Eliza Rymes Laighton was Mother of Celia Thaxter
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Written by SeacoastNH Archives

397-00SeacoastNH.com Presents
Historic Portsmouth #397

We hear so much about Thomas Laighton and his famous poet daughter Celia. Thomas bought the Maine half of the Isles of Shoals and moved his young family from Portsmouth to these barren rocks in 1839. Thomas eventually built the grand hotel on Appledore Island and kicked off the tourism industry that eventually killed the fishing village of Gosport. (continued below)

 

 

But what about his wife Eliza Rymes? There are no known photos of Thomas, but at least three exist of Eliza. She raised Celia and sons Oscar and Cedric 10 miles out from Portsmouth Harbor. Eliza married Thomas in 1831 at age 24 when she was described as an exceptional beauty. Although she was likely functionally illiterate, it was Eliza’s skills a cook, homemaker, and host that originally made the Shoals hotel business a success on Smuttynose, then at Appledore. Dr. Henry Ingersoll Bowditch, a prominent Boston physician who summered at the Shoals, noted that Thomas and his wife both weighed over 250 pounds by the 1850s.

Portsmouth actor Henry Clay Barnabee wrote that the Laightons were “ponderously obese” and described their island operation as a “chowder resort and mini-Coney Island.” Celia’s letters show she and her mother were  deeply dependent on one another and were unhappy when apart. Eliza was often ill and forced to use opium to relieve her pain. “My eyes are stiff with weeping and watching,” Celia wrote to a friend in 1877, “my beautiful dear mother is sinking away, and we are heartbroken beyond hearing.” Eliza died that year at age 70 and is buried with her sons and husband on Appledore Island.  (Courtesy Portsmouth Athenaeum)

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