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The Curse of 21

21 is not just the legal drinking age – it’s a curse to a North Carolina pioneer community in this evil tale written by Allan Kopp Jr.

The year was 1799, just 21 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The young country was forming and spreading to new frontiers. The western mountains of North Carolina were one of these frontiers. A land where settlers were just beginning to seek the promises for tomorrow. A land of lush green meadows and majestic mountains.

A young family moved there from the town of Culpeper, Virginia, to settle land that was deeded to their ancestors for service in the Revolutionary War.

21-year-old Nathaniel Dodds brought his young bride, who was also 21, to this tranquil valley, to settle and raise their family. The land was at the extreme western edge of the state of North Carolina.

Nathaniel’s father, Patrick, was a Major under the command of General Richard Lee, who was the commanding officer of the 1st Virginia Cannonade, a company of swift moving light field artillery with General Washington’s Continental Army.

Patrick was given a thousand acres of land for his service to the Colonies by a land grant. He in turn gave it to his son and daughter-in-law as a wedding gift. It was here, in this beautiful valley, that Nathaniel and Elizabeth settled. The grass was greener than either had ever seen before, and there were so many trees that one had a difficult time driving the wagon between them. From a small hillside they surveyed the valley below and decided this would be a good place to settle.

It was early spring and Elizabeth was seven months pregnant. While Nathaniel went about his chores of building a cabin for his soon-to-be family, Elizabeth stayed close to the wagon, cooking and tending to smaller chores.


It was May 1799 and the morning mountain air was crisp with the sweetness of the Mountain Laurel. Becky, as Elizabeth liked to be called, was washing clothes and hanging them on low hanging tree branches to dry. In the distance a meadowlark was singing to its mate. Nathaniel came to the wagon quietly and snuck up on Becky, covered her dark hazel eyes and said “Guess who?” Becky gave a little cry of surprise and said, “it better be my Nate,” as she called Nathaniel. He spun her around and gave her a gentle kiss on her lips. Then scooping her up in his arms said, “Come, I have something to show you.” He carried his pregnant wife to the valley floor and sat her down on a huge tree stump.

There before Becky’s eyes was the cutest little cabin she had ever seen. “It’s not finished yet. I still have a few more things to finish. But tonight we are sleeping in our house and in our bed.” He told Becky to wait as he walked back up the hill and hitched the team of oxen to the wagon. Once back at the cabin, Nate began moving their furniture inside, while Becky started preparing dinner. After dinner they sat in front of the fireplace and relaxed in each others arms.

“Thank you husband for our new home, it’s lovely,” Becky said. Nate helped his wife from the floor and led her to the bed, as both were very exhausted. Sleep came easy for Nate, but not so for his wife. Becky just couldn’t get comfortable. She drifted in and out.

Just a little past midnight she woke Nate and told him she was going into labor. It was a long labor, lasting 21 hours. The delivery started at 9:00 PM and a baby girl was born. The first child of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Dodds. Born on her father’s twenty-first birthday. She was beautiful. Dark raven eyes and coal black hair. Skin so fair, she looked like an angel. Nate wrapped his new daughter in a baby blanket that had belonged to Becky’s mother. It was then that he realized that something was wrong.

Becky was still in pain of child-birth. There was another baby still to deliver. 21 minutes later the second child was born. But wait – something was dreadfully wrong. As beautiful as the first child was, this baby looked like a tiny beast. Warts covered her entire tiny body. One eye was not properly formed and was to the side of her face.

As beautiful as the first child was – the other was just unworldly. She looked like a demon from the underworld. A child of Satan.

21 minutes after the child was born, she went into convulsions and died while a grieving mother held her in her arms.

Nathaniel then did the hardest thing he had ever done. He built a tiny coffin. It was only 21 inches long. Becky lined it with a silk baby blanket she had made and placed 21 tiny wild flowers inside – one for each minute the baby lived. They placed the tiny body inside and nailed it shut with 21 nails, all that was left from working on the cabin.

Nathaniel dug a little grave under the only elm tree that was growing in a forest of mighty oaks. But before he dug very deep, he hit solid rock. He decided to stop and placed his little daughter in a grave – 21 inches deep. Then he made a small wooden cross and cut her name into it – Agnes Dodds – May 21, 1799.

The first baby was named Abigail after Elizabeth’s twin sister who had died at the early age of 21 months from a mysterious illness.

Although Elizabeth gave birth to two more children, they both died as toddlers. Jackson Dodds, Abigail’s brother, was kicked by the family mule and died at the age of 21 months. Abigail’s little sister Susanna also died at the age of 21 months from an unexplained illness.

Losing two babies was more than Elizabeth could cope with. She went into hiding, seeing no one. She shut out her husband and daughter from her life. Elizabeth Dodds died 21 months later.

Abigail grew up with her father, moving to a new town called White Oak Flats, in eastern Tennessee. They hadn’t lived there very long when strange deeds began to happen – horrific things.

The subscription school where Abigail attended burned to the ground on December 21st 1806. Nineteen children and two teachers died in the inferno, only Abigail survived without a single burn. Witnesses said they saw her kick over a candle and stood in the middle of the flames before calmly walking out.

Then again tragedy struck. A barn burned with 21 head of cattle inside. Again witnesses claimed they saw Abigail in the barn only moments before it was consumed in the flames.

An unruly crowd came to the Dodds home. They were shouting things about witchcraft and Satan. Calling Abigail a witch and a child of the devil, and threatening her with bodily harm.

Her father came to her defense. One in the crowd lowered his shotgun, and in the heat of the moment the gun roared and the deadly blast tore into Nathaniel’s chest. He fell dead at his daughter’s feet. 21 gunshot pellets in his chest. It was his 42nd birthday and Abigail’s 21st birthday – yes it was May 21, 1820.

The crowd moved forward, grabbing her from every angle. She tried to fight; tried to run, but there were too many. They tore her dress and used the torn material to tie her hands behind her back. She was screaming and kicking as they lifted her on the back of the family wagon. Her face took on the same features as her younger sister who had died 21 years earlier as she began screaming and cursing her attackers.

As they place the noose over her head, she screamed a Satanic curse:

“Back here I’ll come every 21 years to walk this land, to curse your families and your ancestors and anyone else who will walk this deviled land! I shall find you and kill you and…”

Before she could finish, the wagon was moved forward, the rope stretched and became taunt, cutting into Abigail’s throat. Abigail’s body hung from an old oak tree.

“Quick, take her shoes!” someone shouted. “If she walks this land, she’ll need to do it in her stocking feet.” She kicked at her tormentors with her shoeless feet, and then died. They carried her shoes away. As they turned to look at her lifeless body one more time, they were horrified. All they saw was the dangling noose. Abigail’s body was gone.

Has she returned? Oh yes. The mountain people of White Oak Flats, (now Gatlinburg, TN) have reported several sightings of a women figure about 21 years old, dressed in a tattered dress with no shoes, only in stocking feet.

Most people had forgotten the curse and few had not even heard about it. But in late May of 1841, 21 years after the hanging of Abigail Dodds, a group of settlers were coming through the mountains from North Carolina to settle in this land of new hopes and dreams, when their wagons were crushed by several huge rolling logs. There were twenty people that were buried beneath the debris. Only two people survived the tragedy. A young girl 21 years old and her 84 year old blind grandmother.

The grandmother died the next morning, leaving Lucy Stallings the only survivor. The death toll now was 21. This was the first reported incident since the hanging.

When the accident scene was surveyed the next afternoon, a frightful occurrence was discovered. It seems the logs had been stored flat, not stacked, on level ground and even more amazing they rolled uphill. From the young woman’s own description, “the logs came at us faster than lightin’, we never had a chance to run.” Then she told of seeing a woman in a tattered dress with no shoes standing in the dust of the rollin’ logs.

Now the rumors started again about the curse of Abigail Dodds. Still only a few people living in the valley could really remember anything of the details as how the curse came to be.

But Emma Landsford could. She was 63 years old; had been 42 when her daddy killed Nathaniel Dodds back on that fateful night in 1820. Emma was in love with Nathaniel and they were planning on a June wedding. A wedding that Hennery Lansford didn’t approve. Emma never forgave her father.

The towns’ people started questioning who Lucy saw. Was it Abigail Dodds? Many thought it was and began to spread the story through out the region. The Curse of 21 as it became know had claimed its first revenge.

Strange things have been reported every 21 years. Some too terrifying to talk about in this story, but happen they did …

Click on over to The Moonlit Road to read the rest of the story.

We’ll be running a ghost story from The Moonlit Road every Wednesday in October. To find out more about the site, read our interview with Georgia founder Craig Dominey here. Feel free to comment with your own spooky tale or send your ghost story t0 [email protected]

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