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Tallest Tombstone in New Hampshire is 100 Years Old

 Tucke Memorial is NH's tallest Tombstone on Star Island / Robinson photo

The Dedication  

          It was a beautiful breezy Wednesday on July 29, 1914 when a hundred invited guests left the dock in Boston aboard the steamer Nassau at 10 am. They joined another 138 local guests at Star Island an hour later for the dedication ceremony. The impressive memorial loomed over the flat rocky island. The lush vegetation, wildflowers, and poison ivy that now surround the monument were not there in 1914 and the memorial sat on barren rock. 

          There were speeches galore, but the guest of honor, Edward Tuck, remained at his mansion in Paris. The presidents of Harvard and Dartmouth, the governor of New Hampshire, and even the president of the historical society were also unable to attend and sent their regrets.

          Following the Tucke dedication, the group moved a few dozen yards up a rocky slope to the site of the Captain John Smith monument. It was, after all, the 300th anniversary of Smith's visit to the Isles of Shoals in 1614. A wooden obelisk erected in his honor soon after the Civil War had long since washed into the sea. Members of the Society of Colonial Wars had attached a new brass plaque to the crumbling base and  delivered an overlong speech about the life of Captain Smith. One observer noted that Smith, a soldier in the battles of the Crusades, symbolized war. Rev. Tucke, on the other hand, represented the epitome of what could be accomplished in the name of peace.

          A luncheon was served in the Oceanic dining room at 2 pm where a few "lineal" descendants of John Tucke were introduced. More grand speeches followed before the group boarded steamers to return to the mainland at 4pm. Later that same year, the ancient Appledore Hotel on a neighboring island burned. While religious conferences had been held at the Shoals since 1897, it was two years later in 1916 that the Star Island Corporation of Boston purchased the Star Island its hotel. Now operating from downtown Portsmouth, the nonprofit group continues to offer summer conferences on a wide range of topics, plus personal retreats. Visitors are welcome to tour the historic island in season.  

          Some speakers at the dedication wondered aloud why Rev. Tucke chose to spend his life among the poor villagers on an isolated fishing village at sea. It was his life of service and self-sacrifice, others pointed out, that make his monument worth visiting.  

Reverend Alfred Gooding of the Unitarian Church in Portsmouth said that Tucke had wisely chosen a simple life over the worries and turmoil on the mainland. He had his family, his large library, his home, plenty of leisure time, and was beloved by all. What more could a man desire?

 “To be minister at the Shoals,” Gooding said with a wisp of envy, “had all the advantages of being afloat with none of the disadvantages.” 

SOURCES: Search online for (1) “Tuck’s Gift,”Historical New Hampshire, Volume 65, No. 2, Fall 2011 and (2) Dedication of a memorial to Reverend John Tucke, 1702-1773, Star Island, Isles of Shoals, (1914).

Copyright © 2014 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s history column appears in the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday and exclusively online at his independent Web site He is the author of 11 books including UNDER THE ISLES OF SHOALS from which a portion of this article is adapted.. 


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