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The Legend of Ocean Born Mary | Could Truth be Stranger than Fiction?

The legend of Ocean Born Mary was a splendid story, complete with hauntings, pirates, and the promise of buried treasure in a sleepy New Hampshire town.

By Bethany Bourgault

Jan 19 2022


Mary is buried next to her son, William.

Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault

The legend of Ocean Born Mary was a splendid story, complete with house hauntings, ghostly pirates, and the promise of buried treasure in a sleepy New Hampshire town. Splendid while it lasted, of course. Unfortunately for paranormal enthusiasts and storytellers, it has since been debunked. But, could its origins actually be stranger than fiction? Let’s head to Henniker, New Hampshire to learn more.

Welcome to Henniker, where the legend of Ocean Born Mary began.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
The Henniker Covered Bridge stretches across the Contoocook River.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Henniker’s Tucker Free Public Library displays a small painting of the Ocean Born Mary house.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault

“Ocean Born Mary” as she was called, was actually a pleasant woman named Mary Wallace. Born to Scotch-Irish immigrants in late July, 1720, she led a perfectly normal life – albeit after a not-so-normal birth.

Her mother went into labor while still aboard the ship carrying her and her husband to America. She gave birth to a little baby girl off of the coast of Boston, Massachusetts. That same day, however, pirates captured their ship, launching a full-fledged attack on the crew and passengers. Upon hearing the cry of a newborn child, the pirate captain halted the attack and requested a meeting with the child and her family. Being so moved, as legend holds, by seeing the child, he proposed that he would set all of the captives free if the baby would bear the name “Mary” in honor of one of his relatives. Of course, the mother agreed, and the pirate presented her with a length of green silk to be made into a dress for the child’s wedding day.

Henniker’s Tucker Free Library keeps a piece of the silk in its collections.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault

Mary grew up in Londonderry, NH, where she eventually got married (wearing the silk, of course) and had five children. Three of her sons settled in Henniker, NH, and Mary spent the last 16 years of her life living with one of her sons there. However, when a Wisconsin man by the name of Mr. Louis Roy came to Henniker looking for a house with a story, he found and moved into one of her other sons’ homes. Over time, Mr. Roy spun fantastical (and profitable) tales of hauntings and legends, and truth began to muddle in fiction.

Nature begins to reclaim the stones in the Old Center Cemetery.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Lichens and roots wind through headstones.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault

Roy told paying visitors that Ocean Born Mary lived in the house and could still be seen rocking in her rocking chair (which wasn’t actually hers). Amateur ghost hunters soaked up tales of Mary’s (fictional) love affair/marriage/employment (depending on the day) with the pirate that spared her life (who never came close to New Hampshire). Tourists and treasure-seekers alike paid 50 cents apiece to rent shovels and dig for the pirate’s (who, again, never set foot in New Hampshire) treasure, which was (not) buried in the orchard. Mary herself is (not) buried under the house’s very hearthstone! Business boomed and a legend was born.

The old cemetery seems like a likely place for legends.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault

Mr. Roy no longer lives at the house – he sold it in 1961 and died in 1965. Unfortunately for the new owners, though, the legend didn’t die with him. Amateur ghost hunters, supernaturalists, paranormal enthusiasts, and treasure hunters still knock on the door and trespass on the property. The owners have gone to great lengths to publicly expose the truth of the legend to little avail.

Ocean Born Mary, or Mary Wallace, is buried in Henniker’s Old Center Cemetery behind Town Hall.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault
Mary is buried next to her son, William.
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault

I guess we can be glad that there are no ghostly pirates roaming places they never saw in real life, but something still seems fishy. Perhaps it’s the ghost of Mr. Roy that Henniker should be worried about – he, at least, is actually buried on the property.

What do you think?

This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated. 

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