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.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Mammy Goose of Goose Island, An Epic Pelham Character


One of the most eccentric characters ever to live in Pelham, NY may have been Abigail Tice who became known as "Mammy Goose."  I have written extensively about Mammy Goose for more than a decade.  See, e.g.:

Thu., Mar. 10, 2005:  "Mammy Goose" of Goose Island

Tue., Apr. 25, 2006:  More About "Mammy Goose" of Goose Island.

Tue., May 05, 2015:  More About the History of Goose Island, Once the Home of Mammy Goose.

Mammy Goose lived on "Goose Island" in the middle of East Chester Creek near Pelham Bridge and the railroad bridge adjacent to it.  According to legend, Goose Island was so named because an unbelievably large flock of wild geese landed on the little island in about 1810 and made it their annual resting place thereafter. It was only about an acre and a half in size. 

According to news accounts, Mrs. Tice was the daughter of a Philadelphia sea captain who, as a young girl, 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."   

Although the record is unclear, newspaper accounts suggest that Abigail Tice was able to convince the Town of Eastchester, which owned Goose Island at the time, to lease the island to her for $1 a year during her life, plus the payment of property taxes on the island.  After her death Eastchester claimed that despite the arrangement, Mammy Goose never paid the rent or taxes and the Town never levied the taxes.  Some news reports, however, claimed that she dutifully paid both each year. 

In any event, Captain Joshua Leviness of City Island provided materials for William and Abigail 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 numerous 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 (see below). 

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 Oglesby Stinnard.  News accounts spell his name in countless ways, but family genealogists have established that his name was, indeed, Oglesby Stinnard.  He seems to have been a rather sad character.  According to one 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. 

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 Thursday, 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 despite accounts that she only leased it during her life -- to her beloved friend, Captain Joshua Leviness.

Captain Leviness wasted no time.  Within days of Mammy Goose's death he began building a dock on the island.  Reports indicate he planned to create a hotel there as well in order to develop a "resort" for fishing enthusiasts and summer visitors.

The Town of Eastchester, however, would have none of it.  The Town hired a lawyer who filed an ejectment action against Leviness.  The litigation dragged for at least two years.  Though research has not yet revealed the outcome of the lawsuit, clearly Joshua Leviness had the last laugh.  At about this time Goose Island became part of Pelham Bay Park and New York City took ownership.  The City's Park Board issued a license to Joshua Leviness and, later, his son, George, authorizing the "letting [of] boats and selling refreshments" on the island.  The arrangement continued well into the mid-1890s.  



Detail from Map Published in 1893 Showing Goose Island on Left Near
Branch Line Railroad Tracks Crossing Eastchester Bay. Source: "Towns
(With) Village of Pelhamville" in Atlas of Westchester County, New York
Prepared Under the Direction of Joseph R. Bien, E.M., Civil and
Topographical Engineer from Original Surveys and Official Records, pg. 3
(NY, NY: Julius Bien & Co., 1893).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.



Google Maps Satellite Image Showing Goose Island in Upper Left
Corner, Near Railroad Bridge Across Eastchester Bay.  NOTE:  Click
on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

"TOWN OFFICERS ACCOUNT.

During the greater part of last week the Board of Town Officers acting as a board of audit were engaged in auditing, the Supervisor's, Road Commissioners', Trustees of Public Lands', Excise Commissioners' and Overseers of the Poor accounts. . . . 

The property known as Goose Island was also referred to in their report as having been originally leased to Mrs. Stinard during her natural life in consideration that she should pay the taxes on the same which she had failed to do, and that the Receiver of Taxes had never made a levy.  They recommended that the receiver cause a levy to be made for this years taxes.

That there should be a revenue from that pleasant little spot, Goose Island, there can be no question, and when a lease was given to Mrs. Stinard, some specified sum of money should have been named as the yearly rental, and that amount ought to have been collected or else she should have been compelled to vacate for a more profitable tenant, but why Goose Island should be assessed as taxable property, sold, and the town take leases of the same, any more than the town dock, or any other town property, we are certainly at a loss to know.  We certainly can see no reason why any of property owned or held by the town as town lands should be assessed. . . ."

Source:  TOWN OFFICERS ACCOUNT, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Mar. 28, 1884, Vol. XV, No. 758, p. 1, col. 6.  

"DEATH OF AN OLD SWIMMER.  --  Coroner Tice, on Tuesday, held an inquest over the body of Oglesby Stinard, aged 70, who for a good many years, had lived at Goose Island, at the mouth of Hutchinson Creek.  The old man had been accidently [sic] drowned in sight of his home.  He was a little under the influence of liquor, and had made the boast that he could swim from the Island to Eastchester, a distance of two miles.  He was considered an expert swimmer, and having plunged into the water from his float almost immediately sunk [sic].  He was very soon brought to land, but too late to save his life.  The verdict was in accordance with those facts.  Some of the villagers consider this a temperance sermon, while others contend it was just the reverse -- to much water instead of liquor."

Source:  DEATH OF AN OLD SWIMMER, The Yonkers Statesman, Aug. 20, 1884, Vol. I, No. 238, p. 1, col. 4.  

"DEATH OF AN ODD OLD WOMAN.  --  Mrs. Abigail Tice, otherwise known as 'Mammy Goose,' the proprietress of Goose Island, so called because a flock of geese made it a resting-place nearly a century ago, died on Thursday last.  The island is located in Eastchester Creek, near Bartow.  Mr. and Mrs. Tice became residents of Mount Vernon 45 years ago.  Three years later they paid Goose Island a visit, and Mrs. Tice determined to make it her home.  Her husband was employed at the time by Joshua Leviness, of City Island.  They built quite a comfortable house, planted fruit trees and fenced it in.  Thirty years ago Mr. Tice died, and was buried near the house.  After his death his widow was given the name of 'Mammy Goose.'  The island became a favorite resort for fishing parties.  Last fall she left the island, as she had no one to assist her in taking care of the property, and went to live in Leviness's Hotel, and it was there she died, from lingering consumption.  She was conscious to the last moment.  She always said she was born in 1793.  On the Tuesday night previous to her death she made a will, and bequeathed her island, on which she had always paid taxes, and all her other effects to Capt. Leviness."

Source:  DEATH OF AN ODD OLD WOMAN, The Yonkers Statesman, Mar. 30, 1885, Vol. II, No. 424, p. 1, col. 4.

"THE DEMISE OF 'MAMMY GOOSE'

Goose Island, situated in Eastchester Creek, a few hundred yards from Bartow, is said to have been so called because a flock of wild geese saw fit to make it a resting place about 75 years ago.  It belongs to the town of Eastchester and contains about an acre and a half of ground, and is notable as the residence of Abigail Tice, otherwise 'Mammy Goose,' who died on Thursday of last week, at the residence of Capt. Josh. Leviness, City Island.  Forty five years ago Mrs. Tice and her husband became residents of Mount Vernon.  At that time she was a plump, good looking middle-age woman.  She was a daughter of a Philadelphia sea Captain, and had, when a girl, run off and married William Tice, a fascinating stone mason.  Forty-two years ago she and her husband paid Goose Island a visit.  It was then a lonely, barren spot and hadn't even a good reputation.  But it pleased Mrs. Tice and she said to her husband, 'Here I'm going to make my home.'

Tice was employed at the time by Capt. Josh. Leviness, of City Island.  The latter furnished the materials and Tice built a comfortable house.  He cleared the island of stumps and stones, planted it with fruit trees, and fenced it in.  He died 30 years ago and was buried near his house.  After his death his widow was given the title of 'Mammy Goose.'  The island became a favorite resort for fishing parties.  'Mammy Goose' was an adept at broiling clams.  On fine days she could be seen raking oysters or 'treading out' clams.  On such occasions she always wore trousers.  Some years after the death of her husband, Oakley Stinnerd took up his abode on the island, and inducted himself into the position of general superintendent.  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, while in a state of intoxication, he fell out of his boat but was rescued, and a second time he fell out and was again rescued and taken home, but, after being safely landed, he persistently jumped in the water and after swimming a few feet, sank and before he could be rescued the third time drowned.  His body was also buried on the island.  Mrs. Tice stated that she was not married to Stinnard.

During her residence on Goose Island, Mrs. Tice found a firm friend in Capt. Leviness.  He supplied her few wants and intended to present her with a small shop on City Island next summer.  Last Fall she left her island, as she had no one to assist her, and became a guest at the Captain's hotel.  The physician who attended her attributed her death to lingering consumption.  She was conscious to the last moment.  Mrs. Tice always said she was born in 1793.  On Tuesday night she made a will, and she bequeathed her island, as she always called it, and all her other belongings to Capt. Leviness."

Source:  THE DEMISE OF "MAMMY GOOSE," The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Apr. 3, 1885, Vol. XVI, No. 811, p. 1, cols. 5-6.

"COUNTY ITEMS. . . .

--  Mrs. Abigail Tice late of City Island, who for 42 years had resided on Goose Island, and who was better known as 'Mammy Goose' died last week from consumption.  She was born in 1793.  On Thursday of last week she made her will and gave the spot to Capt. Joshua Leviness, who had befriended her in her old age and at whose house she died. . . ."

Source:  COUNTY ITEMS, Supplement to Eastern State Journal, Apr. 10, 1885, p. 1, col. 4.

"PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND. . .

--  Capt. Josh Leviness is building a dock on Goose Island and intends to open a summer resort there.  He claims to own the Island under the will of Mrs. Tice, otherwise known as Mrs. Stinard, who lived there for nearly forty years.  She recently died at the residence of the Captain, City Island. . . ."

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, New Rochelle Pioneer, Apr. 25, 1885, p. 3, col. 6.  

"PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND. . . .

Capt. Josh. Leviness, it is said, is erecting a hotel on Goose Island.  He claims to own the island under the will of 'Mammy Goose,' but he may wake up some fine morning and find his hotel confiscated by the town of Eastchester.  Goose Island is in the town of Eastchester and is a part and parcel of the town property. . . ."

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, SUPPLEMENT [The Chronicle, Mount Vernon, NY], May 1, 1885, p. 1, col. 2.  

"BOARD OF TOWN OFFICERS.

The regular monthly meeting of the Board of Town Officers was held Tuesday afternoon, May 5th.  All the members present. . . . 

One item to be investigated is Goose Island.  This was leased to Mrs. Tice, better known as 'Mammy Goose,' by the Trustees of Public Lands, in 1866, during her natural life for a consideration of one dollar per annum and the payment of the taxes thereon.  Neither provision, we believe, has ever been complied with.

Prior to the death of Mrs. Tice, last Winter, she executed a lease of this Island to Capt Joshua Leviness, of City Island, for a term of 99 years, and the lease, by some mischance, was filed in the town clerk's office of this town. . . ."

Source:  BOARD OF TOWN OFFICERS, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], May 8, 1885, Vol. XVI, No. 816, p. 1, col. 6.  

"COUNTY ITEMS. . . . 

--  The Trustees of Public Lands have taken the initiatory steps toward getting possession of Goose Island, in the Sound near City Island, now claimed by Joshua Leviness.  They have appointed Norman A. Lawler, of Mount Vernon, counsel, and proceedings will be instituted at once. . . ."

Source:  COUNTY ITEMS, Supplement to Eastern State Journal, Jun. 12, 1885, p. 1, col. 3.

"WESTCHESTER COUNTY. . . . 

Judging from the following paragraph which appeared in last week's Westchester Independent, Eastchester stands a fair chance of some litigation before getting possession of Goose Island.  It says, 'Eastchester wants Goose Island.  The authorities there claim it because some fifty years ago, when the channel was on the east side of the island, in Pelham Bay, it divided Pelham Bay from Eastchester Creek.  Trustee Tremaine of Eastchester was town clerk some fifty years ago, and he executed a life lease to Mrs. Tice.  She was always known as 'Mammy Goose,' and when Tice died in 1851, she shortly married Mr. Stiner.  Last year Stiner was drowned, and then she went to live with Mr. Joshua Leviness, of City Island, to whom she gave a lease of ninety-nine years.  She signed this Will as Mrs. Tice.  The island is about two acres long and one in breadth, and it would make a capital summer resort.  Mr. Leviness claims to own it, and will contest his right in the courts.  As Mr. Leviness has possession and retained counsel, it is reasonable to infer, that he will at least remain this season.  The house on the island is worth $500, and taxes are only about $4.50 per year.'"

Source:  WESTCHESTER COUNTY, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jun. 19, 1885, Vol. XVI, No. 822, p. 3, col. 4.  

"LOCAL NEWS . . .

The town of Eastchester has taken steps to eject Capt. Josh Leviness from Goose Island, and get possession of the property.  The case may be reached on the calendar this week, in the Circuit Court, at White Plains. . . ."

Source:  LOCAL NEWS, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Sep. 25, 1885, Vol. XVII, No. 836, p. 3, col. 1.  

"PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND. . . .

The chances are that Capt. Josh Leviness will have to vacate Goose Island, unless he can make satisfactory terms with the Trustees of Public Lands of the town of Eastchester, for its rental. . . ."

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Sep. 25, 1885, Vol. XVII, No. 836, p. 3, col. 5.

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