New Hampshire ghost stories: supernatural or motivated by scam artists and 17th century politics?

  • Ocean Born Mary house in Henniker where Mary Wallace once lived, and maybe still haunts. Library of Congress archives

Monitor staff
Published: 11/1/2016 10:17:56 AM

An angry witch summoning a demon to throw rocks at unsuspecting townspeople, a ghostly woman riding around town in her carriage, a murdered pirate captain and a legend of buried treasure.

These are just a few of the state’s well-known spooky stories. As one of the oldest states in the nation, New Hampshire is full of supernatural tales; however, not all of the state’s ghost stories are what they seem.

When you think about tales involving pirates, buried treasure and sword fights, Henniker may not be the first place that jumps to mind.

Yet the small town is the final resting place of Mary Wallace, also known as “Ocean Born Mary,” who lived in Londonderry for many years and passed away in Henniker in 1814 at the age of 94. Mary’s ghost is still said to haunt spots around town.

Wallace was born on a ship of Irish and Scottish immigrants crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Boston – the same day it was captured by pirates.

Hearing the cries of the newborn, the pirate captain went to her parent’s cabin. Smitten by the small baby, he promised to spare the lives of people on the ship if the child was named Mary, after his own mother. He proceeded to shower the family with gifts, including green brocaded silk for Mary’s future wedding dress.

Mary grew up into a tall woman with red hair, “elegant in her manners, resolute and determined, of strong mind, quick of comprehension, sharp in her conversation with a strong brogue and full of humor,” according to a town history.

She lived much of her life in Londonderry but moved to Henniker to live with one of her sons as she aged, records show.

It was only years after she died that the legend of “Ocean Born Mary” began – when a Wisconsin man named Louis Maurice Auguste Roy bought her house in the 1900s, fixed it up and turned it into a museum about Mary’s life.

Filling the house with artifacts, Roy told fanciful stories about the house’s former inhabitants and started charging admission for people to see them.

The story about Mary Wallace morphed into a tale about the pirate captain moving to Henniker and building the house, being killed by someone wielding a cutlass in the orchard, and finally being buried in the backyard, along with an extensive amount of gold and treasure.

Roy is even said to have rented shovels for 50 cents each, encouraging museum visitors to dig up the backyard looking for buried treasure.

“When someone told him he knew he lied, he told the person to mind his own business and to let him, Mr. Roy, earn his living the way he wished,” a town history states.

Roy also started spreading a rumor that Mary’s ghost still roamed around the Henniker house, according to the town history. He would tell people he had seen a ghostly specter walking around the house or rocking in her favorite chair. Roy finished the statement by placing the rocking chair on the end of a loose board and stepping on the other end of the board to make the chair creak.

The legend persisted after Roy died, much to the annoyance to the house’s subsequent owners. They were harassed so often by people coming to see the legendary house that police presence was required for a time.

Other popular New Hampshire ghost stories have similar explanations.

For instance, residents of Great Isle (modern-day New Castle) complained that a rock-throwing demon was plaguing the town in 1682.

One family in particular suffered from a shower of rocks thrown at their local tavern. The establishment was run by George Walton and his family, and an account written in the late 1600s tells of rocks being thrown down the chimney, breaking Walton’s belongings and hitting his family members.

Naturally, Walton accused a female neighbor of witchcraft.

“The man was much hurt by some of the stones, he was a Quaker and suspected that a woman, who charged him with injustice in detaining some land from her, did by witchcraft occasion these preternatural occurrences,” Puritan minister Cotton Mather wrote in an account of the incident.

However, historian and Salem State College professor Emerson Baker says there’s another explanation for why the Waltons were targeted.

“They ran a ‘debauched’ tavern,” Baker said. “By today’s standards it would be like living next to a crackhouse. These people were neighbors from hell.”

Walton was also a Quaker, which was considered very unusual by the patriarchal, puritanical standards of the day. He was supportive of a political movement trying to take away local townspeople’s land and put it under the control of a family supportive of the King of England.

“He was a political enemy of a lot of people in town,” Baker said. “They had taken a political stance in New Hampshire that was very opportunistic for them, but many of their neighbors despised.”

“It’s easy to understand why people tormented them,” Baker added.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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