SeacoastNH Home

Seacoast New Hampshire
& South Coast Maine

facebook logo

facebook logo

SEE ALL SIGNED BOOKS by J. Dennis Robinson click here
Sheep on the Isles of Shoals


Livestock have lived on the rocky islands since the mid-1600s. Their bones are thick in the soil. Sheep once abounded – good to breed, sheer and eat. But they have not been seen for decades, until recently, when Dave and Rosie came to Smuttynose.




Thomas Had a Little Lamb
(a little beef and a little ham)

In the summer of 1846 Thomas Laighton tried sheep farming on Hog Island at the Isles of Shoals. His diary entry for June 19 reads: "Finished shearing, 40 old sheep, 15 lambs." Before that Laighton tried editing a newspaper, started a failed whaling company, served as a NH state representative, and managed a lighthouse. His dream was to restore the fishing industry that flourished on the Shoals two centuries earlier. That never happened.

But one month later Laighton found his true calling. On July 24, 1846 Laighton met with Levi Thaxter, a young Harvard graduate whose father was a wealthy Boston banker. Thaxter and Laighton became partners in a plan to build a restful sanitarium for handicapped visitors 10-miles out to sea from Portsmouth Harbor. They changed the name of the island from Hog to Appledore. The sanitarium idea was dropped in favor of a hotel. So instead of farming sheep, Thomas Laighton banked his future on tourism.

The Appledore Hotel opened in the summer of 1848. Three years later, in 1851, the 27-year old Mr. Thaxter married Laighton’s 16-year old daughter Celia on the porch of the Appledore Hotel as sheep grazed in the distant fields. The marriage of Celia and Levi Thaxter was as rocky as the Shoals themselves, but the home-schooled girl raised at the Isles emerged as one of the nation’s most popular female writers.

They’re baaa-ck!

This summer the sheep have returned to the Shoals on a trial basis. So far there are only two. Dave and Rosalina arrived on Smuttynose last month and surveyed their summer home. They walked cautiously up the rocky entrance from the cove to the expansive lawn on the privately owned island. Dave is a one-year old neutered mutt. Rosie is a yearling Romney twin who will begin breeding next year.

Carrie McKie coaxed the two animals up the terraced lawn by shaking a few kernels of grain in a metal coffee can. The owner of Triple G Farm in York, Maine, McKie has loaned Dave and Rosie to the Smuttynose Stewards, a volunteer group of caretakers. My wife Maryellen and I have been stewards for nearly a decade, but like Thomas Laighton, our primary focus has been accommodating tourists, not sheep. We welcome the conference members who row across Gosport Harbor from Star Island and monitor the vacationing boaters who find their way into Haley’s Cove.

Carrie gave us a brief course in the care and feeding of sheep. Basically, they wander and eat grass, something Smuttynose has in abundance. My summer job is to mow the lawn and weed-whack the primitive trail that meanders over rocks, past seagulls and through bracken and poison ivy to the back end of the 27-acre island. Steward president Laurence Bussey suggested that Rosie and Dave might "help out" by clearing some of the tall grass around the many stone foundations atf what once was a busy island. Today only two houses remain. Neither has electricity or plumbing. Stewards bring their own water, sunscreen and calamine lotion.

Carrie McKie quickly headed to Star Island where her two hogs are joyously consuming leftovers from the Oceanic Hotel in another experimental livestock project. Dave bleated like a lost child for half an hour when she left, then settled into doing what sheep do best.


Please visit these ad partners.

News about Portsmouth from

Thursday, January 18, 2018 
Please update your Flash Player to view content.
Please update your Flash Player to view content.
Please update your Flash Player to view content.

Copyright ® 1996-2016 All rights reserved. Privacy Statement
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Site maintained by ad-cetera graphics