary powers.” What this entails is a good guess, but historically meant “supernatural” gifts. These “gifts” could include alleged consorting with the devil, demons,spirits, or even knowing that it was going to rain before it happened; one a baseless and oftentimes malicious accusation, and the other a result of observation. So what Mrs. Krieger actually did is unavailable to us given our sources, but based on this it wouldn’t be unfair of us to assume that the accused wasn’t a witch. Rather, she was likely an older widow who was seen as more of a burden to the community than she was worth.

As most probably already know due to its popular portrayal in media, aside from the legal trial itself, accused witches were often held to a more “concrete” test. If they passed, then they weren’t in bed with the devil; if they failed then their true nature was revealed. Though there were many tests supposedly designed to reveal a witch, the one that we are most familiar with is the swimming test; does the accused sink or float? This was the test Mrs. Krieger was put to. According to Joe Citro, Vermont’s own lore expert, Mrs. Krieger was thrown into the Hoosic River, still iced over by winter, to see if the devil would hold her afloat or not, because of course this had everything to do with moral alignment and not science and density. Vermont’s only witch became Vermont’s only accused witch though, as Mrs. Krieger sank to the river bed. Her accusers dove in after her, rescuing her from the icy depths as her innocence was proclaimed, and against the odds, she survived, and presumably went on to live a long life.

At the end of the day evidence of the trial and Mrs. Krieger only exist as a side note in historical records. She does not have a gravesite in the town of Pownal, nor is there any further mention of her following her trial. What we are left with is a local landmark, Krieger Rock, a cliff overlooking the Hoosic across from Route 346. After hearing the tale of Mrs. Krieger and her journey to the bottom of the river in order to prove her innocence, one might wonder is this where she took her fateful plunge, or is the outcropping named simply for the other Kriegers of Pownal? It is hard to say, but with this, Vermont’s brushes with witchcraft both met its apex and its end.