Gloucester's Deserted Village

Easterly from the head of Annisquam River, in Gloucester, was formerly a settlement known as Dogtown. Here lived the ancestors of many of the present inhabitants of Cape Ann. Dogtown commons, as the territory is now called, contains several hundred acres, and is a barren waste in its general appearance, though between the innumerable boulders grass grows for the cattle that pasture there.

The old streets are distinguishable much of their distance by the parallel walls of stone, and in these old thoroughfares the grass grows as in the pastures on either side. A team could not be driven over its roads most of their course. Many of the cellars of the houses are well preserved, and door stones remain in some instances where they were first placed. Novelists and poets have written of this place, Richard Henry Dana, Thomas Starr King, Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Hiram Rich being among their number.

In "Oldport Days," Col. Higginson says, "I know of nothing like that gray waste of boulders."

Here a hundred families once lived. Why they chose for their habitation this place so difficult of access is not clear. It is probable that the first settlers wished to remove from the coast as the troubles of the Revolution came on, and in this place, then almost entirely surrounded by a dense forest, in the very heart of Cape Ann, they intended to secrete their valuables and families if worst came to worst, and the British burned or captured the seaports. The houses were small, generally of one story in height, with two small rooms on the floor.

Whoever the builders or first settlers were, it is clear that they were succeeded by poor and ignorant people. The seafaring occupation of the men soon removed most of them from the support of their families, and the children left home. A large number of the inhabitants came to be widows, and old and poor and ignorant, with little commerce with the outside world, many of them were soon esteemed to be witches. Their peculiar appearance, and the dreariness of the place, especially after nightfall, giving credence to the belief. The places of their natural protectors were taken by dogs, and so the region became known as Dogtown. The women obtained their living by picking berries and grazing sheep.

The cellar at the southern corner of the locality, on the brow of a steep rise of ground near Alewife brook, known as Foxhill, was covered by the residence of Lucy George, and later of her niece, Tammy Younger, "the queen of the witches." The latter was probably best known and most feared of her contemporaries. She was daughter of William Younger, was born July 28, 1753, and died Feb. 4, 1829. A writer says that no one ever refused to do anything that she requested.

A little farther north stood the shop of Joseph Allen, the first blacksmith of Gloucester, who settled there in 1674. Then came the house of John Wharf, which afterward became the property of his daughter Polly Boynton. The Tristram Coffin house and Becky Rich's abode came next. Becky told fortunes by coffee grounds. Then came the house of Nathaniel Day, and some distance beyond that of Henry Day, John Clark, Philip Priestly, William Pulcifer, Arthur Wharf and Joseph Stevens. Mr. Stevens was something of a farmer. Nearly opposite his house stood that of the poor, but aristocratic Miss Esther Carter, which was the only two-story house in the village. It was clapboarded, and wooden pegs were used instead of nails in its construction. She, with her brother Joseph are thought to have come from England. The second story of her house was occupied by "Old Ruth," a mulatto, formerly a slave, who wore men's clothing. Then came the house of Molly Stevens. The house of William Carter's wife Annie, which stood a little farther east, in the rear of a large boulder, was the last one taken down in the village. The Dorcas Foster house was near. Her father brought his family here from the Harbor village when he enlisted into the Revolutionary army, Dorcas being at that time only eight years of age. She married, first, an Oakes, second, a Stevens, and, third, Capt. Joseph Smith, the commander of a privateer in the war of 1812. Next beyond was the house of Capt. Isaac Dade, who lived when a boy in London, England and was impressed into an English man-of-war.

He married Fanny Brundle, a lady of Virginia, whose father's plantation adjoined that of the mother of Washington, with whom they were intimate. Soon after their marriage they came to Gloucester to recover Mr. Dade's health, which was broken down, and the Virginia lady took up her abode in Dogtown.

Toward the north was the large gambrel-roofed house of Abraham Wharf, who committed suicide in 1814.

The last inhabitant of the village was Cornelius Finson, or "Neil," a colored man, who resided in an old ruined house until 1830, when he was taken to the almshouse, where he died a week later.

Some distance to the northwest of Neil's place was the house of Peter Lurvey, the hero of Hiram Rich's poem, beginning:

"Morgan Stanwood, patriot:
Little more is known;
Nothing of his home is left
But the door-step stone."

His father, Peter Lurvey, removed from Ipswich to Gloucester in 1707, and married Rachel Elwell three years later. John Morgan Stanwood was Peter's son-in-law, and tradition was thus led astray as to the name of the patriot, as this was the home of both. "Granther Stannard" believed that his legs were of glass and feared to use them because of their fragility.

Some distance westerly was the residence of "Jim White." Still farther west and near Washington street still stands the "old castle," a part of which is built of square logs. It is supposed to have been originally built in 1661 by Thomas Riggs, the first schoolmaster and town clerk.

Forty-one cellars have been discovered here. There may have been houses without cellars, thus increasing the size of the village, which has now been gone nearly three quarters of a century.

AHGP Massachusetts

Source: The Essex Antiquarian, Volume I, Number , March 1897

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