Legends of the North Shore tells stories from the oldest English settlements in New England. Witches, sea serpents and pirates have amazed and terrified residents of Massachusetts’s North Shore for over 300 years.
Legends of the North Shore
The Great Ipswich Fright, April 21, 1775 - A rumor spread that two British ships were in the river, and were going to burn the town. The news spread as far as New Hampshire, and in every place the report was that the regulars were but a few miles behind them, slashing everyone in sight.
The Cape Ann Sea Serpent - The earliest recorded sighting of a Sea Serpent in North American waters was at Cape Ann in 1639. In 1817, reports spread throughout New England of a sea serpent sighted in Gloucester Harbor.
A 17th Century neighbors quarrel - Mark Quilter was a cow-keeper on the north side of town with a reputation for drinking. When Goodwife Shatswell visited Goodwife Quilter and insulted both of them, Quilter lost his temper.
A romantic tale from the Great Snow of Feb. 21-24, 1717 - Snowstorms on the 20th and 24th of February 1717 covered the earth up to 20 ft. deep. In some places houses were completely buried, and paths were dug from house to house under the snow. A widow in Medford burned her furniture to keep the children warm.
The Devil’s footprint - Imprinted into the rocks in front of the First Church in Ipswich is the footprint of the devil, left there forever in a legendary encounter with the traveling English evangelist George Whitefield in 1740.
The ghost of Harry Maine - 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 today."
The Body Snatcher of Chebacco Parish - In 1819 the inhabitants of Chebacco Parish began noticing lights moving about at night in the graveyard. It was discovered that at least eight graves had been dug up and their coffins were empty.
Adrift on a Haystack, 1786 - In a northeasterly storm in December, 1786 Samuel Pulsifer and Samuel Elwell of Rowley were digging clams, got caught in the storm, and took refuge in a stack of salt hay for the night. In the morning they found they had been set afloat!
The Legend of Heartbreak Hill - "In Ipswich town, not far from the sea, rises a hill which the people call Heartbreak Hill, and its history is an old, old legend known to all."
“Ipswich Town” by James Appleton Morgan - I love to think of old Ipswich town Old Ipswich town in the east countree, Whence on the tide, you can float down Through long salt grass to the wailing sea. Where the Mayflower drifted off the bar, Sea-worn and weary, long years ago, And dared not enter, but sailed away Till she landed her boats in Plymouth Bay.
Moll Pitcher, the fortune-teller of Lynn and Marblehead - By Sidney Perley, published March 1899 in the Essex Antiquarian “Moll Pitcher,” the famous fortune-teller of Lynn, has no birth record. So the place of her first appearance in life cannot be thus determined. The tenement house, known as the ” Old Brig,” situated at the junction of Pond and Orne streets […]
Peg Wesson, the Gloucester witch - An old legend about the Gloucester witch Peg Wesson is often mentioned, but never was it told in such detail as in this story, written by Sarah G. Daley and published in the Boston Evening Transcript, October 14, 1892. It was carried in papers throughout the country.
Carted back to Ipswich, 1714 - In the Old North Burying Yard on High Street in Ipswich lies the body of the Reverend Samuel Belcher. Born in Ipswich in 1639, he graduated from Harvard College in 1659, and studied for the ministry, and was preaching at Kittery, Maine as early as 1663. In 1668 he married Mary, daughter […]
Haunted houses of Ipswich - These ghost stories were shared on Facebook. A friend of mine mentioned that a few years ago a realtor was getting ready to go out the front door at the Jonathan Pulcifer house on Summer Street, when he noticed a stack of old publications sitting on the bottom […]
The Witchcraft Trial of Elizabeth Morse of Newbury, 1680 - Elizabeth Morse of Newbury was accused and found guilty of being a witch. She was initially sentenced to be hanged, but after spending a year in the Boston jail, she was sent home
The Legend of Goody Cole, 1680 - Some said that Goody Cole took the shapes of eagles, dogs, cats and apes. At last she lay under sentence of death in the Ipswich jail for changing a child in its cradle.
“A Good Heat,” a short tale from Newburyport - From Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian, by Sarah Anna Emery
Dogtown, its history and legends - Dogtown is an area in central Gloucester of about five square miles, or 3600 acres, stretching from the Riverdale section of the city, north of Route 128, into Rockport, and including the Goose Cove and the Babson Reservoirs. Development is banned in this protected municipal watershed.
Wreck of the Hesperus, January 6, 1839 - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem was inspired by the Blizzard of 1839, which ravaged the North Shore for 12 hours, starting on January 6, 1839. Twenty ships and forty lives were lost during the storm. The probable subject of the story is the schooner Favorite, which sank on a rock called […]
The Spectre Ship of Salem - Cotton Mather related the tale of a doomed ship called “Noah’s Dove” which left Salem during the late 17th century for England. Among the passengers were “a young man and a passing beautiful girl pale and sorrowful, whom no one knew and who held communion with no one.” […]
The Spectre Leaguers, 1692 - This story of apparitions suggests that the colony was suffering from mass insanity. In the midst of witchcraft accusations in 1692, Gloucester was invaded by a spectral company for a fortnight. Their speech was in an unknown tongue, and bullets passed right through them. The alarm became so great that Major Samuel Appleton of Ipswich sent sixty men on the 18th of July. When the defender's guns had no effect, the soldiers fell to their knees, calling out the name of God. Heaven rang with the howls of the angry fiends, and never again were the Spectral Leaguers seen in Gloucester.
Jane Hooper, the fortune teller - This story is adapted from the Reminiscences of Joseph Smith and Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian and brings together no less than four incredible old tales. Jane Hooper was in 1760 a Newburyport “school dame” but after she lost that job she found fame as a fortune-teller and became known in our area as “Madam Hooper, the […]