Ghosts of the Isles of Shoals, NH

The Isles of Shoals are ten miles off the coast of Portsmouth. On a clear day, you can see them from Rte. 1A between Hampton and Newcastle.

Celia Thaxter's House, Isles of Shoals
Celia Thaxter’s house, Isles of Shoals

Of the 18 islands reported by early explorers, nine islands make up the famous (but tiny) Isles of Shoals.

There are no camping facilities on the islands. The only hotel is on Star Island.

The Isles of Shoals has long been famous for its ghosts. In his 1852 journal, Nathaniel Hawthorne visited the Isles of Shoals and wrote:

Mr. Thaxter had once a man living with him who had seen “Old Bab,” the ghost. He met him between the hotel and the sea, and describes him as dressed in a sort of frock, and with a very dreadful countenance.

Hawthorne was staying at a hotel on Appledore Island, the probable location of this ghost.

He led us down to the shore of the island, towards the east, and showed us Betty Moody’s Hole. This Betty Moody was a woman of the island in old times.

The Indians came off on a depredating excursion, and she fled from them with a child, and hid herself in this hole, which is formed by several great rocks being lodged so as to cover one of the fissures which are common along these shores. I crept into the hole, which is somewhat difficult of access, long, low, and narrow, and might well enough be a hiding-place.

The child, or children, began to cry; and Betty, fearful of discovery, murdered them to save herself. Joe Caswell did not tell the latter part of the story, but Mr. Thaxter did.

Not far from the spot there is a point of rocks extending out farther into the ocean than the rest of the island.

Some four or five years ago there was a young woman residing at Gosport in the capacity of school-teacher. She was of a romantic turn, and used to go and sit on this point of rock to view the waves.

One day, when the wind was high, and the surf raging against the rocks, a great wave struck her, as she sat on the edge, and seemed to deprive her of sense; another wave, or the reflex of the same one, carried her off into the sea, and she was seen no more. This happened, I think, in 1846.


Isles of Shoals map, by Shoaler at en.wikipedia
Courtesy Shoaler at en.wikipedia.

The phantom ship Isidore, wrecked in 1842, appears near this cluster of islands. The ghostly ship is seen for just a few minutes at time, and has been spotted from as far away as Rye and Portsmouth, NH.

(Source: Snow, Strange tales from Nova Scotia to Cape Hatteras, p. 221)

The Spanish frigate, Sagunto, may have sunk off Smuttynose Island in 1813. However, there’s contemporary evidence that the ship was actually the Concepcion from Cadiz. At least 14 men lost their lives in the disaster. No matter which ship it was, its ghost appears just off Smuttynose around the mid-January anniversary of the shipwreck.

Star Island features the haunted–and popular–Oceanic Hotel. Its ghosts manifest around the third and fourth floors of the hotel. They sound as if they’re moving furniture or actively searching through some dresser drawers. (An attic is above the fourth floor, and there’s nothing to move up there.) Sometimes, doors open and close on their own.

Another ghost has been reported in the men’s restroom on the first floor. (Official Star Island Corporation website.)

Smuttynose Island was the site of a gruesome murder in 1873, when two Norwegian girls were butchered, probably by Louis Wagner. The house where the murder took place burned to the ground just a few years later. Some claim that Wagner’s remorseful ghost haunts the site. The girls were buried at South Cemetery in Portsmouth… a haunted cemetery that we describe at Haunted Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

That 1873 murder was the subject of the movie, The Weight of Water.

Sam Haley’s House may be more a reminder of his life than actually haunted. But, if you’re on Smuttynose Island and want to see a great historic landmark, Haley’s 18th century home is a must-see. For more of the history and lore of Haley and his home, see’s many articles about the Isles of Shoals and especially the Haleys.

Lunging Island may be haunted by the ghost of Blackbeard, or at least his 13th (or 15th?) wife who was abandoned there. The ghost of the wife is usually called “Lady-Ghost” and she was the subject of a 1992 children’s novel, Lady-Ghost of the Isles of Shoals. She’s sometimes seen as a milky figure, but more often heard whispering, “He will return.” (She’s also reported on Smuttynose Island.)

Blackbeard’s treasure is also buried there, according to historian Robert Cahill in his fascinating book, New England’s Pirates and Lost Treasures. Blackbeard’s ghost has been seen, either searching for his treasure, or protecting it. You can read more about a televised search for the treasure at

White Island has several ghosts including another of Blackbeard’s wives… or perhaps it’s the same one as on Lunging and Smuttynose Islands. This one is seen in a white dress.

A second White Island ghost is heard screaming and crying around Moody’s Cave. She was trying to hide with her baby during a 17th century Indian attack.

According to Hawthorne’s 1852 Passages from the American note-books, the story was tragic.

A third ghost may haunt nearby. Hawthorne told her story in his “note-books,” as well.

“Shipwreck hotspot” is how the Isles of Shoals is described by Northern Maritime Research’s database. These are some of the ghost ships seen around the Isle of Shoals:

(Source: As I Please – Digging into Shipwrecked Spaniards,


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