First off, today is Valentine’s Day. Staff on Star Island celebrate many of the year’s holidays condensed into the summer months. I put together some historical romance of the Isles of Shoals to present to the staff here this afternoon and also wanted to share some of it with you. (it was a little too long to share as a post, so I’ve cut bits out)
I came out to work on Star 10 years ago, never having been on island before. I had friends who had worked out here, and friends who had visited. I was gathering intel before I arrived to see what kind of place I was moving to. One such friend told me some basic things about the island, but then he got really quiet and serious and made sure I was paying attention. Like, listen. EVERYONE falls in love out there. EVEN the ADULTs. He was really wide eyed and earnest. As if adults don’t fall in love anywhere, but this place was magic and tricky, and you just fall in love accidentally as you’re walking down the front porch. It is such a dreamy and romantic place, it is very easy to fall in love out here.
The following is paraphrased from Lyman V. Rutledge’s Omnibus edition of Isles of Shoals in Lore and Legend volume one:
At first there were no women allowed at the Isles of Shoals, then one or two women were brought out to live on the islands, disputed and fought over a couple of times, and finally women were allowed to stay. Prejudice against women at the islands probably started as the Shoals was a seasonal fishing village, treated sort of as an extension of the boat. Women weren’t allowed on board a ship, so they were also not welcome at the Isles of Shoals. That prejudice lay dormant for many years, probably as it became a permanent, year-round settlement, but revived by a controversy over Rev. Richard Gibson and his wife Mary Lewis in 1642. Five years after that Richard Cutt drew up a not very humble petition against John Reynolds for the removal of his wife, goats and hogs. Court ordered removal of the goats and hogs, but if no further complaint against her may yet enjoy the company of her husband.
Little Beckie was a favorite of the colonists, she was brought to New England as a little girl. At 17 she married Henry Sherburne who, in 1647, bought a dwelling house on Hog Island of Antipas Maverick. Soon they took title to Malaga Island where they lived until 1660… During her time she was the ‘idol of all Shoalers. Her natural beauty and sunny disposition won all hearts…’
Early flirting involved throwing rocks at each other. From Gosport Remembered p.5:
If a youth fell in love with a maid, he lay in wait till she passed by, and then pelted her with stones, after the manner of our friends of Marblehead; so that if a fair Shoaler found herself the centre of a volley of missiles, she might be sure that an ardent admirer was expressing himself with decision certainly, if not with tact! If she turned, and exhibited any curiosity as to the point of the compass whence the bombardment proceeded, her doubts were dispelled by another shower; but if she went on her way in maiden meditation, then was her swain in despair, and life, as is usual in such cases, became a burden to him. – Celia Thaxter, Among the Isles of Shoals
There was a limited amount of people living at the Isles of Shoals, even at the height of the fishing village there were up to about 1,000 people out here, but many were related. This caused issues in the romance department. According to the Society for Propagating the Gospel, from an annual report of theirs quoted in Gosport Remembered p.27 :
Their intermarriages. Cousins frequently are allied to each other in marriage. Three surnames include almost every family on the island…. These alliances are not only contrary to the written law of God, but to the law of nature and humanity. Any careful observer may find instances showing how rapidly such unnatural marriages deteriorate a people.
Oscar Laighton was sweet on many women, until finally, completely heartbroken, he had to go to Europe for a distraction. I wouldn’t mind getting a prescription like that. From Sandpiper, p. 140:
The year following Hunt’s death brought great changes, not only to the Thaxters, but to the Laighton brothers as well. Both Cedric and Oscar fell deeply in love, Cedric to become engaged to Julia Stowell. Oscar was not so fortunate. Each year since the opening of the Appledore House, the bearded young viking had found a new sweetheart, with the arrival of the summer guests. He would adore each in turn, and be desolated when she left in the autumn. He wrote impassioned verses to them, one by one. In the year 1880, however, came the love of his life, in the person of Lucy Darby, daughter of a wealthy merchant from Salem. Unfortunately, though the young people were greatly attached, her stern and ambitious parent wrote his daughter to beware of entanglements at the Isles of Shoals as they had other plans for her. This was a crushing disappointment to Oscar, and, as he wrote on a later date, his “health broke” and he “wished only to die”.
He suffered a complete nervous breakdown. A trip to Europe was advised for him as the best possible cure.
I’ll end with my favorite heartthrob, Bobby Wharem. He worked at the Isles of Shoals for 17 years, as the chief engineer and also the winter keeper, alone on the island all winter. He used to date the prettiest waitress each summer. He would lure them to the diesel shack, which was what we now call the Art Barn. You can read a letter he wrote to Theo Nash in 1960 referencing married life, he did eventually marry, on our website here.