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Three Beebe Girls Buried at Isles of Shoals

Children at Gosport IslandThey are the most forlorn graves in New Hampshire. Their three tiny headstones are hidden deep in an alcove tucked among rocks and vegetation and facing the open sea at the Isles of Shoals. Waves crash endlessly against the rocks below. The fog horn at nearby White Island moans. But few visitors to historic Star Island ever slide down the large stone, guarded by angry gulls, and venture through a break in the bushes to discover the ancient Beebe Cemetery. (Continued below)


The three little Gosport sisters died within weeks of each other on Star Island in 1863. Their grave markers used to lie deep within a jungle of cedars, lilac, and poison ivy at the uninhabited  end of Star Island. The iron gate that surrounded the family cemetery is gone. Gone too are their mother and father and four siblings who abandoned the Isles of Shoals for mainland New Hampshire a few years after the tragedy, leaving the girls behind.

It’s easy to lose your way when searching for the graves of Jessie, Millie and Mitty Beebe, aged two, four and seven. Star Island Corp. volunteers have cleared the cemetery. The heavy stone wall that once supported the railing and metal arch now look like a tumbledown house foundation. In the center, covered in moss is a single little obelisk with at least two of the touching inscriptions still visible in the shallow relief amid green and brownish moss.

The busy Mr. Beebe

Beebe cemetery memorial at Star Island / SeacoastNH.comMitty, so the story goes, had spent her life on the harsh island populated by impoverished fishing families. Mitty's parents were special, however. Her father was the Harvard-trained Rev. George Beebe, missionary to the island town of Gosport, New Hampshire. Beebe’s assignment was to save souls at the Isles of Shoals. He was sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Natives and Others, a Massachusetts missionary group. Beebe was, according to a visitor from that era, a sort of king on Star, "as infallible as the pope of Rome." He settled down and purchased an acre of land from the Caswell family.

Besides his chores as spiritual leader, doctor, and dentist to the small island fishing population, Rev. Beebe was also their lawyer, school teacher and justice of the peace. He served as the one-man school committee, NH town legislator, collector of port revenues, inspector of customs, US Commissioner, elected Selectman for the town of Gosport, island apothecary, and carpenter. Because he was in charge of the only gun on the island, Beebe was de facto commandant of the Shoals military and navy as well and kept an eye out for smugglers.

The Rev. Mason, who Beebe replaced in 1857, complained that the locals also expected the island minister to raise flags, mow lawns, build coffins, sweep buildings, make fires, and repair clocks. How Rev. Beebe also fathered a brood of children and served as surgeon in the ongoing War of the Rebellion has been a source of discussion by local historians for over a century. Cedric Laighton, the brother of island poet Celia Thaxter, once adapted a popular poem to describe the minister like this: "How doth the little busy Beebe Improve each shining hour."

Death at an early age

It was the height of the Civil War when young Mitty grew old enough to attend school on the mainland. She was ferried in to Kittery, Maine to join her classmates, no longer isolated among the fishing families of Star. Mitty attended classes for the first time in a school not run by her father or mother. There she contracted scarlet fever. The disease spread quickly to her younger siblings back on Star Island. All three girls died within a month of each other early in the Another version says the girls died of diphtheria. summer of 1863.

That portion of the tale comes from "Uncle" Oscar Laighton, Celia Thaxter's other brother, who spent most of his 99 years living on the Isles of Shoals. Oscar told his version of the story to Mrs. W. I. Laurence, who told it to Boston reporter Jessie Donahue who donated her papers to the little stone Vaughan Museum building on the island. The late Shoals historian Bob Tuttle found the story in the archive there and read his notes to this writer over the phone years ago. Oscar (who died three month short of his 100th birthday in 1939) said that Rev. George Beebe was the last of the preachers sent to minister to the hard-drinking, “heathen” fishermen of the Isles. In fact, two other preachers followed Beebe, but did not last long, before the villagers of Gosport sold their homes to a hotel developer in the early 1870s and the town disbanded.



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