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When the Caswells Ruled Gosport

Caswell Cemetery and Lemuel Caswell's Atlantic House on Star Island, NH


On Star Island the Caswells dominated the harsh fishing village in the 19th century. Hardworking and hard-drinking they scraped out a living on the Isles of Shoals for generations. Then in 1873 the Caswells – and all the citizens of Gosport Village, NH disappeared.




SEE: Caswell discoveries on Star
SEE: Celia Thaxter section 
RELATED STORY: Clarence Caswell Ejected from Cedar Island   

Caswell Clan, Shoalers  Since 1776   

From Thomas Laighton's arrival as lighthouse keeper at White Island in 1839 until the death of his son Oscar a century later, the Laighton name reigned supreme in the annals of the Isles of Shoals. Laighton built the sprawling hotel on Appledore in 1847 and spawned a new tourist industry. Daughter Celia Laighton Thaxter popularized the region with her poetry, books and literary salon. Oscar and brother Cedric eventually expanded their island empire to include the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island.

But long before the Laightons, came the Caswells. In 1711 the first Caswells joined a hard-drinking, hard-working Shoals fishing community that was already a century old. But unlike many seasonal fishermen who commuted from Europe, the Caswells stayed. They survived the dangerous fishing trade and the brutal winters on the windswept rocks. Although patriot forces cleared the feisty Shoalers off the islands during the Revolutionary War, many Caswells came back. They grew wealthy by island standards. By 1866, a hand-drawn map of Star shows at least a third of the homes belonging to different Caswells, with others owned primarily by the Randall, Robinson, Downs, Berry, Haley, Beebe and Newton families.

Today a dozen Caswells rest in a rock-walled family cemetery on Star Island near the Oceanic Hotel, the last surviving Victorian hotel of its size in the region. In fact, the Oceanic is a cluster of Caswell family buildings joined by a long wooden veranda. When the first Oceanic burned in 1875 soon after it was built, owner John Poore reconfigured the surviving buildings into a second Oceanic Hotel. The largest, the former Atlantic House, had been run by Lemuel Caswell. Another, the Gosport House, was once run by Lemuel's brother Origen Caswell.

There were faint whispers coming from the Caswell cemetery earlier this summer. A hotel staff member found an 1853 penny while weeding one of the island gardens. Meanwhile, a team of carpenters uncovered a chalked date – 1868 -- inside a renovated wall at Orgen Caswell’s Gosport House. The construction crew then found a heavy metal bar built into the floor. This artifact may finally explain how the massive building was lifted into the air, moved to a new foundation and a floor added underneath.

Caswell Clan Continued

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018 
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