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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ocean Born Mary-a Henniker, New Hampshire Fact or Legend?

At the Colby Hill Inn here in our little village of Henniker in New Hampshire, we are often asked about Ocean Born Mary and the Ocean Born Mary House.  What's the real story everyone asks? Where is the house, how do we get there ? Did she really live here and was there buried treasure?
 
Well....it's complicated.  In some ways, parts of the story are a brilliant marketing hoax invented by someone who wanted to make a buck.  In other ways, well--who doesn't love a good pirate AND buried treasure story with a little evidence tucked away in a museum?

Off the coast of Boston in 1720, Elizabeth Fulton and her husband James, Scots-Irish immigrants were on their way to colonial New England .  Elizabeth was with child and gave birth to a baby girl in the hold of the ship.  As the legend goes, the ship was invaded by Pirates who supposedly planned to murder the immigrants onboard.  Hearing the sound of the baby, the pirate asked if they would name the child after his mother in exchange for leniency.  So the story goes, the Fulton's named the child Mary and spared the lives of all of the immigrants.

Interestingly, the pirate offered gifts to the infant.  The most interesting was a bolt of light green brocaded silk, parts of this fabric are in the museum at the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord, and at the libraries in Londonderry and Henniker.   In the next piece of the legend, the pirate asked that the cloth be used for Mary's wedding gown, when she was married.

Mary's father died not long after they arrived in Boston.  She and her mother moved to Londonderry, NH.  Local historians tell us that Mary, tall and with red hair, did wear a gown made from the pirate's silk when she married James Wallace in 1742. The couple had four sons and a daughter. Three of the sons married three sisters and everyone settled in Henniker.  Mary lived a full life with her husband in Londonderry.  After her husband's death in 1798 she moved to Henniker and stayed with a son named William for her final 18 years.  Her son Robert owned the house known as the "Ocean Born Mary" house and interestingly Mary never lived with that son in that house.  She died at age 94 in 1814 and her grave and headstone are in the cemetery near the Henniker town hall.

 In 1917 Louis Maurice Auguste Roy of Wisconsin,, a photographer, along with his mother,  who was a widow purchased the house.  It was dilapidated and had been vacant for a long time.  They did a lot of work to restore it, adding antiques and making it museum like.  Mr. Roy had heard the story of Ocean Born Mary, and, adding his own fiction, he started telling people that she had lived in the house and that the furnishings had belonged to her. 

Mr. Roy created a business of showing the house to people, including tourists, telling them his stories about Ocean Born Mary.  He charged admission to the house and fabricated an interesting (but untrue story) including: (from the Henniker Historical Society) 
"That the pirate built the house for Mary and that she came there and kept house for him." (Mary's son, Robert built the house; she never lived there.) "That the pirate was murdered by a cutlass in the orchard, and, at his request, Mary buried him and his ‘loot' beneath the kitchen hearthstone." Also, "that either Mary or one of her sons was buried neath the hearthstone." (But the hearthstone is too heavy for anyone to lift; and from the cellar beneath it, it can be seen that there are only solid stone and mortar, so no tomb or body. Also Mary is buried in a cemetery in the village in a marked grave.)
 "That the pirate's treasure was buried in the orchard." (Many people have dug for the treasure; and it has been said that Mr. Roy rented shovels for 50¢ apiece for people to use in the digging.)
"That he had never seen Mary as he was not psychic enough." Another time he said, "that he had seen her many times; once when he was returning home one night, she appeared. That after she had disappeared, he saw that a covered bridge ahead of him had caved in." (There was no covered bridge on the road to his home.)
"Mary's rocking in her favorite chair." (This was after he had placed a rocking chair at the end of a loose floor board; and when he stepped on the other end of the board, it caused the chair to move.)
 If you want to read another version of the story, with supposed ghosts of Mary and the pirate roaming through the (not) Ocean Born Mary House....check out this posting http://crazyhorsesghost.hubpages.com/hub/Ocean-Born-Mary
So, to answer the questions at the beginning of this blog....we love a good ghost/legend story too.  No doubt that Ocean Born Mary did exist (there are records of the voyage and she is buried here in Henniker) but it appears as if she did not live in the house but that her son did.   We've been in the house and it has been carefully restored and maintains its historic nature.  No matter the legends, it remains a beautiful home.  We will gladly tell you how to get there if you promise to only drive by, take a photo from the road of the home and the adjacent marker etc and not to infringe on the current owners privacy.  By all means....do not head there in the dead of night to dig for buried treasure!  Sadly that part was also a hoax!



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