The William Tell

from "Little Stories of Old New England"
By William D. Cram

Hampton Union & Rockingham County Gazette, October 21, 1937

It has been many years since as many boats rode at anchor in Hampton Harbor as during this year. There can be but little doubt that the navigable Hampton River was one factor deciding which led Steven Bachiler and his associates to pick Winnacunnet for their new settlement. The river was a highway, ready-made, available to all, and many years were to pass by before roads on land would be built. In fact for many years after the settlement of Hampton, all new settlements were made on navigable water.

Boats were needed to take their surplus products away and to bring in other things they could not supply themselves and so Hampton boats sailed to many ports and brought back many cargoes. Many of these boats had exciting careers, many sailed out and never returned. Captains courageous were not all Gloucester men, nor all fishermen. The William Tell had perhaps, a less interesting history than many others from this port, but its last resting place is what brings it into this story.

Something like a hundred years ago, Captain Johnson built the William Tell, a two-masted schooner at Hampton Falls. Capt. Johnson was a practical owner and operator. After he had built the boat, he liked to command it for a voyage or two so that he could tell what kind of boat it was and know what he could use it for to the best advantage. On the first voyage out, Capt. Johnson found that he needed two new masts. They were good enough sticks when he started but he ran into a thunder storm and the lightning split them both. But it was no Jonah boat, it made history in a way. It brought the first cargo of coal ever shipped from Philadelphia to Boston and when she was put on the run between Hampton and Boston, she established a steady gait between the places, not so speedy but dependable, of a round trip per week, taking cargo out and bringing another cargo back. For many years she had a prosperous career, and then on a stormy night while her crew was ashore, the great waves - backed by a howling gale and carried further into the harbor or river mouth by the high tide caused her to founder and tore her upper works so that it was not thought worth while to repair her. So she lay there and in time the river mouth changed and she became imbedded in the sand and now there are those who claim that her bones are under one of the summer cottages at the south end of Hampton Beach.