Harry Maine — you have heard the tale;
He lived there in Ipswich Town;
He blasphemed God, so they put him down
With an iron shovel, at Ipswich Bar;
They chained him there for a thousand years,
As the sea rolls up to shovel it back ;
So when the sea cries, the goodwives say
“Harry Maine growls at his work to-day.”
A fellow named Henry Maine and his traveling companion Andrew Diamond arrived in 1671 in Ipswich from the Isles of Shoals where they had fished and briefly owned a house together. The Wharf and the Necks were busy in those early days, and boats were coming and going from the Isles of Shoals, where Ipswich merchants had established a fishing station. Diamond prospered in Ipswich, built several wharves, and purchased a profitable fleet of shipping boats in a partnership with Francis Wainwright. He died well-respected and quite wealthy.
Henry Maine, better known as “Harry” turned to plundering wrecked ships for a living, an enterprise he probably practiced before coming to Ipswich. Such persons were known as “wreckers,” and Harry is said to have been the worst kind, a “mooncusser.” On pitch-black nights they would build bonfires on the beaches, causing captains to become confused and go off course. Their ships would be dashed apart on the breakers. Another technique was to lead a horse along the beach holding a “Judas lantern,” imitating the appearance of ship bobbing in the water. Harry and his partners would plunder the wrecks for their cargo, and it was rumored that they would finish off any victims they found still alive. The sandbar extending from Plum Island known as the Ipswich bar was the scene of Harry Maine’s hideous crimes.
They were eventually discovered, caught and tried. Legend says that as punishment Harry was sentenced to be chained to a stake in the Ipswich Bar and shovel sand for eternity (or at least until he drowned). When waves crashed over the bar during storms, locals would say “The Devil is raising Old Harry,” or “Old Harry’s growling again,” or “Harry Maine grumbles at his work today.” His yells of rage could be heard for miles around.
Unfortunately the people of Ipswich were not through with Harry Maine. Over the years, Harry’s house was repeatedly ransacked and the yard dug up by people looking for the money that he had supposedly buried, but nothing was ever found.
It is said that a man dreamed for three successive nights about the location of the treasure. On a dark night he set off with a spade to the spot he recognized from his dream. He began digging, and unearthed an iron bar lying beside a flat stone. As he began prying on the stone, an army of black cats appeared and glared at him with eyes of fire. The poor man grabbed the bar and whirled it about. The feline guardians disappeared as quickly as they appeared, but icy water began pouring into the hole, preventing the treasure from being uncovered. The shaken man leaped out of the hole still holding the bar, which he later fashioned into a latch. It provided service on one of the doors of Ipswich for many years, and perhaps still does!
The uneasy spirit which haunted the old house greatly alarmed any unfortunate persons who attempted to live there. One day all of the ministers of the Town assembled at the house and prayed, and the uncanny doings ceased. The house was eventually torn down.
Leaving Ipswich, Harry Maine’s ghost moved on to Plum Island to seek his body. People living on the island became afraid to venture out on stormy nights, convinced that his evil ghost was out digging in the dunes. Ipswich folks remained wary of the old house and some believed that Harry’s ghost haunted the neighboring home of Jabesh Sweet. The 32 Water Street home was built in 1713 and stands in front and to the left of the site of Harry Maine’s house.
I had the opportunity to walk through the Jabesh Sweet house and chat with the owner, who assured me that it had never been haunted by Harry Maine. When they excavated the yard to build the shed that now sits near the former location of Harry’s house, no chest of gold was found. Harry Maine, his house and supposed treasure are long gone but never forgotten in Ipswich folklore.
*The Ipswich Town Historian feels compelled to point out that there is no record of Harry Maine in the extensive Records and files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts.
- Waters, Thomas Franklin: “Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony“
- New England Folklore, “Harry Main and the Black Cats from Hell“
- Drake Samuel: “A Book of New England Legends” published 1901
- Antiquarian Papers: James Appleton Morgan, “Ipswich Town” published 1880
- The Maine Historical and Genealogical Recorder, Volumes 3-4 (Record of deed transfer from of Ipswich to Henry Maine and Andrew Diamond, 1673)