South of Ottawa, just past Smiths Falls, there is a curious old log cabin for sale near a place called Plum Hollow. Recently restored from its decrepit state, this little Victorian era cabin now offered for sale was once home to a respected real-life witch, THE WITCH OF PLUM HOLLOW.
A WITCH’S TALE
In 1857 Queen Victoria chose Ottawa to be the capital of Canada and the parliament buildings on the west side of the canal were opened in 1865. When the Dominion of Canada was established in 1867, Sir John A. MacDonald became our first prime minister. These two important parts of history, Ottawa being chosen as the capital, and Sir John A. MacDonald are mysteriously connected to the Witch of Plum Hollow.
Jane Elizabeth Martin was born around 1794 in Cork Ireland, Ireland. Just under five feet tall, Elizabeth was the daughter of a Spanish gypsy and her father a colonel in the British army. Being the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Elizabeth would later claim this was the reason behind her abilities using a mystical “sixth sense.”
Arranged to marry a British officer, Elizabeth was deeply in love with another man, a forbidden relationship in her family’s eyes, so she and her lover fled to North America. Once on the continent, the two lovers were married and gave birth to a son, but their love was to be cut short with the untimely death of her husband. She would later re-marry a shoemaker, David Barnes in 1843 and move to the hamlet south of Smiths Falls called Sheldon’s Corners. Here the two would raise a number of children before the husband left her without reason in the 1850’s. Elizabeth Barnes was left with her children to raise and needed money. It was then that her mystic abilities came into play…
Charging 25cents to tell one’s fortune, Elizabeth was soon nicknamed “Mother Barnes” and had crowds of followers coming to her door seeking their future. Based on her incredible reputation of being accurate in telling one’s days to come, she accumulated enough money to buy a small log cabin of her own near Plum Hollow and entertained hundreds of people from all walks of life from all parts of the continent who sought out Mother Barnes mystic abilities. Farmers, doctors, lawyers, police and anyone else upon entering the tiny cabin would go upstairs to a small room where the witch would be sitting at a table with some tea.
Here the guest would have their fortune told in the tea leaves, a common Victorian practice of fortune telling. One of these customers was a young Attorney General by the name of John. He asked the “witch” as she was called, where the new capital of Canada would be located. Gazing through time she told John that the capital would be a town near a river called Bytown. She also told John that he would become the first Prime Minister in the capital city. John was John MacDonald, better known as Sir John A. MacDonald, and years later both prophecies would come true, Bytown would become the capital of Canada and he would indeed become prime minister.
Barnes clairvoyant abilities foretold that the body of Morgan Doxtader would be found and claimed it was the dead man’s cousin who murdered him. That cousin was later convicted and hanged for the crime. The Witch Of Plum Hollow would also reveal the location of buried treasures, crimes of passion, locate lost personal items, and even reveal future loves. Her powers were always in demand, and she used them with great effect until she died in 1886 at the age of 92. Buried in an unmarked grave, the Witch of Plum Hollow would later receive a proper headstone put there by locals who revered their mystical witch.
The original log cabin of Witch Barnes still remains on a gravel road called “Mother Barnes Road” south of Smiths Falls. Previously collapsing and in disrepair, the 19th century cabin has since been lovingly restored by new owners. It is now listed with Re/Max Realty for sale at $249,000. The link to the realtor website is here.
It is unclear if the cabin’s new owners have sensed the presence of the old Witch of Plum Hollow in her old abode, but what is for sure, the fantastic tale of the clairvoyant witch will now live on into the future.
Andrew King, October 2016
this witch story is fascinating, thank you.
Thanks for reading Larry!
You find the most amazing things!
They are all there, just waiting to be found…
It’s always good to remind all of us of the history in our own back yard. Please note that since the grave marker was erected, further research has shown her death was in February of 1891 (the death notice stated it was due to complications from pneumonia) which puts her date of birth closer to 1800. Local historians have recently cast doubt on her connection to the Doxstater murder…but it does make for a great story and anything that keeps her memory alive works for me!
Good to know….the dates vary on birth/death of Mother Barnes, so I took the most widely accepted dates. It is great the local community has embraced this great tale of their “witch”.
Another great story full of holes, i.e. why did her husband leave?
He moved to Smiths Falls to open his business and hook up with another woman
Thanks Linda, I heard rumours but was not sure.
Some accounts say the husband left for another woman, but until that can be substantiated it will be unknown. Thanks for reading!
There is only ONE owner, Eloda Mae Wachsmuth of Navan, Ontario. She bought and restored the cabin using her own funds without any help from anyone. She opened it to the public in July 2007. She felt the history of this little cabin should be kept alive; for her it was a labour of love. She felt a sense of closeness with this cabin when she first saw it and she just couldn’t walk away from it.
Great follow-up..thanks for posting and reading along. Cheers.
I was there when a tour bus arrived, I was taking pictures of the group to add to the photo files of the owner of the cabin. The photos were full of orbs over everyone’s heads, this was out side the cabin. Very cool and spooky. Another time I had my fortune told at the cabin and it all came true
Amazing! A special place indeed.
what a marvelous yarn, and just in time for Halloween. thank you!
I will hair-split a bit, she doesn’t sound so much a ‘witch’ as a seer or prophetess. Just saying.
..and yes, you are correct, she was given the moniker of “witch” by the press…she was more a “medium or clairvoyant” in that sense of the word…but makes for a good Halloween tie-in.
Appreciate the comments..thanks for joining in!
Wondering if the children she raised with husband number two were his and/or hers from previous marriages. As she would have been 49 when she married him, if the birth, death, and marriage years given are correct, how many children could she have had with husband number 2, realistically? Perhaps she was born somewhat later than 1794.
Looked up the story and see the 2nd marriage took place much earlier, but the move to Smiths Falls was in 1843, not the marriage. Glad to know!
Has anyone noticed the yearly cost for land tax on the property? $666.00!!!! Strange..
Has anyone gone to the real estate listing page and noticed the tax cost? $666.00!!! Strange….
I remember a story my grandfather told me of his father going to see her to get help on solving a mystery at the family farm in the Chesterville area. Lets just say the trip was worth it.
HA! Great to hear that connection!