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The Truth About Ocean Born Mary



According to New Hampshire legend, Ocean Born Mary was born at sea. Her birth saved the life of the passengers from pirates on an early sailing ship. The story involves romance and buried treasure, but alas, it is not true. So many great legends are really just about real estate



SEE PHOTOS of Ocean Born Mary House

There really was an Ocean Born Mary and she really did live in New Hampshire. Beyond those bare facts, little of the story you have likely heard is true. She didn't marry a pirate, bury a treasure, explore the streets of Portsmouth or reside in the Ocean Born Mary House in Henniker. But don't be sad. Legends live longer than facts.

Ocean Born Mary by Lois LenskiElizabeth Fulton, history tells us, gave birth in the hold of a ship off Boston on July 28, 1720. She and her husband James were among the Scots-Irish immigrants on their way to a new life in colonial New England. At the same time, on deck, privateers hijacked the ship and, legend says, threatened to kill its passengers. Whether the invading pirate truly intended to murder the passengers, something pirates rarely did, we'll never know. According to the first piece of the legend, the bandit heard the wail of the newborn child and asked if her parents would name the girl Mary after his mother, or his wife, or his girlfriend, depending on the legend one favors. The Fultons named their daughter Mary, and the pirate spared the lives of the immigrants.

At this point in an already improbable story, the pirate suddenly turned into a philanthropist, offering gifts to the swaddling infant. Among them was a bolt of light green brocaded silk, bits of which reside today in the museum at the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord, and at the libraries in Londonderry and Henniker. In the next piece of the legend, the pirate requested that the cloth be used for baby Mary's wedding gown, when the time came. Mary's father died soon after their arrival in Boston, but she and her mother moved on to Londonderry, NH as planned. Local historians tell us that Mary, tall and red-haired, did wear a gown made from the pirate's silk when she married James Wallace in 1742. The couple had four sons and a daughter. Three of the sons married three sisters and all settled in Henniker. Mary lived a full life with her husband in Londonderry. In 1798 she moved to Henniker and stayed with a son named William for her final 18 years. She died at age 94 in 1814.

Legends, like water, seek their own popular level. They carve through fact by repeated telling, the way rivers cut through stone. Fiction is about the way we want things to be, rather than the way it is. Over time the story of the pirate's wedding gift expanded to find the pirate himself returning two decades later to claim Mary. In other versions, he builds a house near hers in Henniker, and in another, hires Mary as his housekeeper. It's certainly a romantic notion, and survives into an age when ancient male movie stars woo younger and younger women. In this case however, the elder pirate would have been a century old, and his bride 78.

Attempts to identify the actual pirate muddle matters even worse. In one version of the legend he is the "ruthless, but handsome" Don Pedro. In other versions Mary is a beautiful "Amazon" who is wooed by Phillip Babb, the butcher pirate often associated with the Isles of Shoals. Sometimes in legend Mary's husband, who lived to be 81, dies young, allowing the pirate to return and claim her. In at least one version, her husband himself is the pirate.

CONTINUE Truth About Ocean Born Mary

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