In July of 1720, a couple was traveling to immigrate from Europe to Boston. The trip was relatively uneventful until the woman went into labor, delivering a newborn baby girl with fiery red hair. Legends says that the next day, a band of pirates boarded the ship, causing chaos and fear for all of the passengers. Mid-way through the raid, the captain heard the cries of a newborn baby on board and asked the small family to be brought before him. In an act of mercy, the captain promised to release all captives and leave immediately if the mother would give him the honor of naming the young girl after his late mother, Mary. He came back to the ship one more time to give the mother a bolt of bright green silk fabric, to be used to make the girl’s future wedding dress.
This is the legend of Ocean-Born Mary, at least this much of the story being believed to be true. Ocean-Born Mary really did live up to her name and her family was spared by pirates on the high seas of the Atlantic Ocean. Upon arriving in Boston, the family would suffer a devastating loss as Mary’s father, James Wilson, died suddenly of an unknown illness. Her mother remarried quickly to a man named Lieutenant Thomas Patterson of the Massachusetts Militia.
With an exciting start to her life, Ocean-Born Mary would go on to live a relatively average life. She grew up in Londonderry, NH and would eventually marry a young man named James Wallace, with whom she had five children. On her wedding day, of course, she wore the green silk dress with fabric willed to her by her surrogate pirate godfather. Mary was described as a strikingly beautiful and intimidating woman, with bright red hair and haunting green eyes. She stood just over 6 ft tall and had a personality that conveyed her lack of patience for trifling things when more important topics were afoot.
After being widowed at a young age, legends say Mary was found by Captain Pedro, the pirate who spared the lives aboard the boat on which she was born. There’s no report of whether she wore the green dress this time, but the two were married. Never far from tragedy, one day Mary came home to find her husband dead on the floor, presumably murdered for pirate treasure. She is reported to have buried him under the hearthstone in her house. One legend says she buried him with his remaining treasure, and many treasure seekers have attempted to find Captain Pedro’s lost gold.
Three of Mary’s sons would settle in Henniker, NH, and she would live with her son, William, for the last 16 years of her life after the untimely death of two husbands. Another son of hers was named Robert, but his nearby house was never much of a place Ocean-Born Mary visited (some say she didn’t care much for that son, thus she steered clear.) Mary would live in William’s house until her death in 1814 at the age of 93. This is when the legends of her haunting afterlife began to spread. William’s house was destroyed by a fire in 1923, after decades of serving as the community poorhouse. Robert’s home still stood, and this is the location the haunting of Ocean-Born Mary was said to occur.
Louis and Flora Roy would be the next owners of Robert Wallace’s home in the 1930s, enjoying that the house had such a storied history. They began to report paranormal activity in the home, claiming to have seen the stately ghost of Mary wandering the halls and rocking in a rocking chair. It’s worth mentioning that Mary never lived in this home, so the story of her remaining there in death is dubious at best. Still, visitors to the house asserted that they had experienced ghostly taps on the shoulder, lights turning on and off at will, and the sound of footsteps throughout the house. The proprietors would claim that the body of Captain Pedro was actually located at this location, and that Mary continued guarding her final husband’s gold into the afterlife.
More stories would be spun by the Roys, including that Mary would occasionally answer the door, causing guests to ask who the historic reenactor with the red hair was. More residents of Henniker would claim to see Mary through the upstairs windows and on the main staircase leading to the second floor. The Roys became very wealthy from the paranormal stories they would conjure up, and the venture of giving tourists the opportunity to rent shovels and dig in the nearby orchard for the pirate treasure. Obviously, no doubloons have been found on the property or under the hearth.
Mary’s life was an interesting one, but her afterlife seems to potentially be fiction, a yarn spun by the Roys who owned the house until it was sold in 1961. Regardless of the truth of the legends surrounding Ocean-Born Mary, paranormal enthusiasts still considered the home a hotspot for investigation. Investigators, treasure hunters, and other interested parties continue to trespass on the property, looking for ghostly activity and treasure. The new owners tried in vain to inform of the lack of evidence of any of the haunting claims at the Wallace house, to no avail.
At least one body is known to officially be buried on the property, and that’s the grave of Louis Roy. No one is certain if the man who conjured the legends may actually be the ghost haunting his own story. Some claim to see him, standing in the orchard or appearing to dig into the soft ground, perpetually looking for the treasure that was likely never obtained by Mary. Her life still stands as one of the more interesting ones in early New Hampshire history, legend or not. Ocean-Born Mary is a legend herself that will live on in the whispered ghost stories of New England.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.