Elizabeth was born in the year 1800 in County Cork Ireland. She was the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter much like my own grandmother had been. At a young age she eloped with an Irish sergeant, who her family greatly disapproved of already showing a fierce independence. The young couple emigrated to Canada, and settled in the Cobourg area. However, a few short years later her husband Harrison tragically passed away leaving Elizabeth a very young widow.
Living in a very new country that offered only harsh living conditions at the time Elizabeth chose to remarry as opposed to trying to return to her family in Ireland. Her second husband was a shoemaker by trade and together they were blessed with nine children. In 1843 the family moved to Sheldon’s Corners which is near Plum Hollow, and soon afterwards Mr. Barnes went on to live in Smith’s Falls leaving his family behind, and Elizabeth alone to support all of their children! There was very little in the way of employment opportunities never-mind meaningful ones for women at that time, especially a single parent. Elizabeth wisely turned towards her psychic abilities as a fortune teller and as a healer to support her family.
She was very good, so good that her uncanny talents were soon sought after by people living as faraway as the USA. Despite her fame she never charged more than 25 cents and often helped and healed for barter or trade.
Elizabeth achieved quite a bit of notoriety as a psychic when she was credited with helping solve the murder of Morgan Doxtater. His cousin Edgar Harter was tried, convicted and executed for the crime in 1860 just as she had predicted. She also advised George Dagg of the infamous Dagg poltergeist events that occurred in the family home near Shawville Quebec. This was widely reported in the media of that time. She felt that the eerie occurrences were the result of three individuals who had been dabbling in the occult, and set about to put the paranormal activity to rest.
Elizabeth was known throughout her life as a kind woman who was respected as a “wise woman” within her own community. Mother Barnes - The Witch of Plum Hollow - Elizabeth lived to be over ninety years of age and is buried in Sheldon’s Corners cemetery. She is very fondly remembered today, plays have been written about her, her old homestead has been preserved, and there is even a road named for her.
Elizabeth's witch's cottage (photo credit)
After my initial article was published I was contacted in 2006 by a direct descendant of Mother Barnes as she became affectionately known. Elizabeth's gr. great grandson not only openly shared family lore with me, but photographs of the extended family and pages from the family's bible. It appears that Elizabeth's extraordinary gifts also have been passed down through the generations to some of her descendants. I cannot describe how exciting it was to be in contact with Elizabeth's family, and I am eternally grateful for what they shared with me.
Great Granddaughter Gertrude circa 1960’s with photo of Elizabeth Barnes.
Elizabeth Barnes was not the only woman of her era to become a professional witch despite the inherent dangers and ostracization from the so-called respectable society in those days. Women in Elizabeth's position had little choices beyond marriage, prostitution, or scullery-type work, and one of my longer term goals would be to write a social history about these fiercely independent, courageous women who turned to the paranormal to support themselves and their families.
In 2018 inspired by Mother Barnes and other women like her I portrayed an early 19th century fortune teller at a historical event in Mississauga. I also did mini tarot card readings.
And for all those who appreciated my table, including talk about the hardships of women in the early 19th century I still received a few jeers and disapproval from the parents of a child who was curious about my table. As they were pushing their daughter past me I overheard them say in a stage whisper "we don't believe in people like that." But, judging by the look on the girl's face as gave me a backward look this only served to make the girl even more intrigued by my appearance and what I was up to.
Legends Told In Canada by Edith Fowke 1994 R.O.M
Leeds and Grenville Their First Two Hundred Years By R. Mckenzie 1967 McClelland & Stewart
Personal correspondence with Elizabeth Barnes descendants.