1890 (pub.): How Lady Howard became a Black Dog
Lady Howard was a noteworthy citizen of Devonshire at the time of the reign of James I (1603-1625). She was well-known for her beauty, wealth, talents, and accomplishments, and infamous for her cruelty to her only daughter and how many husbands she had lost, being married no less than four times. When she died, it is said, her spirit was transformed into a Black Dog and tasked with running from midnight till cock-crow every night between her former residence at Fitz-ford and Oakhampton Park. Each trip she must bring back a solitary blade of grass from the park; and this labor is to continue until every blade of grass is removed from the park, which will probably keep her busy until the end of the world.
This account was taken from a section on "spectre-dog" legends in a collection of English tales gathered by Edwin Sydney Hartland in 1890. In his introduction to this chapter of his book, Hartland makes two things abundantly clear: that Black Dogs were always associated with evil doings, and that he absolutely didn't believe in them. Likely Hartland's short intro, combined with the stories he chose to present, helped lead to the generally bad reputation that Black Dogs were then often afterwards given in new fictional tales, of being related to causing -- or predicting -- death.
Oddly enough, while Hartland himself didn't believe any of the tales, some were told to him by people who clearly believed their tales to be true. I have to wonder how friendly they were to Hartland after he published his book!
As with all accounts from older sources such as this, it is entirely up to you to decide if it is true or not; but, in either case, it still evidences the beliefs regarding the Black Dog spirits in the area at the time the tales were collected.