Monday, February 22, 2010

Tammy Younger, the Witch of Dogtown


A "Babson Boulder" marking the former location
of Dogtown Square


Timeline of Tammy Younger's life:

28 July 1753 Thomasine Younger was born at Gloucester
19 April 1775 - Battle of Lexington, start of the American Revolution
23 August 1775, Tammy married to James McCormick
1812- War of 1812, many Gloucester men were impressed at sea
24 February 1829, Tammy died at Gloucester

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Thomasine Younger was born in 1753 in Gloucester, Massachusetts to William Younger and Lucy Foster. Her brothers grew up to be seamen, which is not surprising. Her younger brother, Levi, is my 5x great grandfather. Gloucester was a major fishing seaport in New England, famous for the Gorton’s frozen fish packing plant and the statue of the fisherman’s memorial. The majority of men in town were sailors or fishermen, the lucky few were ship builders, merchants and sea captains, and the paupers of Gloucester lived in Dogtown. For some reason, unknown to anyone, Tammy Younger became a resident of Dogtown.

Gloucester today is built up around the harbor. However, in the earliest days of its settlement the colonists hid inland and up on a hill, away from pirates and the native tribes. When the conditions became safer, especially after the war of 1812, the townspeople took advantage of moving to the water front and built their town at one of the best deep water harbors in Massachusetts. The abandoned town became home to sailor’s widows, vagabonds and free blacks, who were either too poor or not accepted in town society. When the last of these people died, only abandoned dogs were left, and the area became known as Dogtown.

Some of these last old women in Dogtown were known as witches. They probably didn’t deserve the epithet; they were poor, old and had no family or husband to defend them. Tammy lived on Fox Hill in Dogtown, and she was so poor that she would lie in wait for passing wagons, and “place a curse” on the oxen until the driver gave her food.

Little more is known about Tammy Younger, except for anecdotes in local history books. It is unknown whether she had children, or what happened to her husband. It is my guess that he died at sea, and this sad event started her downward spiral into poverty. She died intestate (of course!) Supposedly money and a snuff box were found in her cellar hole.

Today, if you visit Dogtown, it is forested and part of the town of Gloucester’s Conservation Land. The streets are now walking trails, dotted with cellar holes that have been numbered to identify the original owners from Babson’s book “The History of Gloucester.” Babson’s grandson employed Italian stonecutters during the Great Depression to carve inspirational quotations on dozens of boulders. It is a fun hike through Dogtown today, to look for the cellar holes and to find the “Babson Boulders.”

Today, visitors approach Dogtown by Cherry Street, going uphill to the parking area. This is Fox Hill where Tammy Younger once lived with her aunt, Luce George. This is the hill where she bewitched the oxen struggling to carry corn or dried fish from Gloucester Harbor. Poor Aunt Luce was also reported to be a witch, since she begged for fish at the wharves, and threatened the fishermen with curses until they gave her a portion. Living on the margins of society, these women were the subject of gossip, myth and legend.

I previously wrote about the Younger family on my blog posting on January 14, 2010 in the posting “Levi Younger, Mariner and Prisoner of War” at http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2010/01/levi-younger-mariner-and-prisoner-of.html

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For more information:

History of Gloucester by John James Babson and Samuel Chandler, published by the Proctor Brothers, 1860 (a book of “Notes and Additions” was written by Babson in 1876.)

In the Heart of Cape Ann; or The Story of Dogtown by Charles E. Mann, 1896 - This book described the inhabitants of Dogtown, with maps showing the cellar holes

The Last Witch of Dogtown by Francis Blessington, The Curious Traveller Press, 2001.

The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant, published by Scribner, New York, 2005. A novel based on the history of Dogtown, and the characters are based on the inhabitants named in Mann’s book, including Luce George and Tammy Younger. My book club read this book in 2006, and then we took a hike through Dogtown and I photographed the boulder you see at the top of this blog post.

Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town by Elyssa East, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2009. This is the most recent book about Dogtown, Gloucester, Massachusetts.
 
Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo
Submitted for the Carnival of Genealogy, 91st Edition, A Tribute to Women!
http://creativegene.blogspot.com

9 comments:

  1. What a fascinating story! It's sad to think that Tammy was so poor she would resort to putting curses on travelers to get food, but hey, you've got to credit her with resourcefulness. She did what she had to do to survive!

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  2. Wow, what an interesting post. I love learning the history of the area and especially as it relates to Tammy. It's sad that people didn't extend help to her when she needed it. Thanks for being in the carnival.

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  3. Great story. I must concur with Jasia about Tammy's resourcefulness.

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  4. Thanks Jasia, Nancy and J.M! I wrote this before we all saw Sarah Jessica Parker's story about a "witch" from Gloucester, Mass. Isn't it a strange coincidence?

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  5. What an interesting story but sad at the same time to think there was no one to help poor Tammy. Good job

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  6. A haunting tale and so sad to think of these women. Yes, what a coincidence about Sarah's relative and yours. I enjoyed reading this and learning this part of history.

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  7. Heather,
    So cool to write to a living relation of Tammy Younger. My sister in law lives at the top of Dogtown Hill,she had a house built there ! I have so many fond memories of Dogtown in my youth,I am a native of Gloucester and have lived here all my life. I remember as a child about 8 or 9,going on a guided tour and knowing who lived where and loving every minute of it. I also went blueberrying with my dad there many times over the years.He passed in 1997 and I carry on his legacy.I explored Dogtown as a teen and young man for years and have rarely been there in about 15 years. Some day soon I plan to take a walk there again at 54 years old !!

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  8. Hi Heather,
    I have so many fond memories about Dogtown,as I am a native here in Gloucester and my sister inlaw lives at the top of Dogtown hill !! As a child I was brought up here by my dad on a history tour about age 8 or 9 and immediately was bowled over by it. I had no interests at that time. I explored the area for years ,till probably me early 30's. Haven't been for a walk there in maybe 5 or six years. My sister inlaw has an amazing view from her hilltop retreat (LOL LOL)

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  9. She was born on the same day as I was and my sister was given her name as she is or great, great, great Aunt! She actually charged a toll for wagons to cross a bridge there, or she said she would curse them if they didn't pay.

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