Monday, September 30, 2019

On Display in the State Library: The Witches of Dogtown

What better way to celebrate the spooky month of October than by learning about some Massachusetts lore? This month, the State Library’s exhibit case features a few items from the collection related to Dogtown, the now-abandoned town in Gloucester that was rumored to be home to a few witches.

Today, Dogtown is a forested area with trails to hike and boulders to clamber over, but from its founding in 1693 until the early 1800s, it was an inland village with approximately 80 homes. The village was originally known as the Commons Settlement, but according to legend, the name Dogtown derived from the dogs that women kept with them while their husbands were fighting in the Revolutionary War. Due in part to its distance from the coastline, the village fell into decline and was abandoned by about 1830. All that remains from the settlement are cellar holes that mark some of the original foundations. An abandoned village often carries an air of mystery, but Dogtown’s is heightened by the lore that some of its last remaining residents practiced witchcraft. 

Thomazine “Tammy” Younger was born in 1753 and later in life she was referred to as the “Queen of
the Witches.” Tammy was known to have a colorful vocabulary, to host card games, and to tell fortunes. She accosted those who passed by her home and demanded that they give her any food or other items that they might be carrying. When she died in February 1829, her neighbor John Hodgkins prepared her coffin. Upon completion, John kept the coffin inside his home, but the rest of the Hodgkins family was so frightened of it they insisted that it be removed from the house before they went to sleep.

Luce George, who was Tammy’s aunt, and Peg Wasson were other local women who were rumored to practice witchcraft. Both of them would “bewitch” oxen to stand still in front of their homes and not move onward until they received some of the load – whether it was corn or wood, or any other product. According to local legend, Peg was also known to fly on a broomstick or to take the form of a crow, and once fell down with a broken leg at the same time a crow was shot down from the sky.

On display is In the Heart of Cape Ann, or, The Story of Dogtown, written by Charles Edward Mann in 1896 and “The Broomstick Trail” by Sarah Comstock and published in Harper’s Monthly Magazine in December 1919. Each of these sources tell the fascinating story of Dogtown and the legends that surround it. Stop by the State Library now through November 3 to see these items in person – if you dare!

By Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian