Off-Shore Story

To feel the wind, sea-scented, on my cheek,
To catch the sound of dusky flapping sail
And dip of oars, and voices on the gale
Afar off, calling low, — my name they speak!

—Celia Thaxter, “Land-Locked”


The Isles of Shoals, though located only nine miles off the New Hampshire and Maine coast, feels like a faraway land. Colonized in the 1600s, Shoals has a rich history of prosperity and lost fortunes, rogue waves and shipwrecks, ruggedness and bloodshed, and heroism and heartbreak. It is a small place of inviting paths and gorgeous, rocky shores, where serene and soothing views turn harsh with a change in weather. Captain John Smith explored these small islands and pirates later landed. The first settlers were fishermen. Since the mid-1800s, Shoals has been a destination for artists, musicians, and writers, including John Whittier, Nathanial Hawthorne, and WCSU’s own Tim Weed.

Celia Thaxter (1835-1894), daughter of the White Island lighthouse keeper, grew up here. She is known for both her poetry and her garden, which is still maintained and can be toured on Appledore Island.

There are several cemeteries on the islands. On Star Island, Caswell Cemetery (pictured) is the final resting place of the prominent Caswell family who first became “Shoalers” in 1711. Their peculiar, wry humor is a recurring motif, as shown by the epitaph on one Caswell gravestone. It reads:

“Death is a debt to nature due.
I’ve paid the debt, and so must you.” 1

Read more on the Caswells and the Isles of Shoals at:

1. Peter E. Randall and Maryellen Burke, trans., Gosport Remembered: The Last Village at the Isles of Shoals, Portsmouth: Portsmouth Marine Society, 1997.
by Catherine D’Andrea
Associate Editor