This rocky, highland area where giant boulders were deposited by receding glaciers. was once home to Gloucester’s most wealthy families. In the 1600’s, they settled in Dogtown to escape pirate attacks that plagued other areas of the city. By 1741, at the height of its popularity, about a fifth of Gloucester’s population had moved there.
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 small rustic homes and resettled along the harbor. By the end of the century, most of the people who lived in Dogtown were poor widows of sailors and Revolutionary War soldiers.
The empty village, which was known as the Commons Settlement began to attract vagrants. The village acquired its current name “Dogtown,” either from the plethora of dogs the women kept for protection or from the outcasts and drifters who squatted in the abandoned homes.
Many of the women who remained on in Dogtown acquired reputations as witches. The most notorious was Thomazine Younger, the Queen of the Witches, who lived in a modest house on Fox Hill, which is now Cherry Street. She entertained “buccaneers and lawless men,” made rum and butter, organized card games, and read fortunes.
A brutal murder of a beloved young teacher occurring in Dogtown in 1984 further led to further speculation that evil spirits reside in the village. On the morning of June 25, 1984, Anne Natti set off on a shortcut to Rockport through Dogtown. Natti’s husband found her face down on a path in Dogtown, her skulled crushed in. A local, “deranged” man known to wander the woods, Peter Hodgkins was convicted of the murder.
By the 1830s, the women and outcasts eventually died or moved to the poorhouse and the forest regrew. Although the original homes are gone, the cellars of the homes remain and are marked by boulders inscribed with the former house numbers. Dogtown became a dark, foreboding place, where ”once there, you might walk in circles for a week without finding the way out.”
Whether you believe spirits linger in Dogtown or believe it’s simply an abandoned settlement plagued by a sordid past, just don’t embark on this adventure alone.
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