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Misty Legends of Sam Haley

Haley House

History Exclusive: 
King of the Isles of Shoals

He built an island kingdom, but only one house remains. Did he really find pirate treasure? Did he bury frozen shipwrecked sailors? Did his father spend the American Revolution isolated on Smuttynose Island?




VISIT: Our Smuttynose Murder sectionSmuttynose Ale
SEE ALSO: Haley House Before Restoration

They Called it Haley's Island

You know Samuel Haley's squat wooden house from the label on bottles of Smuttynose Ale lined up in the supermarket. For years it was considered the oldest house in Maine. It is not, and the building date remains a mystery like so much of Sam Haley's life. Some books say the two-room cape was built before the American Revolution. Others say afterwards, as late as 1790.

In the 19th century the Haley House hunkered among a dozen buildings all clustered near the cove at Smuttynose island. The others have been torn down, burned or carted away, but Haley's sturdy cape clings like a barnacle to the rocky hill. We know it was moved at least once since the granite front steps, flanked by wild rose bushes, are now 30 feet away.

The building has been abandoned and adapted, ransacked and renovated over at least two centuries. The roof blew off in the hurricane of 1938. The ruined cottage was fully restored in the 1990s by a traveling carpenter who offered his work in exchange for chance to spent time there each summer. Today a group of Smuttymose Stewards maintain the house and island for the owners who are descended from the Thaxter family. Yet the cottage looks much as the original owner left it, still without running water, insulation or electricity.

Haley's IslandI spend a week of every year living under Sam Haley's roof, wondering much of the time, who he really was. Poet Celia Thaxter did the same. As a young girl in the early 1840s she used to sit on a lookout platform once attached to the roof of the house. Thirty years later Celia recalled Haley in h her book Among the Isles of Shoals (1873):

I used to think how many times he [Haley] had sat there with his spyglass, scanning the horizon and all within it, while the wind ruffled his gray hair and the sun shone pleasantly across his calm old face.

Celia is actually talking about Sam Haley's son, Captain Sam Haley, Jr., since the first Sam Haley died in 1811, aged 84. His son died in 1839 at age 76 when Celia was just five years old, so her memory must have been strong indeed. Both men are reportedly buried in the family cemetery on a rise just in back of the house. Each summer I clear the tall grass from the tombstones there with a gas powered weed whacker and wonder what lies beneath the thin skin of peaty soil stretched over the rocky core of Smuttynose Island.

It was Celia's father Thomas Laighton of Portsmouth who bought Smuttynose from the Haleys in 1839. Besides the Haley Cottage, a pier and other buildings, the Laighton's purchased the Mid-Ocean House of Entertainment. Running this two-story summer guest-house apparently inspired Thomas Laighton to build his expansive hotel on Appledore Island nearby starting in 1846.


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Saturday, February 17, 2018 
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