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The Beebe Babies Tragic Tale


 ISLES OF SHOALS TRAGEDY (continued)

Beebe Cemetery from the Laing Collection/ Peter e. Randall

Consumption was a major killer among the native shoalers. Celia noted, with irony, that her summer visitors on Appledore Island came to the fresh air of the Isles to escape the same disease that ravaged the population on Star Island nearby. Gosport fishing families got little fresh air in the winter. They lived mostly indoors, windows closed tightly, rags filling every crack, she wrote, in tiny houses hermetically sealed "so that the air of heaven should not penetrate" Celia continued:

I have seen a little room containing a whole family, fishing boots and all, bed, furniture, cooking-stove in full blast, and an oil lamp with a wick so high that the deadly smoke rose steadily, filling the air with what Browning might call 'filthiest gloom,' and mingling with the incense of ancient tobacco pipes smoked by both sexes...and if by any chance the door opened for an instant, out rushed a fume in comparison with which the gusts from the lake of Tartarus might be imagined sweet.

In the midst of all this apparent misery and sadness, we can count on brother Cedric to uncover a humorous vein. Rev. Beebe, like the ministers before him, incited both love and derision among the Shoalers. In one instance, the locals complained to Rev. Beebe's superiors that he had stolen the Gosport church melodeon and refused to offer Sabbath Day services. An investigating committee visited Star Island and cleared the reverend of all charges.

In another lively incident, Nett, wife of Lemuel Caswell (the family who ran the Atlantic House and originally sold land to Beebe), believed that Mrs. Beebe had stolen a couple of webs of cloth. When similar webs of cloth showed up three years later at the Beebe home, a group of Shoalers confronted the minister and his family. Writing to his sister Celia, Cedric embroidered the dramatic story as follows:

Nett rushed upon Mrs. Beebe and commenced to slap her in the face; the town clerk, unwilling to leave without an honorable spar, rushed at Beebe and slapped him in the face; and Aunt Sally, seeing everyone so pleasantly employed, determined to have her share and so commenced to slap Beebe's baby. After the slapping was over, the trio walked slowly and majestically away from the Parsonage, amid the tears and groans of the House of Beebe.

Rev. Beebe built the family cemetery for his three lost daughters apparently intending to stay on Star. With another minister from Portsmouth, around this time he also helped design and built the monument to explorer John Smith, dilapidated but still standing today not far from the graves of his girls. But the harshness of the Shoals won out. Four years later, according to most reports, Rev. Beebe and his remaining family moved on to Littleton, NH. Their land, like most land on Star Island, was eventually sold to John Poore, who built a great hotel there to compete with the Laightons on Appledore. With the departure of the fishing families, the town of Gosport ceased to exist. After the hotel burned in 1875 and was rebuilt, Poore himself moved on, selling out to the Laighton brothers, Oscar and Cedric. They ran it until the church conference era when the Star Island Corporation purchased Star and Appledore. A century later the same group still runs the summer conferences on Star. The Oceanic and Star Island itself are hauntingly similar to the way they appeared over a century ago.

More haunting still are the two visible inscriptions on the marker that stands amid the ruins of the old Beebe Cemetery. Below Millie's name the worn memorial reads: "Dying she kneeled down and prayed: Please Jesus, take me up to the Lighted Place. And HE did."

Mitty passed away 11 days after her second sister died of the disease contracted on the mainland in Kittery. Her farewell is etched into the stone now visible again for island visitors to see. We can almost hear her voice, weak, nearly lost, against the hissing of the flickering oil lamp. It is the voice of an obedient child, the daughter of a minister sent to save fewer than 100 souls in a lost tribe of New Hampshire fishermen.

"I don't want to die," Mitty whispers, "but I'll do just as Jesus wants me to."

Soon her family, like almost every Star Island family, sold their land and moved away forever. In 1873, just a decade after Mitty Beebe's death, the Oceanic Hotel opened. That same year, the town of Gosport, NH held its last meeting, and quietly faded into history -- leaving behind Jessie, Millie and Mitty to tell the sad tale of three short lives.

SOURCES: (1) Gosport Remembered by Peter E. Randall and Maryellen Burke, Portsmouth Marine Society, 1997; (2) Among the Isles of Shoals by Celia Laighton Thaxter, 1873; (3) Letters to Celia by Cedric Laighton, edited by Fred McGill, Jr., 1972. Copyright © 2006 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved.

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