Irish Fairies in New Hampshire August 29, 2011Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
About ten days ago Beachcombing put up a post celebrating funny fairy stories, a way, he noted, ‘to kill the fairies with kindness’. Since then he has come across a further fairy story from the other side of the Atlantic. As he is particularly interested in American fairies at the moment – a long and futile search for an Irish couple in New York who allegedly burnt their fairy child in 1877 – he thought he would put this up as one of his last fairy posts of this oh-so-fey season. Can anyone track down S_____ in New Hampshire or better still any of the original references from, by Beach’s calculations, the 1820s?
The Irish Presbyterians who settled in New Hampshire about the year 1720 brought indeed with them, among other strange matters, potatoes and fairies; but while the former took root and flourished among us, the latter died out, after lingering a few years in a very melancholy and disconsolate way, looking regretfully back to their green turf dances, moonlight revels, and cheerful nestling around the shealing fires of Ireland. The last that has been heard of them was some forty or fifty years ago in a tavern house in S______, New Hampshire. The landlord was a spiteful little man, whose sour, pinched look was a standing libel upon the state of his larder. He made his house so uncomfortable by his moroseness that travellers even at nightfall pushed by his door and drove to the next town. Teamsters and drovers, who in those days were apt to be very thirsty, learned, even before temperance societies were thought of, to practice total abstinence on that road, and cracked their whips and goaded on their teams in full view of a most tempting array of bottles and glasses, from behind which the surly little landlord glared out upon them with a look which seemed expressive of all sorts of evil wishes, broken legs, overturned carriages, spavined horses, sprained oxen, unsavory poultry, damaged butter, and bad markets. And if, as a matter of necessity, to ‘keep the cold out of his stomach’, occasionally a wayfarer stopped his team and ventured to call for ‘somethin’ warmin’’, the testy publican stirred up the beverage in such a spiteful way, that, on receiving it foaming from his hand, the poor customer was half afraid to open his mouth, lest the red-hot flip iron should be plunged down his gullet.
A charming fellow then.
As a matter of course, poverty came upon the house and its tenants like an armed man. Loose clapboards rattled in the wind; rags fluttered from the broken windows; within doors were tattered children and scanty fare. The landlord’s wife was a stout, buxom woman, of Irish lineage, and, what with scolding her husband and liberally patronizing his bar in his absence, managed to keep, as she said, her ‘own heart whole’, although the same could scarcely be said of her children’s trousers and her own frock of homespun. She confidently predicted that ‘a betther day was coming’, being, in fact, the only thing hopeful about the premises. And it did come, sure enough. Not only all the regular travellers on the road made a point of stopping at the tavern, but guests from all the adjacent towns filled its long-deserted rooms – the secret of which was, that it had somehow got abroad that a company of fairies had taken up their abode in the hostelry and daily held conversation with each other in the capacious parlor. I have heard those who at the time visited the tavern say that it was literally thronged for several weeks. Small, squeaking voices spoke in a sort of Yankee-Irish dialect, in the haunted room, to the astonishment and admiration of hundreds. The inn, of course, was blessed by this fairy visitation; the clapboards ceased their racket, clear panes took the place of rags in the sashes, and the little till under the bar grew daily heavy with coin. The magical influence extended even farther; for it was observable that the landlord wore a good-natured face, and that the landlady’s visits to the gin-bottle were less and less frequent. But the thing could not, in the nature of the case, continue long. It was too late in the day and on the wrong side of the water. As the novelty wore off, people began to doubt and reason about it. Had the place been traversed by a ghost or disturbed by a witch they could have acquiesced in it very quietly; but this outlandish belief in fairies was altogether an overtask for Yankee credulity. As might have been expected, the little strangers, unable to breathe in an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion, soon took their leave, shaking off the dust of their elfin feet as a testimony against an unbelieving generation. It was, indeed, said that certain rude fellows from the Bay State pulled away a board from the ceiling and disclosed to view the fairies in the shape of the landlady’s three slatternly daughters. But the reader who has any degree of that charity which thinks no evil will rather credit the statement of the fairies themselves, as reported by the mistress of the house, ‘that they were tired of the new country, and had no pace of their lives among the Yankees, and were going back to Ould Ireland’.
Beachcombing found this in a British newspaper in 1867, and it had been excerpted from an American paper, the Boston Gazette presumably in the same year. Its author is J.G.Whittier but though this appears in his collected works there is no explanation of where ‘S____’ is. Any suggestions? Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. Just to get any New Englanders’s juices stirring: Swanzey, Sutton, Springfield, South Hampton, Somersworth, Shelburne, Surry, Sunapee, Sullivan, Sugar Hill, Stratham, Stratford, Strafford, Stoddard, Stewartstown, Stark, South Hampton, Somersworth, Shelburne, Sharon, Seabrook, Sandwich, Sandown, Sanbornton, Salisbury, Salem…
29 Aug, 2011: First up, Henry B: ‘I’d say Salem, NH if only because of its large Irish population and proximity to the Irish of Lawrence, MA just across the border. The other towns in NH were Yankee towns, not Irish.’ It sounds credible. Then Invisible whose been doing her sums. ‘Well, problem #1 for the New Hampshire fairy story is that the Boston Gazette did not run into the 19th century. Here’s Wikipedia on the subject: The Boston Gazette (1719–1798) was a newspaper published in Boston, Massachusetts, in the British North American colonies. It began publication December 21, 1719 and appeared weekly. I can’t find that it continued on under a similar or different name although it merged at one point with the New England Weekly Journal. There is a Boston Post-Gazette, but it was founded in 1901 as an Italian-language newspaper for immigrants. But a far bigger problem is that I believe this is an excerpt from an essay by John Greenleaf Whittier, “Charms and Fairy Faith”. I don’t know the exact date of the essay, but Whittier lived from 1807 to 1892. Perfectly plausible that it would have been printed in a newspaper of the 1860s. It would be nice if I’m wrong and certainly Whittier may have heard a real story like this locally, wherever “S____” is–he did die in New Hampshire, but in Hampton Falls, sorry.’ Thanks Henry and Invisible!!
31 Aug, 2011: ‘Am feverishly researching New Hampshire fairies…. I have heard a similar story to Whittier’s before, but I believe it was regarding the Black Tavern in Dudley, Ma. However, there is a not uncommon trope here in the States of fairies being imported and not thriving. I would like it to be Salem, NH, just down the road from where I live, but I suspect not. Also, the Irish were here in New England earlier than most people think, just not the great numbers associated with the post Famine years. Hawthorne strolled down to see the Irish workers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in the 1830s or thereabouts. The Irish, like the French Canadians, worked seasonally on the rivers and in the woods drifting down from Canada‘. Thanks Kate!
31 Aug 2013: Richard writes I am writing to you today in regards to your interests of finding Fairie lore in New Hampshire. I noticed your blog entry “Irish Fairies in New Hamphsire”, I am from the Derry New Hampshire (previously known as Nutfield) which was settled in 1719 by Irish-Scott immigrants. The area boasts that the first potato harvested in the United States was grown here. There is a local legend that is intertwined with native American and the first European settlers of the area. the legend is of Tsiennetto (T is silent) which is a local lake in Derry. The Native American legend is of a spirit that haunts the lake and then there is also the settler stories that it is a fairy that resides within the lake. Either way both cultures have similar stories about the same area. As for local towns Sandown is the closest and I believe has a tavern from the early colonial era. I do think that it is interesting that you mention the author J.G.Whittier and the blog entrys I am sending you refer to a Mrs. J. G. MacMurphy. Coincidence? Also the book Nutfield Rambles, by Richard Holmes, Peter E. Randall Publisher, Portsmouth, NH, 2007 page 12 says that Tsienneto was an Indian word for a local fairy or wood nymph. Sorry it isn’t much information but I do have a couple of links provided below that do cover some of the stories around this subject. (1) and (2). Thanks Richard!