New England Myths & Legends: The Ghostly Fisherman Of Ipswich, MA

Harry Main was a fisherman from Isles of Shoals, New Hampshire before moving to Ipswich, Massachusetts with his friend Andrew Diamond in 1671. The plan was to continue their business, but somehow, Diamond’s career took off while Main’s floundered (no pun intended).

The friends briefly owned a home together, but while Diamond prospered – eventually purchasing a fleet of shipping boats and building several wharves, which made him quite wealthy – Main instead turned to a life of crime, inspiring the following poem:

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.”

He became a “wrecker” pillaging the remains of shipwrecks along Ipswich’s shoreline and selling whatever he could salvage. Main may have had a criminal background during his time in New Hampshire, but in Ipswich he became the worst kind of criminal.

He would wait for the blackest, moonless nights and build bonfires on the beach at Plum Island or lead a horse holding a “Judas lantern” along the shore, imitating the appearance of a ship bobbing in the water. The idea was to confuse captains into steering off course and wrecking on the rocky shore. Known as “mooncussers”, scoundrels like Main even stooped so low as to murder any surviving crew members aboard the ships.

Main and his cohorts were eventually captured and tried for their crimes. Legend has it that Harry received a most unusual and Biblical punishment. He was supposedly tied to a stake driven into the Ipswich sandbar where he was forced to fruitlessly shovel sand as the waves filled it back in until he drowned or died of exhaustion.

But Ipswich had not heard the end of Harry Main. People became obsessed with the idea that Harry had hidden away his stolen treasures in his home or yard and the property was ransacked repeatedly under cover of darkness. One poor soul is said to have dreamed of the treasure’s location for three straight nights before heading out to dig it up.

He unearthed an iron bar lying beside a flat stone, but when he tried to remove the stone, an army of black cats appeared and glared at him with “eyes of fire”. When he swung the bar, the cats disappeared, but icy water began pouring into the hole, preventing the treasure from being uncovered.

Others claimed to have seen the “devil cats” lurking around the Main property on Water Street and guarding the treasure. It is said that anyone who attempted to live in the house was driven out by an angry spirit, until it was eventually torn down. Some believe that Harry’s ghost moved on to haunt the house next door at 32 Water Street which was built in 1713. While still others claim the restless spirit moved on to haunt the beaches of Plum Island, digging in search of his own body on moonlit nights.

It seems that Harry Main certainly got the last laugh, as no treasure was ever recovered from his property and his name still remains on the lips of the locals to this day. During storms when the waves rage against the sandbar, they say “The Devil is raising Old Harry” or “Old Harry’s growling again,” or “Harry Maine grumbles at his work today.”

Featured Image via WikiMedia

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