Was New Hampshire a haven for pirates in years past…
and did they bury treasure on our shores and islands? And what exactly do we find so charming about water-based thugs in tight pants?
With another pirate movie always looming on our horizon, it is time to re-evaluate New Hampshire’s own pirate heritage. Tradition has been rife with tales of pirate’s adventures and buried booty. Historically, except for a few isolated incidents, there appears to be a marked lack of pirate’s gold and swashbuckling crew.
Current day pirate seekers will have to settle for Pirate’s Cove Adventure Mini Golf, in Weirs Beach, Treasure Island on Lake Winnipesaukee, or Pirate’s Cove Beach on the seacoast. Pirate’s Cove Beach, located just south of Wallis Sands State Beach on 1A, is a fairly current name acquired from a restaurant of the same name that was located there. When you visit New Hampshire seeking treasure, keep watch for golden sand, and great seafood, or we will make you walk the plank.
The earliest documented pirate who roamed off the coast of New Hampshire, was one Dixy Bull [sometimes spelled Dixey and Dixie] in 1632. Learning he had attacked Pemaquid, Maine, 40 men in 4 ships from the Piscataqua River (now Portsmouth) headed out to capture him. Alas, they had to turn back due to bad weather. In the meantime Dixy escaped out to sea. He became a pirate as a result of having been a victim of pirates. As the story goes, on June 1623, Dixie Bull, a merchant of London, had a shallop laden with beaver furs in Penobscott Bay, Maine, when French pirates seized all of his provisions, leaving him destitute.” That Dixie Bull’s ship was seized by the French is historical fact. His ultimate fate is unknown, although some claim he received his just desserts in England, making his way there via the French settlements at Port Latour. It was written, “God destroyed this wretched man.”
The rocks on the misty Isles of Shoals are believed to hold a few pirate tales and perhaps some treasure. Blackbeard’s cavorting here has been a long time rumor, although no proof has ever been produced.
A more reliable pirate story, is that of George and Rachel Wall. Reportedly Rachel was from Pennsylvania, married George Wall, and moved to Boston, Massachsetts with him, eventually engaging in piracy off the Isles of Shoals for several years. After her husband was washed overboard, she returned to Boston, where she was arrested for murder and robbery. What is known is she was tried in a Massachusetts court, and found guilty of robbery. She was hanged, being the last woman executed in the state of Massachusetts, in September 1789. There are many stories written about her, but her maiden name and ancestry often stated has not been proven to my satisfaction. The Dr. Alexander Hamilton who is often quoted as documenting her story, died before the date of her arrest. [Online source #1. | source #2. | source #3. | source #4. ]
I would be remiss if I did not include the enchanting pirate story of “Ocean Born Mary.” Although much has been written about this real life woman, Mary (Wilson) Wallace, some of the stories are simply untrue (i.e. the 1939 children’s book by Lois Lenski is fiction), or they are a marketing gimmick (in the 20th century a family claiming they owned her house, charging admission). Reportedly the pirate involved was Don Pedro aka Phillip Babb.
I should probably also mention John Quelch, who was the first known pirate to post the now well-known “Jolly Roger” black flag on his ship. Some documents mention a hunt for him on the Isles of Shoals, but whether he actually stayed there is unknown. He was captured in Marblehead Massachusetts, tried and hanged in Boston in 1704.
For those seeking exotic pirate adventures, try singing the periodic table of elements to the tune of “Modern Major General” from the Pirates of Penzance.
—Pirates, by Capt. Charles Johnson, foreward by Claud Lovat Fraser, reissued 1921.
–Get a Pirate’s Name (Rick Broussard says he is Iron Jack Flint)
–Pirates: History Channel–
[updated December 2015]