Ocean-Born Mary: The Truth – Henniker, NH

(WARNING! This spoils the Ocean-Born Mary legend)

Ocean Born Mary - the true storyOcean-Born Mary is one of America’s most famous ghosts. However, only a few parts of her legend are true.

Here is the actual story, according to Henniker records that I researched, on-site.

Ocean-Born Mary really was born in 1720 aboard a ship, the Wolf. Also, her life was spared by the pirate Don Pedro, just as the story claims.

Mary’s father, Captain James Wilson, died soon after they landed in Boston, and his widow, Elizabeth, took Mary to Londonderry, NH, where she claimed the land Capt. Wilson had been granted.

Elizabeth married a second time, to James Clark (great-great grandfather of Horace Greeley, the man who said, “Go West, young man.”). She died about 1732.

1732 was also the year that the Wallace family, originally from Scotland, arrived in Londonderry, NH after living in Burnt Mills, Northern Ireland. (Burnt Mills is not on modern maps, but this is the town mentioned in historical accounts.)

Mary’s Happy Marriage

Thomas Wallace married Mary Wilson on December 18th, 1742.

And yes, she was actually six feet tall, with red hair. And, true to the legend, she wore a gown made from the silk given to her parents by Don Pedro.

The “Ocean-Born” Mary and Thomas Wallace did, indeed, have a daughter and four sons: Elizabeth, Thomas, Robert, William, and James.

However, “Ocean-Born” Mary wasn’t widowed early in life. In fact,  Thomas Wallace, Sr., and his wife Mary lived a long and happy life together, until his death on October 30, 1791.

He is buried in Hill Graveyard, in Londonderry, NH.

More family history: Their daughter Elizabeth married Major (later Deacon) Thomas Patterson of the NH Militia; he was the son of Peter Patterson. They had at least one child, Robert Patterson.

Thomas Wallace, Jr., was a distinguished Revolutionary War hero.

Sons Robert, William, and James married sisters, respectively, Jeanette, Hannah, and Anna, all daughters of Robert and Mary Moore of Londonderry.

Mary’s Later Life

“Ocean-Born” Mary Wilson Wallace moved to Henniker on July 6, 1798 at age 78, and spent the rest of her life with her son, William, about a quarter-mile from one of her other sons, Robert Wallace.

Robert is the one who built the mansion that, today, is supposedly haunted by Ocean-Born Mary.

But… William’s journals and the census records suggest that Mary never lived in that house.

Mary died in 1814 and was buried in William Wallace’s family plot, as described in the legend, in Centre Cemetery. (That’s a little odd. Why wasn’t she buried with her husband, back in Londonderry?)

The romantic tale of Don Pedro cannot be documented after the encounter outside Boston Harbor.

So far, I haven’t found a land grant giving him 6,000 acres of land around Henniker. Though it’s unlikely the grant was that large, I can’t rule it out, either. The problem is: the grant was probably in his real name, not given to “Don Pedro.” So, I’m not sure if I’ve overlooked a record of his land grant.

However, Robert Wallace, who built the mansion, was considered a wealthy landowner with a deed to 300 acres surrounding the home. Even 300 acres is a very large piece of land, and could include a significant area around Henniker.

The silk wedding gown was very real, and worn by several of Mary’s descendants at their own weddings. Pieces of the gown remain, in the D.A.R. Museum in Washington, D.C. and in the public library of Henniker, NH. It is a lovely faded teal green silk, in a brocade style, with small teal flowers and white stripes through it.

Where Mary Lived – and Where She Didn’t

The home that Mary actually lived in was reported to be haunted and – after it was abandoned for a few years – the town purchased it in 1844. It was turned into a poorhouse, known as “Wallace Poor Farm.”

In later years, it was reportedly destroyed by vandals. (The history of that house is just odd enough to make me wonder if it really was haunted… perhaps by Mary. Maybe, as the story was passed from one generation to the next, people confused the brothers’ houses.)

The “Ocean-Born Mary” house, as her son Robert’s mansion is known today, was owned by several families before it was bought in 1917 by Louis Maurice Auguste Roy, author of The Candle Book.

The Roys and Mary’s Legend

Mr. Roy and his mother purchased the house and restored it, after hearing rumors of a ghost.

Soon after completing work on “the Ocean-Born Mary house,” the Roys opened their doors to the public.

They charged admission, and Mr. Roy told colorful tales about Mary Wilson Wallace and the ghost which his mother claimed to have seen many times.

So, it’s possible the Robert Wallace’s house was haunted.

However, Mr. Roy’s stories were laced with fiction.

For example, the phantom rocking chair was never Mary’s, and it rocked because Mr. Roy placed it over a loose floorboard that extended the length of the room. By shifting his weight on it, from the other side of the room, Roy could make the chair sway.

Then, Mr. Roy enticed visitors with his story of the lost fortune of Don Pedro, still buried somewhere in the garden where the pirate had died.

And – as if he didn’t seem enough of a charlatan at that point – Mr. Roy rented shovels to the tourists, for 50-cents each, so they could dig for treasure in the back yard.

The descendants of Mary Wilson Wallace were not amused.

Despite that, Ocean-Born Mary became one of America’s best-known ghosts. After all, the public love stories of adventure, romance, and real-life ghosts.

The ‘Ocean-Born Mary House’ in Recent Years

Mr. Roy died in 1965. Subsequent owners of the home, while intrigued by the legend, have done everything possible to discourage curiosity-seekers from trespassing.

They even moved the road in front of the house, blocking tourists from invading their privacy.

The house last appeared in Yankee magazine in September 1996, where it was in the “House for Sale” section, listed at $875,000.

If that house is haunted – and it may be – it is probably not Ocean-Born Mary who walks there.

The first half of the story – in which the pirate spares the life of the crew and passengers, when the baby is named for his mother – is romantic enough to spark legends. The rest of the Don Pedro story appears to be made up by Mr. Roy.

Oh, “Ocean-Born Mary” may still haunt at least one house in Henniker, NH, and appear in locations around town, especially at Halloween.

Remember, October 30th is when her husband, Thomas Wallace, died. That kind of anniversary – plus any spectral energy at Halloween – could explain why stories of her ghost appear at that time of year.

If You Visit Henniker, New Hampshire

Henniker is a lovely town and it is home to New England College and Pat’s Peak skiing area.

Henniker’s Centre Cemetery is a classic New England graveyard, and perfect for picture-taking, if you like stark and eerie images. Mary Wilson Wallace is buried there.

A Henniker grave marker
Grave marker at Henniker’s Central burial ground.

However, the Ocean-Born Mary ghost story is clearly drawn from Green Lady traditions (because she haunts a house, not a family), and the story of appearing on a horse-drawn coach is straight out of Irish legends.

Mary Wilson Wallace is probably not haunting her son’s home, but she may still haunt Henniker.

If you’ve encountered her ghost, I hope you’ll leave a comment and share your story.

Special thanks to Colleen D. of Henniker’s public library,
for her time and assistance in locating materials about Ocean-Born Mary.

Also thanks to Mike Wallace, one of Mary’s relatives,
who provided useful information for our research.

Ocean-Born Mary – Her Ghost in Henniker, NH

“Ocean-Born Mary” is among America’s most famous ghosts. Here’s her popular legend, researched in Henniker, New Hampshire by Fiona Broome. (If you’re busy, you can listen to Fiona’s recording of the story. It’s about eight minutes long.)

Ocean-Born Mary – The ghost legend

Ocean-Born Mary is one of America’s most famous ghosts, and she was an actual person with a real history. Her ghost stories are credible, as well. In this 8-minute recording, hear Fiona Broome describe the ghost’s past, and what to look for to encounter her ghost.

Ocean Born Mary ghost story

Ocean-Born Mary’s story begins just off the coast of old New England. Her story includes adventure, romance, and – of course – a classic ghost or two. Here’s what I discovered in my research in the town of Henniker, at its public library, and during a visit to Mary’s grave.

Mary Wilson was born at sea on July 17th, 1720 (according to the old calendar), soon after her parents set sail from Londonderry, Ireland, aboard the ship, the Wolf.

As the ship neared Boston harbor, it was boarded by pirates, led by the ruthless – but very young and handsome – Don Pedro.

Don Pedro learned that there was a newborn aboard, and offered to let the ship and its passengers continue their voyage, unharmed, if the Wilsons would name the baby “Mary,” after his beloved mother.

The Wilsons eagerly agreed, so Don Pedro honored his promise and let them continue to Boston.

However, before his own ship of ruthless (and now unhappy) pirates sailed away, Don Pedro returned to the Wolf with a length of Chinese silk. He told the Wilsons that the fabric should one day be used for Mary’s wedding gown.

So, many years later – just before Christmas in 1742 – when Mary and Scotsman Thomas Wallace married, in Londonderry, New Hampshire, her wedding gown was made from that silk. (You can see a piece from it at the Henniker Public Library, and a larger piece in a museum in Washington, D.C.)

Mary and Thomas Wallace had a happy marriage, and their family quickly grew to include a daughter and four sons.

Sadly, Mary was widowed soon after the birth of her last son.

Word of the tragedy reached Don Pedro. Though he was still a relatively young man, he was eager to settle far from the call of the sea. During his career as a pirate, he’d earned – and saved – a fortune.

He ordered his men to row up the Contoocook River to the 6,000 acres of land he’d been granted by the King of England.

Apparently, “Don Pedro” was actually an English nobleman, previously the “black sheep” of the family, but now his wandering days were over.

Don Pedro had his ship’s carpenter build a fine mansion on a hilltop in what is now known as Henniker, New Hampshire. Even today, the house is known for its beams and detailing. They’re uniquely like a ship.

When the house was completed, Don Pedro went to Londonderry and begged Mary to live with him – as his housekeeper, since she still mourned her late husband. According to local legend, Don Pedro supported Mary and her children in grand style for many happy years.

However, the fortune that Don Pedro had earned was also the cause of his death. One night, men came to the Henniker mansion under the pretense of visiting with their old friend, Don Pedro.

Mary and her children went to bed, unaware that tragedy would soon strike.

Mary heard a curse from outside her window, and then a groan. Recognizing the voice of Don Pedro, she rushed to the garden and found him alone, dying with a pirate’s cutlass in his chest.

Before he died, he told Mary where he’d hidden his gold. Then, he asked her to bury him beneath the hearth in the home they’d shared so happily.

She honored his wishes. After that, Mary lived a long and comfortable life, never leaving the Henniker home. Don Pedro’s fortune had been so large, Mary left most of it where he’d hidden it.  According to stories, it’s still somewhere on the property. (But, before you grab a metal detector and start looking for the treasure, remember this: Don Pedro’s land grant was 6,000 acres. The gold and jewels could be almost anywhere around Henniker.)

One of Mary’s hobbies was painting, and the American eagle and stars she painted over the front door of the home, can still be seen there today. Inside, her landscape murals decorate many rooms in the home.

Mary is Probably a ‘Green Lady’ Ghost

After her death in 1814, her spirit remained in the house, as a “green lady” ghost. That is, she protects the home and the people in it.

In the early 20th century, the home was opened to the public. Visitors often saw her rocking chair sway gently as she let them know she welcomed them.

Mary has been sensed near the hearth she tended carefully, after it became the final resting spot of Don Pedro.

In more recent years, two NH state policemen saw her one night, crossing the road in front of her house.

Hans Holzer, the famous ghost expert, has conducted two different (and apparently successful) seances to contact Mary. As recently as 1963, Mary helped put out a blazing fire in the house, while the owners watched in amazement.

Mary’s Halloween Ghost

On many Halloween nights, Mary rises from her grave in Henniker’s Centre Cemetery (twelve rows back from the front gate, and marked with a special plaque), and rides a magnificent horse-drawn coach to her home. (Her grave is shown in the photo, below.)

Ocean Born Mary's gravestone
Ocean-Born Mary’s gravestone, in Henniker, NH

Many people have seen Mary’s ghost. They always comment on her red hair, green eyes, and magnificent stature, at about six feet tall.

Even as a ghost, she’s an astonishingly beautiful woman. Her home is  privately owned and definitely NOT open to visitors. Please respect the owners’ privacy.

Ocean-Born Mary remains one of America’s most famous and beloved ghosts. Many people around Henniker will tell you about their encounters with her, especially around Halloween.

scripty-divider

That is the legend, and it is a wonderful story. Unfortunately, only half of it is true.

If you want to know more about the real Ocean-Born Mary, read The Truth about Ocean-Born Mary’s Ghost. It is not nearly as romantic as the ghost story, but it’s still fascinating.

Identify Your Ghost

Sometimes you can find out who your ghost was, even if no one knows the ghost’s name.

It starts when you (or someone else) has seen the ghost, or received a fairly clear impression about the appearance of the ghost.

In addition to the obvious things (such as if the person wears a noose or has a weapon in hand), carefully observe the clothing if you can.  Usually, that tells you a lot about your ghost, including the era when the ghost lived, and his or her economic status.

With those insights, you may develop a “gut feeling” as you research, and soon conclude the most likely identity of your ghost.

Most ghosts respond to their names. They may act startled or angry, but you’ll almost always get a dramatic reaction to the correct name.

That’s your goal, whether you’re trying to confirm whether a place is haunted, or help the ghost to “cross over.”

Step 1: Start with the ghost’s clothing.

Fashions

You can guess the era when the ghost lived, based on the clothing he or she wears.

  • Researching a female ghost, you may narrow the time to a ten-year period, based on fashions.
  • Men’s styles vary less dramatically from year to year.
  • Children’s clothing can be more challenging. In most cases, only the upper class dressed their children fashionably.  Even then, little boys and girls were often dressed identically until around age four, and sometimes older.  So, “the little ghost in the dress” isn’t necessarily female.

A ghostly woman with a very large and extreme bustle extending over the back of her skirt (possibly a fairly narrow skirt to the floor), is probably from the 1880’s. Bright yellow was fashionable for both men and women — particularly for footwear — in the 1890’s.

Those are easy to date.  However, don’t seize stereotypes.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • A woman with sloped shoulders and large, poofy sleeves plus a full skirt, may be from the American Civil War era. However, affluent women of the 1620’s through 1640’s would match this profile, too.
  • High-waisted gowns are reminiscent of the “Titanic” era. (The ship sank in 1912.)  High-waisted gowns were also worn during England’s Regency period, in the early 19th century.

By contrast, some fashion cues are sure things.

For example, in America, a powdered wig will usually be seen prior to the Revolutionary War, and even then, only among the upper class or those who aspired to appear influential.

When you see a female apparition (or perceive her, psychically), it’s usually easy to notice dramatic fashion details.

If your ghost is male, try to look for specific details in his clothing.  Here are some examples:

  • For men, hats and lapels are key points. The length of the jacket is also helpful.
  • Tricorns, the three-cornered hat usually shown on Patriots in illustrations of American Revolution, were worn from the late 17th century through the late 18th century, but were soon replaced by hats with flat brims and taller crowns.
  • Likewise, longer pants, also called “Irish trousers,” replaced breeches after the American Revolution.
  • Men did not wear “top hats” with tall crowns until around the 1820’s.
  • Men’s suits, as we know them today, did not come into fashion until towards the end of the American Civil War.
  • Gaudy fabrics in suits, including brilliant colors and plaids, usually represent fashions after 1885.

For more information on costuming, check your public library. I recommend illustrated guides by John Peacock.

Step 2: Match people to that era, at that location.

If you can narrow the time period using clothing or some other means, you can then learn who lived in the house, or what company was in the building.

Site and residents’ history

For houses, go to city hall and search property records.

Or go to the public library (or a genealogy library) and use the census records which are generally listed by state, then town, and then neighborhood. All the houses on one street are usually grouped on one set of pages, in order.

Census records from the mid-19th century will usually tell you the names, ages, and professions of everyone in the house, and their relationships to each other.

City directories listed homes and businesses. Before phone books, city directories listed, street-by-street, every adult in each household. Most included where the person was employed, too.

Those directories also listed businesses by street address. Businesses advertised in city directories, providing additional information.

Once you enter the era of the telephone book, look for “reverse directories,” which list names and phone numbers by their addresses. If the house was at 123 Main Street, you can look up Main Street and then find who (or what business) was in number 123.

Step 3: Use genealogical records to learn more about the most likely people.

With the location, a name, and a time period, use genealogical resources — such as civil and church records — to learn what happened to the occupants of the house, or the owner of the business.

  • Civil records include birth, marriage, and death records.  They’re usually kept at city, county, and state offices.
  • Church records may be at the actual church, or at a broader office, such as Catholic Archdiocese archives.
  • Many older records are online, and some are indexed.
  • Historical societies, family history libraries, and the historical collection at the public library may be helpful.

Other resources

Many newspaper articles are indexed. Newspaper obituaries are, too. They can provide considerable information. Once you have names to work with, you can look for articles about their lives. You may find clues in those stories or reports.

Court records can be useful. For example, you may find a series of lawsuits disputing a property line. That was common when property and income were closely tied.  A running dispute could explain lingering residual energy, especially at a site that never had a house on it… or never had a house on it, until now.

After a person had died, their will and probate records can provide insights into family relations. These records are usually at the courthouse.  Most are open to the public once the will has been read, after the individual’s death.

siseTown and city histories can provide colorful (but often fictional) biographies of leading citizens. No matter how much the person’s background was embellished, you can find clues to their real lives.

This is a simplified explanation, but hopefully it will help you identify your ghost, or narrow the possibilities to just a few people.

Remember that some ghosts wander. One famous example is the ghost of Room 214 in the Sise Inn of Portsmouth, NH. The Sise Inn — shown at right — appears to have no violence in its long history. However, the ghost may be a visitor from a house two doors away, where a murder was committed many years ago.

You may not identify every ghost, but — in many cases — you can narrow the possibilities to just a few real people from the past.