Old Hampton Tales of Sea and Shore: A Catastrophe and Its Resultant Strange Absences
By Thomas Leavitt
The Exeter News-Letter
November 18, 1898
A Catastrophe and Its Resultant Strange Absences
EDITOR, EXETER NEWS-LETTER. -- Two young men lived in Hampton many years ago. They were friends and intimates. The name of one was Marston, the other's name was Moulton. Each had a family. Marston had a wife and two little boys, named George and James respectively, and Moulton had a wife and one little boy.
They took a notion to go out for a day's fishing one morning in winter. In those day's in Hampton many men went fishing in the winter to get money to pay their taxes with and to eke out a living. It was a hazardous business and was often accompanied with great exposure, hardship and danger. It behooved men who went out five or six miles from the shore in winter in a row boat fitted with one little sail, to learn to read the signs in the sky and the sea. To them, starting before daylight, the appearance of the stars and the clouds, and the "cry of the sea" meant much. For if these signs were not heeded or understood they might be caught far off in the dreaded snow squall.
As I have said, Marston and Moulton took a notion to go out fishing one morning and went to Boar's Head and from there to the fishing grounds.
There were many boats out there that day, scattered over an area of four or five miles. The wind started up, from the north-east in the afternoon and "the sea made very fast," faster than the oldest fisherman had ever known it to do. The fishing was good and the men in several of the boats, not realizing that the "sea" would he increased during the time it would take them to make the distance to shore, held on longer than it was prudent and came near being swamped.
The men in the last boat to arrive ashore stated that they had seen Marston and Moulton apparently getting ready to start, and that was all. Marston and Moulton were never seen afterwards and their boat was found on the Ipswich beach.
That night the mother of Marston, after she had gone to bed, heard him open the door and walk across the kitchen to the sink and water pail, and heard him take down the dipper as if to drink. She waited for him to come and speak to her, or go to his room as was his habit, but not hearing anything further, she got up and went into the kitchen, finding no one there and everything as she had left it. At this time, she had not heard of the catastrophe. Years went by and Marston's widow married again and took her youngest boy to her new home. He lived there til some fifteen years of age and then suddenly disappeared.
It was supposed at the time that he had run off to sea. Years passed till he had been gone fifteen years or more and nothing was heard of or from him.
I remember well how the relation of these events affected me when a little boy. My emotions were so stirred by the story of the tragic fate of my uncle and the disappearance of his son, that it possessed my thoughts by day and my dreams by night. Whenever a craft cast anchor at Boar's Head and a boat left her side for land, I would be sure to be at the landing, scanning the crew in the vain, childish hope of discovering my long lost cousin.
One day Mr. David Nudd came home from Boston and told George Marston that he had seen his brother James in Boston; that he met three sailors skylarking on the sidewalk and they addressed some of their fun to him, which drew his attention to them, and he thought he recognized one of them as his brother, that his brother at first denied his identity, but on being pressed, owned up that he was James Marston and then told Mr. Nudd that he had been to sea on whaling voyages and had shipped again on a vessel at New Bedford, and would sail in about a week. George hastened to New Bedford and brought his brother home. Many came to see him as one who was lost and is found, who was dead and is alive again. Well, at the end of his week's furlough he departed to go on his voyage, and at the end of three years he came home as he had promised.
That was in the summer and there were many people at Boar's Head, and James was there often. That summer was noted for its great schools of mackerel and pogles that swarmed into the cove south of Boar's Head, and for the many large fishes that pursued them there for prey, and particularly a whale, which would appear every day.
Marston said that with a proper number of fishermen, a boat and tackle and harpoon, he could catch that whale. The idea took. A boat was found, men volunteered and a harpoon was made under Marston's supervision, everything was got ready, the men instructed, and on the next day the venture was to be tried. The morrow came but Mr. Whale did not put in an appearance, and never afterwards. That harpoon now hangs in the barn in the rear of the Leavitt cottage.
At the end of a month James Marston departed on another voyage -- from which he has never returned -- or at least he has never been heard of since.
Years rolled by and the youngest half brother of George and James, born, I think, after the last departure of James, grew to be a man. One day he announced his intention of going to sea in search of his half brother James and of not returning till he found him.
He made his preparations and his will, and departed.
Some twenty years have elapsed since he went away and he has never been heard of or from. I think the elder sailor would now be about seventy-eight years old if alive.
Hampton people have never ceased to recall and talk these things over, and if it should happen that either one or both of these men should return, I think the old town would go into a jubilee.