SeacoastNH Home

Seacoast New Hampshire
& South Coast Maine

facebook logo

facebook logo

SEE ALL SIGNED BOOKS by J. Dennis Robinson click here
Misty Legends of Sam Haley



All Hail King Haley

In his book "Old Kittery and her Families" historian Everett Stakpole notes that Andrew Haley was called "King of the Shoals" in the 17th century. I doubt that. Celia Thaxter says Samuel Haley was nicknamed "King Haley" more than a century later since he was the patriarch of a large family that dominated Smuttynose Island. That makes more sense. Shoals historian Lyman Ruttledge expands this to say that Haley "was long known as King of the Islands". Here again, amateur genealogists wanting to connect the dots have imagined a Haley dynasty that dominated the entire Shoals for over 300 years, but it just was not so. More likely, Stackpole just got it wrong. Another historian suggests that Haley's full name was actually Samuel King Haley, but I've been unable to substantiate that one.

The Revolutionary Warrior

History tells us that the inhabitants of the Isles of Shoals were routed off the islands during the American Revolution, but exactly when or by whom is unclear. Mainlanders apparently feared that the poor and independent Shoalers might offer aid to the British for the right price. Local historians like to think Sam Haley Sr. refused to leave Smuttynose, having built up his self-sustaining island kingdom. Shoals historian Bob Tuttle tells me that the most accepted story is that Samuel Haley arrived at Smuttynose in 1750. Why he came to this barren place is still unclear, but this makes sense considering his marriage to a Shoaler six years later. This may also mean that the Haley Cottage was built before the Revolution.


Super-Sizing the Haley Clan

Thaxter and Ruttledge and others continually note that Sam Haley had two sons who carried on his little empire. What they fail to note, Bob Tuttle points out, is that Samuel and Mary also had nine daughters. One of them married the minister on Star and the Haley clan grew rapidly. Celia Thaxter grows rapturous in her description of one of Haley’s descendants – a pretty, slender brown-eyed girl, modest and sweet, and with "the clear light of intelligence in her eyes". Celia attributes the girl’s "unconscious dignity and grace" to her excellent breeding, much in contrast to most of the intermarried, drunken, heathen Shoalers that she seems to find on Star Island.

Burying the Spanish Sailors?

Captain Haley is well remembered for leaving a light in the window of his cottage to warn approaching ships of the treacherous Shoals. Yet in January 1813, a ship crashed onto Haley’s Island and, over the next few days, 14 bodies were found. In Celia’s romanticized version old Sam Haley (already two years dead himself) finds the bodies frozen in their last desperate attempt to crawl towards his house.

The discovery must have been made by Captain Sam Haley Jr, who supposedly buried the Spanish sailors in a shallow grave marked by rocks just down the walking trail today from the Haley cemetery. He requested a fee from the town for his burial work. There are rocks there, for sure, but archeologists with ground-penetrating radar discovered not human remains, not even disturbed topsoil in the area of the supposed graves.

Bars of Pirate Treasure?

According to the most famous legend, a few years after the Spanish shipwreck, Captain Haley found four silver bars under a flat rock. He cashed them in and used the money to build or repair the breakwater between Smuttynose and Malaga island nearby around 1820. This tale, wrapped in rumors of Blackbeard's treasure, has lured fortune hunters, divers and prospectors with metal detectors to the island ever since. Although the story has never been authenticated, and Celia admits it is derived from tales told by Star Island fishermen, it is still recited with authority by tour boat guides and treasure-hunter web sites.

Shoals history tends to get recycled like pieces of furniture on an island. New authors slap new paint on old stories and then pass them along. Gosport records are sparse and sometimes unreliable, even Celia admits. She herself was home schooled on the islands from the age of four, taught by her father Thomas and her future husband Levi Thaxter. Her primary source was the oral history of native Shoalers who she herself described as often drunk, lazy uneducated, quarrelsome and untrustworthy. Yet her work is often taken for fact. The result is a ghostly portrait of two Samuel Haleys that may never grow clearer.

Samuel Haley grave

Opening photos courtesy of Smuttynose Brewery. Photo of MidOcean House courtesy of Portsmouth Athenaeum. Haley Covr photo courtesy of Peter Randall/UNH Special COllections. Photo of Sam Haley's tomb by J. Dennis Robinson.


Please visit these ad partners.

News about Portsmouth from

Thursday, December 14, 2017 
Please update your Flash Player to view content.
Please update your Flash Player to view content.
Please update your Flash Player to view content.

Copyright ® 1996-2016 All rights reserved. Privacy Statement
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Site maintained by ad-cetera graphics