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.”
— James Appleton Morgan
In 1671, a fisherman named Harry Maine arrived in Ipswich, Massachusetts from the Isles of Shoals near Portsmouth, New Hampshire. With him was another man named Andrew Diamond. Both had been successful fishermen in New Hampshire and Diamond prospered further at Ipswich, helping to build several wharves, purchasing a profitable fleet of shipping boats in a partnership with Francis Wainwright, and becoming quite wealthy. But, for Harry Maine, he didn’t fare as well and soon turned to a life of crime.
Harry became known as the Wandering Jew of Ipswich and was said to have worked as a pirate, a smuggler, and a “mooncusser”, a pirate of the worst kind. Mooncussers were land-based pirates, who on dark nights, erected fires or held lanterns on the sands of dangerous coasts to decoy ships and deliberately cause shipwrecks on the breakers and sandbars. Once the vessels were wrecked, Maine, along with a crew of other pirates, killed the survivors and plundered the wreckage for valuables.
These pirates, also called “wreckers”, were finally arrested and Harry Maine was punished by being chained to Ipswich Bar, the scene of his former murderous exploits, and forced to shovel sand until he died. As the waters rose, threatening to drown him, his demoniacal yells of rage could be heard for miles around, while the area men just shook their heads and said: “Old Harry ‘s growling again!”
After the old vagabond died, his home on Water Street was ransacked and the grounds dug up by people looking for the money and treasures that he had stolen. But, nothing was found.
In the meantime, a local man began to dream of a place where vast sums were buried in a certain hill in the town. He could see the very spot. After having the dream three nights in a row, he determined to test the matter for himself; and one dark night, just as midnight struck, he took his spade, his lantern, and his Bible, and began to look for the spot on the hill. When he found the place that he recognized as the same that he had seen in his dream, he immediately went to work.
After plying his spade vigorously a while, it struck against a hard object and he was sure he had found the prize. Scraping the earth away with feverish haste, he came to a flat stone having an iron bar laid across it. This he eagerly grasped with one hand and was about to turn the stone over with the other when he was suddenly surrounded by a group of cats, whose eyes blazed in the darkness. The digger felt his hair slowly rising on end and a cold sweat stood on his brow. He then grabbed the bar, waved it at the cats and cried out, “Scat!” However, when the felines fled, the treasure hunter was standing up to his waist in cold water, which had poured into the hole. The man then fled with the iron bar clutched in his hand. The bar was later said to have been made into a door latch by a blacksmith and was often shown to Ipswich visitors as a souvenir of the night’s adventure.
Afterward, the ghost of Harry Maine was often seen wandering about the sandhills on stormy nights and his howls could still be heard for miles around. His ghost was also said to haunt his former residence on Water Street. Some were so afraid they wouldn’t venture out of doors after dark. Others simply said, “The Devil is raising Old Harry.” His name was often used to frighten children into obedience.
Compiled by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, January 2019.
Drake, Samuel; New England Legends and Folk-Lore, S.J. Parkhill & Co., 1901