HMS Friday – Ocean Born Mary
by Mark Lukach
3 weeks ago, my wife gave birth to our first son. The labor was 26 hours, the pushing looked excrutiating, and when he finally arrived, I based my expectations in Hollywood, and anticipated a baby that was crying loudly. Instead, he was as mellow as they get, hardly uttering a squeak. It took almost 3 days for him to actually cry. He has learned how to cry, but he is still pretty low-key, only crying when he has really come to his wit’s ends.
And yet, we now understand why so many parents dread the sound of a newborn crying.
On July 28, 1720, a brand new infant cried aboard the Wolf, a smell vessel that was off the coast of New England. While everyone initially experienced the similar dread that we all feel when we hear a crying baby, the dread was quickly replaced with joy. Because this crying baby saved the life of all the passengers on the ship.
The Wolf had left Londonderry, Ireland, and was headed for Londonderry, New Hampshire. It was your classic transatlantic crossing, and the young couple James Wilson and Elizabeth Fulton were headed to the New World to start life anew. Elizabeth was pregnant, and gave birth to a daughter while still on the boat, off the coast of Boston, Massachusetts.
The day of the birth, the Wolf was besieged by pirates, led by a Spanish captain named Don Pedro. He did what pirates do best, robbing everyone of their possessions, scaring the crap of out of people, and eventually deciding that he was going to kill everyone on the ship and take off with the boat.
And then he head a baby cry. It was the newborn girl, who didn’t yet have a name. Don Pedro asked to see the baby, and with terror the parents brought her up to the deck of the ship. Pedro took mercy on the baby, and asked the parents that if they named her Mary, after his own mother, he would spare everyone on the boat. They did, and so he did. It was a pirate reformed by a newborn. He even gave Mary a huge swath of silk to use as her wedding dress for when she needed it.
This is amazing because this part of the story is entirely true. There’s all sorts of documentation to prove it. Mary was forever remembered as Ocean Born Mary, with a special placard placed at her tombstone when she died at age 94 in 1814. Pretty awesome.
But the legend of Ocean Born Mary extends well beyond her birth in 1720. However, this is the only part of the story that is true.
The untrue parts to the story came later. As was uncovered by Alice V. Flanders, the egregious falsifications of the Ocean Born Mary legend were mostly invented by Louise Roy in 1917, when he bought the home of Robert Wallace, one of Mary’s sons. Mary spent the last few decades of her life living with her son William, as the 1800 and 1810 census indicates, but when Roy heard about the story of Ocean Born Mary, he decided to bend the truth, and claimed that she had actually lived in the house he had purchased.
But that wasn’t enough. Roy wanted the story to be even more dramatic, so as he started to welcome visitors into his home, and then began charging them, he actually claimed that the mansion was built by the reformed pirate Don Pedro. As Roy fabricated, Pedro sought out Ocean Born Mary after he retired from piracy, and eventually found her. He showered her with money and affection, and built her a home for her husband and family.
As if that’s not enough, Roy even went so far as to say that Don Pedro was murdered in the home he had built Ocean Born Mary, and that she buried him, along with some of his treasure, near the foundation of the house.
People believed his story. So much so, that as visitors shuffled through the Ocean Born Mary house, some of the thought they might have seen her ghost. Or if not her ghost, at least the ghost of Don Pedro. And before you know it, you have multiple ghost sightings, and the Ocean Born Mary house becomes a recognized haunted house.
This is ridiculous. Mary Wallace never actually lived in the alleged Ocean Born Mary house. Never. Don Pedro did not build the building. Her son Rob did. I repeat: She never actually lived at the house. And yet the place is named after her, and supposedly her ghost walks its hallways.
Too bad. It’s a great story gone wrong. I was hooked by the truth, but I’m lef soured by the exaggerations.