THE GHOST PHILLIP BABB

Map of the Isles of Shoals

This is the famous map made by Captain John Smith in 1614, giving the name New England for the first time in history to any part of the North American continent. Smith landed on the Isles of Shoals, the setting for this intriguing story by Associate Babb. The Isles are now divided by a line between Maine and New Hampshire. Appledore Island, where Phillip Babb resided, is now in Maine. Many Indian names on Smith's original drawing were changed by Prince Charles before the map was redrawn and published in 1616.

Intertwined with the history of the Isles of Shoals on the eastern seaboard and some of its famed explorers is Associate David R. Babb's Founder Ancestor, whose spirit is reported to have haunted the area for hundreds of years.


I have the advantage over many who were descendants of Founder Ancestors in that my ancestor, Phillip Babb, of the Isles of Shoals still exists today, not as a man, but a genuine certified ghost who has been known to haunt the Islands, even up to the beginning of the 20th Century. In reporting on Phillip I can therefore not only span his short history in early colonial times, but I can also encompass and share with you some of the later experiences he had — perhaps even up to the present day.

My interest in the Shoals started with a search for the residence of this, my ancestor. He lives on a tiny group of islands ten miles from Portsmouth, lying on either side of the line which divides Maine and New Hampshire. Old encyclopedias told me there were hotels, but recent travel guides, maps and tourist information gave me no addresses or telephone numbers.

Capt. John Smith Involved
From the literature, I learned the interesting pre-colonial and colonial history of the islands. Explorer Champlain was perhaps the first to briefly describe them in 1605. Captain John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, arrived there in 1614, and identified the unique commercial fishing opportunities that existed in the shoals of the Atlantic. Smith's expedition to the area had been funded as a search for gold, copper, furs, whales and then fishing opportunities. Smith explains in one of his documents that the others were included to obtain funding for the voyage, but his real purpose was commerce and fishing opportunities.

Smith had been a world-traveling adventurer and student of land and sea war long before he came to America. His identification of commercial fishing is in itself a substantial accomplishment over-shadowed by his more spectacular tales and folklore.

So impressed with the barren rock outcroppings of this group of islands, it became the only place in the world to which Smith decided to lend his own name. He named the islands "Smith Isles". At the same time he named surrounding landscapes for other prior adventures of his. One was "Three Turks Heads", which referred to his adventures of beheading three turkish noblemen in the Middle Eastern duels, whereupon he was subsequently rewarded by the German Emperor with a coat of arms bearing "three Turks heads." Another was the present promentary known as Cape Ann, which he earlier had named in honor of a Middle Eastern princess who had befriended him and saved his life before he came to America and experienced his Pocahontas adventures. All of these names were soon discarded and Smith never returned to the islands which he had hoped would be awarded to him in the subsequent political division of the New England colonies.

Babb "Undocumented Alien"

Phillip Babb arrived at these Islands as an "undocumented alien" sometime prior to 1652 for in that year we know he served as a constable. Armed with this meager background information, I set out to gain passage to the Isles. On the location now is a Unitarian-Congregationalist conference center and retreat and the Shoals Marine Laboratory, an educational facility of Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire. From the options of becoming an island resident, I selected a credit course in Coastal Law and Policy offered by Cornell on Appledore Island and therefore not only obtained an opportunity to further my profession but also to spend an entire week exploring this 70 acres inhabited by Phillip Babb.

Phillip Babb
State's Attorney of the Illinois Society, Associate Babb also is serving as Deputy Attorney General of our Order. He is a retired State of Illinois Judge and a member of the Piscataqua Pioneers (New Hampshire).

During his short lifetime, Phillip had amassed a fortune of over 300 pounds by producing dunfish, a world-renowned pro-duct made of thinly sliced salted cod dried in the sunny island atmosphere and shipped to Europe and Spain on a regular basis for a period of over 150 years. In fact I learned that Gosport, on that island, was the base price quotation market for dunfish — much as the Chicago Board of Trade today establishes the world price for corn and wheat.

At one time the government had an ordinance prohibiting women from being on those several islands totaling two hundred acres which then housed at least a similar number of fishermen and sailors. That unpopular law, later repealed, allowed Phillip and his wife Mary to live on the Islands until both died in the year 1671.

I learned of the subsequent decline of the fishing trade, the subsequent near anarchy and claimed heathenism, religious revival and tax struggles of the inhabitants who moved back and forth between Maine's Appledore Island and New Hampshire's Star Island as the tax laws and other government controls attempted to disadvantage the isolated citizens in one way or another.

Why A Ghost?
How do we get a ghost and how does he survive in lore and legend for over two centuries? In the 1840s a former prominent New Hampshire legislator by the name of Thomas Leighton, having become light-house keeper on one of the islands, bought substantial additional property and established what became known as one of the most modern and prestigous cultural resorts in North America, The Appledore House. Here the artists, scholars and dignitaries of the era visited summer after summer. Leighton's daughter, Celia Thaxter, herself a well-educated woman for those times and author, hosted the visitors in a manner which was recorded in the art and literature of that era. Other famous visitors included James Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell, Nathaniel Hawthorn, artist Childe Hassam; all of whom wrote or transcribed the events of this island.

By the time of my sojourn in 1988 the great Appledore House building had long been destroyed by fire. Nestled near its ruins is the present day Shoals Marine Laboratory, one of the foremost educational centers for the study of marine biology in the United States. In contrast to the great hotel which had a dining room eventually seating 500 people, the Marine Laboratory has a summer population of 150 residents which, according to modern-day standards, taxes the island environment to its maximum.

Descendants of Phillip Babb
An August reunion of over 130 descendants of Phillip Babb was held this year in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Many of them visited Appledore Island, where Babb made his home. Author David R. Babb is at the far right. Another reunion is planned for 1992 in a different city.


I was able to explore the ancient hotel foundations, see the elaborate manufactured gas facilities which were part of the hotel, see the foundations of some of the early fishing landowners, explore the later-built radar tower established during World War II and search the lore and literature from many volumes which had been accumulated by the nearby Star Island Bookstore.

From fragments of information, I was able to piece together the approximate location of Phillip Babb's fishing enterprise and positively identify the fenced pond from which he obtained the sparse and valuable commodity of fresh water. I learned about the flora and fauna of the island and particularly the endless array of gulls which now populate the landscape. Of particular recent interest I learned of the subsequently foiled attempt of Aristotle Onassis in the 1970s to establish the Isles of Shoals as an offshore international oil port, an operation which would dwarf any other such facility on the eastern coastline. Public outcry, seldom seen in 20th century New Hampshire town meetings, supported in part by the marine experts of the Shoals Marine Laboratory resulted in the plan's downfall. Onassis however had progressed so far as to have optioned one of the islands as his primary landing point.

Ghost No Longer Seen
Nowhere was I personally able to encounter the ghost of Phillip Babb. I speculate that he must have died a spectacular death in order to have been remembered in the folklore of the populance for the 200 years prior to the hotel era. After the arrival of the scholars and authors, his ghostly existence has now been chronicled and established for all times. I speculate that the ghost of Phillip Babb, who is reported to have appeared with his butcher's knife and butcher's apron on various hotel occasions, was perhaps encouraged by the hotel's "entertainment director", perhaps Celia Thaxter herself. One writer reports that with the demise of the hotel, the ghost of Phillip Babb has no longer been seen and the reason might be that the hotel bowling alley, having been built over his grave, caused undue restlessness and now with peace and tranquility he is leading a more comfortable afterlife. I like to believe the latter is true.

Isles of Shoals
This unique map shows the location of Babb's Rock near Appledore Island. Note how the Isles of Shoals are divided by a line between Maine and New Hampshire.


It costs the price of University tuition or Conference Center conference fee to visit the Isles of Shoals for a week. During tourist season, a day trip and short tour of one of the islands can be arranged for no more than the cost of a boat ride. While you are there, buy some of the books available at the Star Island Bookstore. Food is available to tourists on Star, and tourists are welcome during daylight hours. Appledore may be visited by easily obtained permission, but access is difficult since the tourist boat only stops at Star.