The Witches of Dogtown

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Dogtown is a ghost town, once a former parish of Gloucester, that is rumored to have been overrun by dogs, vagabonds and suspected witches in the 1800s.

This rocky, highland area was once home to about 80 families who settled there in the early 1600s in order to escape pirate and Native-American attacks that plagued other areas of Gloucester.

As the threat of pirates, coastal bombardments and raids disappeared after the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, most of the families abandoned their shanties and small rustic homes there and resettled along the harbor.

Entrance to Dogtown Common on Cherry Street

Entrance to Dogtown Common on Cherry Street

The empty village, which was known as the Commons or the Commons Settlement at the time, quickly began to attract outcasts and drifters who squatted in the abandoned homes.

According to the book Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town it was during this time that the village acquired its name “Dogtown,” either from the plethora of dogs some of the village women used for protection or from the low-level inhabitants it attracted:

“In the 1890s, the area and its named piqued the interest of Gloucester Daily Times editor Charles E. Mann, who documented its history and interviewed ‘sweet-faced old ladies’ and ‘men with whitened locks’ to produce a slender little volume titled In the Heart of Cape Ann or the Story of Dogtown. ‘The name Dogtown,’ Mann wrote, ‘…came from the canines kept by the so-called ‘widows’ of the place, when the evil days came that saw their natural protectors either in their graves or buried beneath the ocean.’ But other than this explanation there are no stories about dogs in this place. What changed the Commons Settlement to Dogtown was the people: women who dressed like men, men who did housework, alleged witches, and former slaves, who lived, according to what Roger W. Babson called ‘Gypsy Ways.’”

Illustration from Charles Mann's "In the Heart of Cape Anne, Or the Story of Dogtown"

Illustration from Charles Mann’s “In the Heart of Cape Anne, Or the Story of Dogtown”

Some of these inhabitants were women, such as Luce George, Molly Stevens, Judy Rhines, Peg Wasson, Thomazine “Tammy” Younger and Molly Jacobs, who had long been suspected of witchcraft.

Thomazine “Tammy” Younger, was known as the Queen of the Witches, and lived in a little house on Fox Hill, near Alewife Brook, which is now Cherry Street, where she entertained “buccaneers and lawless men,” made rum and butter, held card games and read fortunes.

She supported herself by selling butter and begging for fish at the harbor. Tammy allegedly bewitched local Oxen carrying supplies over the bridge near her house by commanding them not to move until their owners paid her a toll.

It is rumored that Tammy’s aunt, Luce George, as well as Peg Wasson, cursed piles of wood on passing carts not to stay on the cart unless of portion of the wood was given to them.

Peg Wasson, according to a New York Times article about Dogtown published in 1921, had once been accused of flying around on a broomstick and did so one day, disguised as a black crow, over a camp of soldiers, who shot the crow down with a silver sleeve button fired from a gun, after regular bullets failed to do the job.

At the same time, legend has it, Wasson fell down at home with an injured leg from which a doctor extracted an identical silver button.

Cellar hole #17, Dogtown Road, Dogtown, Mass, circa 2012. Photo Credit: - Rebecca Brooks

Cellar hole #17, Dogtown Road, Dogtown, Mass, circa 2012. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

It was never officially proven that Tammy or any of the other village women were in fact witches, as East writes in Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town:

“Indeed, there were two types of women [primarily] who were referred to as witches in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century America: the midwife/folk healer and the social outcast, who was often destitute, accused of licentiousness and of possessing unusual, if not supernatural, power…And while most of Dogtown’s women were outcasts, some were also legitimate healers.”

Yet, the New York Times article attributes the large number of lost hikers in Dogtown to the alleged witches’ evil power and states that occasionally a distinct cackle can be heard coming from the woods.

A brutal murder of a young teacher that occurred in Dogtown in 1984 didn’t help the town’s reputation any and has led to further speculation that evil spirits reside there.

By 1839, the witches of Dogtown and other inhabitants eventually died, moved away or were removed and placed in the poor house in Gloucester, and the abandoned village was later turned into a park.

Although the original homes are long since gone, the cellars of these homes still remain and are marked by boulders inscribed with the former house numbers.

Dogtown is located at the end of Dogtown Road, Gloucester, Mass. Admission and parking are free.

Dogtown, Massachusetts, circa 2012. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

Dogtown, Massachusetts, circa 2012. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

Sources:
Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town; Elyssa East
In the Heart of Cape Ann, or The Story of Dogtown; Charles E. Mann; 1896
The Outlook; The Spectator; Volume 99; September – December 1911
Gloucester Times; A Literary Walk Through Dogtown; www.gloucestertimes.com/local/x546182755/A-literary-walk-through-Dogtown
New York Times; Haunt of Witches and Smugglers; Charles J. Rosebault; October 23, 1921: query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20615F9385A1B7A93C1AB178BD95F458285F9
Dogtown, Gloucester, Massachusetts: www.thedacrons.com/eric/dogtown/index.php

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the owner and operator of this website and all the articles are written and researched by her. Rebecca is a freelance writer and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

One thought on “The Witches of Dogtown

  1. Austin Hill Brown

    My grt grt grandmother Mary Brown Brown born on Mount Desert Island, Maine in 1807, mother was Susanna “Sukey” Lurvey Brown daughter of Jacob Lurvey born in Gloucester,Mass 1761 “bound-out” at age 7 when his father died in 1768 to the Boynton family in the Gloucester,Mass area joining the massachussets militia at age 15 (he was big for his age so when he lied he was readily enlisted into the mass militia w/o question) finishing his initial enlistment contract he heard George Washington was looking for volunteers for the Continental Army out on Long Island NY, enlisted and was one of 2,000 men chosen by George Washington to cross the delaware on that snowy,treacherous night crossing the Delaware christmas eve surprising and defeating the Hessians at Princeton,NJ postwar he married a Hannah Boynton in the gloucester,newburyport,byfield nh area and migrated to mount desert island by 1791-2..the boyntons are probobly the same family who took him in ie boyington..it is debatable if his mother was a grimes or graham from scotland and if his parents were legally married..However the lurveys are recorded to have multiple births of twins in the family and it is said jacob had a twin brother Peter who joined the mass militia in 1776 and on his serving his first day in the militia the british hms Hawk bombarded the gloucester docks, peter was hit by a cannonball blowing off his leg killing him instantly=bad karma..recently some mass/nh historians made a park in dogtown=on the outskirts of gloucester with many of the cellers of the former houses identified including jacob and his unfortunate brother peter..who stayed in the old lurvey house with the Stanley family including Sans Stanley who is later found with the Stanleys on great cranberry island in close proximitity to mount desert island,maine..what interests me is the soldiers returning from war having a drink at a table loading their guns with silver buttons shooting a troublesome crow..in those days people believed crows and cats were on top of the list as “shapechangers” that could only be killed by silver bullets..in 1832 on fernalds point mount desert island in the proximity of jacob lurveys house where susanna “sukey” lurvey brown and her husband james brown (my grt grt grand-uncle of grt grt grandfather john brown) had recently lived the townspeople of manset/southwest harbor believed a black wityh sally somers had taken resident..with a black cat in residence off and on when sally wasn’t seen..the townfolk melted down silver into bullets and shot the cat 1832,,sally somers took sick the day and died 3 says later..then on the same fiord/somes sound mount desert island approx 1880 a relative jones watson tracy refused to let his consort skey bluepaint (most probobly an indian) accompany him and steven somes on their boat to rockland,.me as jones told her she was an embarassment just living with him and he wasn’t going to enable increased gossip per the tow..on the way across the sound their boat got hung up on an underwater ledge and wouldn’t budge and tyo aggravate somes and tracy some more a black pigeon kept circling their boat and finally perched on the boats prow..according to neighbor “lunt” jones said out loud pointing to the crow “that’s that darn sukey!”
    i put an end to that!/her” upon which jones tracy broke a silver half dollaer in 4 quarters put it in a shotgun shell and shot and killed the crow..then thge boat remarkedly lifted off the ledge and somes and tracy resumed their trip to rockland maine..three days later upon arrival their neighbor mr.lunt informed then that sukey bluepaint had fallen down the cellar stairs and had broken her neck and died with that jones tracey exclaimed “well sukey won’t be bothering us anymore” this is 200 years after the salem witch trials most mount desert folk refuse to talk about the 2 incidents involving silver bullets and shapechangers and a lot of the youg’uns have no clues…i for one wonder about it but local kin have denied to me any existence of witchcraft on mount desert..in that house in dogtown commons besides the stanleys were some purported witchs living like moll flanders yada yada ..however i wouldn’t rule out rubbing a little silver on the tips of my bullets for my 30-30..when i visit next hope you enjoyed this austin hill brown

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