Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

"Mammy Goose" of Goose Island

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One of the most eccentric characters ever to live in Pelham, NY may have been Abigail Tice who became known as "Mammy Goose". She lived on "Goose Island" in the middle of East Chester Creek only a few hundred yards from what was then known as "Bartow-on-the-Sound", a small "hamlet" of the Town of Pelham located in a broad area from around the Bartow-Pell Mansion down to Pell's Point (also known as Rodman's Neck).

Goose Island was so named because such a large flock of wild geese landed on the little island in about 1810 and made it their annual resting place. It was only about an acre and a half in size.

Mrs. Tice was the daughter of a Philadelphia sea captain. As a young girl, she eloped with a stone mason named William Tice. William and Abigail Tice moved to Mount Vernon, NY in about 1840. Mr. Tice began working for Captain Joshua Leviness of City Island.

In 1843, William and Abigail visited Goose Island. It was "a lonely, barren spot and hadn't even a good reputation". Even so, according to one account, "it pleased Mrs. Tice and she said to her husband, "Here I'm going to make my home."

Captain Joshua Leviness provided materials for William and Abbigail to build a comfortable house on the tiny little island. William worked hard to clear the island of trees, stumps and stones, then fenced it and planted fruit trees. Sadly though, during the 1850s William Tice died. Abigail buried him near their little house on the island.

To support herself, Mrs. Tice began hosting fishing parties that visited the area. After her husband's death, as her reputation for hosting local fishermen with broiled clams and beer grew, she became known as "Mammy Goose". According to an account published in 1885:

"The island became a favorite resort for fishing parties. 'Mammy Goose' was . . . adept at broiling clams, and kept a good brew of beer always on tap. She dressed more like a man than a woman, and on fine days was to be seen raking oysters or 'treading out' clams. On such occasions she always wore trousers." The Owner of Goose Island - Death of the Odd Old Woman Who Presided Over That Desolate Place, N.Y. Times, Mar. 28, 1885, p. 8.

Mammy Goose seemed to have a kind heart. After her husband died, she welcomed an old fellow to the island who "inducted himself into the position of general superintendent". His name was Oakley Stannerd and he seems to have been a sad character. According to the same account:

"His work consisted generally of getting drunk as early in the day as possible and of remaining so as late as could be managed. One day last Summer [in 1884] he fell out of his boat while fishing for tomcods. His heels caught in the rowlocks, and he was almost drowned when he was pulled out by a fellow-fisherman. Not many days afterward Stannerd walked into deep water and sank to the bottom. He was drunk at the time. He was dead when brought to shore." Mammy Goose, who claimed she was not married to Mr. Stannerd, buried him on the island near her husband's grave. Id.

Captain Leviness kept a close watch on Mammy Goose and helped her fill her basic needs by supplying her "few wants". When she grew too old to take care of herself, he arranged to bring her as a guest to a hotel he owned on City Island. Although he planned to open a small shop for her to oversee during the summer of 1885, Mammy Goose died in her room at the hotel on March 26, 1885. People believed her to be about 92 since she always said she was born in 1793.

Only two days before her death, Mammy Goose made a will. In it she gave everything she owned -- including Goose Island "on which she has always paid taxes" -- to her beloved friend, Captain Joshua Leviness.

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