The Haleys That Got Away
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Written by Seacoast Auctions

Possibly Richard Haley of the Isles of Shoals / Owner unknown

According to a card on the back of this portrait sold on eBay, it shows Mr. Haley, lighthouse keeper at the Isles of Shoals. If that’s true, it introduces a character into local history that we have not seen before. Local historians attempted to purchase it, but lost out. If you bought this painting, we’d love to hear from you.




MORE on local LIGHTHOUSES and on the Isles of SHOALS    

The Haley family dominated Smuttynose Island from before the Revolutionary War. Sam Haley built the squat two-room cottage that still stands on the island. His son Sam Haley Jr. also ran the rough island kingdom and the Mid-Ocean House of Entertainment, the earliest tourist hotel on the Isles of Shoals. There were 11 Haley children, but until these portraits appeared in an online auction, we had never seen them.

Possibly Lucy Haley, Isles of Shoals lighthouse keeper, circa 1844/ Current owner unknownTwo Haley couples were among the dozens of keepers who managed the White Island lighthouse, within easy view of Smuttynose, Appledore, Star and the other Isles of Shoals. The original lighthouse was built in 1821. Benjamin Haley took over the isolated light in 1824 from its original keeper. As a "shoaler", Benjamin was "accustomed to the climate and the dreary solitude of the place". Records do not tell us, however, whether Benjamin moved his wife and family to the island, or whether they stayed at their home on the mainland in Portsmouth, NH. We do know, however, that Benjamin died in 1829 at age 33.

The painting, according to the eBay auction, was completed around 1830. Historian Tom Hardiman estimates the portraits were actually painted later, about 1845-50. They resemble the work of itinerant painters like Lyman Cole or Alfred Hart, but Hardiman believes "conclusively" that they are the work of New Hampshire native Walter Ingalls (1805 - 1874). The timing also makes sense since Richard and Lucy Haley, also keepers of White Island lighthouse, were married in 1844. These could be their wedding portraits.

Richard and Lucy were keepers from 1853 to 1861, spanning the era when the original cruder lighthouse was replaced by the new 58-foot brick tower that stands today. Life was never easy on White Island, a rock outcropping with barely enough room for the tower, the keeper’s house surrounded by a small grassy plot. But the Haley’s managed to raise five children there. The family may be visible in one ghostly photograph from the National Archives taken during the 1850s. Now, perhaps, we have glimpsed, and lost, a close-up image of the Haleys.

Original White Island Lighthouse from National Archives / from Friendly Edifaces by Jane Molloy POrter on

READ ALSO: Battle Cry of the Ebay Warrior   

It was an exciting battle all the same. When alerted local Shoals lovers to the auction early in 2008, pledges poured in by email. Shoalers from the Portsmouth Athenaeum, ISHRA and the Smuttynose Stewards offered a total of up to $3,000. Benefactors agreed to pool their resources in hopes that the paintings could be restored and displayed at the Portsmouth Historical Society. Rich O’Connell volunteered to manage the bidding, but the portraits sold to an as-yet-unknown bidder at the last second for $3,801.01.  

It is the period between the two Haleys, of course, that is the best known in White Island history. From 1839-1846 Portsmouth’s Thomas Laighton brought his family to White Island where he served as keeper. The Laighton’s went on to build the famous Appledore Hotel and their daughter Celia Thaxter became one of New England’s best loved writers. Her childhood memories of growing up as the lighthouse keeper’s daughter are preserved in her book Among the Isles of Shoals. – JDR 

SOURCES: Friendly Edifices by Jane Molloy Porter (2006) and New England Lighthouses by Jeremy D’Entremont.

SEE ALSO: Inside White Island Lighthouse