Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ocean Born Mary, a Londonderry Character

The Ocean Born Mary Story

The Myth:

A Ship of Ulster protestant passengers was on its way to Boston, Massachusetts when, on 28 July 1720, Elizabeth Wilson gave birth to a daughter. About this time a pirate ship attacked, and the captain intended to rob and murder the passengers. Just in the nick of time, the captain heard the newborn child’s cries. He said he would spare all the passengers if the child was named Mary in honor of his mother, and he gave a bolt of silk to the baby girl for her wedding dress. The child and her parents later settled in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Later the pirate returned to Londonderry to look up the grown woman named Mary, and since she was recently widowed, he married her and built her a home in Henniker, NH.


The Truth:

Yes, the ship was full of Scots Irish fleeing the violence of Northern Ireland. And, Yes, there was a pirate, and a bolt of silk, and the newborn child was named Mary. The silk was used for her wedding dress, and bits of it are on display in Londonderry, Henniker and at the New Hampshire Historical Society Museum. Mary married in Londonderry, was widowed late in life, and she removed to Henniker to live with her son, William, for the last 18 years of her life. If she did marry the pirate after becoming a widow, she would have been 78 years old and the pirate over 100 years old. Chances are that the pirate marriage is myth.

Even better than this fanciful myth is the reality later caused by the myth. A fellow from Wisconsin, named Louis Roy, bought a house in Henniker in 1917, and thought that he had bought the house belonging to Ocean Born Mary’s son, Robert Wallace. In reality, she lived in a different house in Henniker, with her son William. Mr. Roy told of seeing her ghost in the home, started some imaginative house tours and even rented shovels to tourists and invited them to dig for buried pirate treasure in his garden. The Roy family continued with the ghost tours until the 1960’s.

William’s house became the Henniker town poor farm. It was destroyed by fire in 1923. There was a story about the “Ocean Born Mary House” in the September 1996 Issue of “Yankee” magazine, when it was up for sale for $875,000. This house for sale was the former Roy house. I guess the myth was so strong, that though it was proven wrong, it was OK to market the house as the “Ocean Born Mary” house even in a nationally known magazine!

If you Google Ocean Born Mary’s story, you will see that many people claim to see a tall, red haired, green eyed ghost in the Henniker house, where she never lived! Now that it is almost Halloween, ghost stories about Ocean Born Mary top the list of famous hauntings in New Hampshire. Her ghost even featured on page 538 of Volume 74 of the National Geographic magazine (OK, it was in an issue from 1939, but you get the idea!)


The Ocean Born Mary Family Tree:

Gen. 1. James Wilson, married Elizabeth Fulton in Northern Ireland and they removed to Londonderry, New Hampshire with a wave of Scots Irish immigration in 1720. James died about Jan 1721, and Elizabeth married second in 1722 to James Clark in Londonderry.

Gen. 2. Mary Wilson, born 28 July 1720 on the Atlantic Ocean, d. on 13 Feb. 1814 in Henniker, New Hampshire; married 18 Dec. 1742 to James Wallace in Londonderry, New Hampshire. He died on 30 Oct. 1781 in Londonderry and is buried in the Hill Burying Ground. Mary is buried in the Center Burying Ground in Henniker. James was the son of Thomas Wallace and Barbara Cochran of Antrim, Northern Ireland, also among the first settlers in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

Gen. 3. Five children, named Wallace, born in Londonderry.
  1. Elizabeth, married Major Thomas Patterson
  2. Thomas, b. 5 Nov. 1745, served in the Battle of Bennington
  3. Robert, b. 5 Sept. 1749, married Jeannette Moore, daughter of Robert and Mary Moore of Londonderry
  4. William, b. 17 Jan. 1760, married Hannah, sister of Jeanette (above)
  5. James, b. 8 May 1762, married Anna, another sister of Jeannette and Hannah (above). It is very interesting to note that the three Wallace brothers married three Moore sisters.

History of Londonderry, by Rev. E. L. Parker (See my blog post on Rev. Parker 11 Sep. 2009 at this link: )

“As I Please” by J. Dennis Robinson, Vol. 5, No. 7, April 21, 2001 “The Truth About Ocean Born Mary”

“The Geography of a Hurricane”, The National Geographic Magazine, by the National Geographic Society, page 538, Volume 74, 1939


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Ocean Born Mary, a Londonderry Character", Nutfield Genealogy, posted October 8, 2009, ( accessed [access date]). 


  1. Love hearing more about her story. Great post! I wrote a song about Mary that blends the facts with the fiction. Her tale is truly fascinating. Here's a post about the story behind the song:

  2. This post was really fun to read. Your style is witty and crisp! No wonder the "Ocean Born Mary" myth is stronger than reality -- it has the time threat, the last-minute rescue, and a newborn! A newborn is always a powerful metaphor...even if it happens to be real. (Used it in my memoir.) Thank you for the colorful Londonderry character and for this entertaining post!