Thorvald's Grave

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

Hampton Union & Rockingham County Gazette, December 2, 1937

Fifty years ago this fall a great number of people gathered in Feneuil [sic] Hall, Boston, to hear Prof. Ebtn [sic] Norton Horsford deliver his scholarly address on the discovery of America by the Northmen, the occasion being the unveiling of the statue of Leif Eriksen (also spelled Ericsson) in the public Gardens. The event was of particular interest to many living between the Merrimack and Piscataqua rivers for on the ancestral lands of Hon. Charles E. Lamprey of Hampton, the oddly marked stone with its even stranger legendary history had long been a place of interest to geologists and students of history.

Here, it is claimed, with the tribal tales of the Indians giving added evidence, that Leif's brother, Thorvald, in carrying out further explorations of the land discovered, lost his life following an encounter with the Indians on the water just off Boar's Head. Before he died, he told his men to bury him on the headland and mark his grave with stones engraved with crosses, but presumably because of the desire to keep his grave unknown to the Indians of the locality, he was buried a short distance inland, and the stone set low in the ground and covered over. As carefully carried out as it was, keen eyed Indians from leafy coverts followed with their eyes the proceedings but made no effort to interfere. And so they handed down from generation to generation the story of the burial of the unknown man. For more than two hundred years the Lamprey family cultivated the land on which Thorvald was buried, knowing only the Indian tradition until looking up the matter with historians and geologists, the clue to the connection of the Icelander explorer was discovered with the account in the Icelandic sagas.

Prof. Horsford was one of the first to point out the error of the casual readers of the sagas in thinking Leif in discovering the North American continent had not gone further south than Labrador. Although the sagas clearly tell climatic conditions which could only exist on the North American shore and time with limits of the time of the shortest day of the year, the fact that the time given is a variant of the section here has been misunderstood by most of the earlier writers who doubted that Leif reached Massachusetts and New Hampshire Shores. While many historians and especially textbook writes have failed to give Leif the credit of the discovery of America, crediting that occurrence almost 500 years later during which time many known voyagers landed here, it is now generally conceded by careful students that Leif, the son of Eric the Red was actually the discoverer of the American continent, and Hampton is taking the claim of her deceased son and student, that Leif's brother Thorvald, in making further explorations of the land the former had discovered, met his fate as earlier mentioned and was buried under the rock under Winnacunnett Road in the section which for going on a century has been known as "Norseman's Rest" and other similar titles and were even before the start of the present century, it has been proposed to make the rock and the surrounding area into a memorial park for Thorvald.

Because so much interest is taken in the matter and so many people are writing for information as well as making trips from distant points to see the stone and learn more about it. In the Harvard Classics, Vol. 43, Pages 1-14 may be found the story of Leif, Eric's son, continuing to Thorvald's trip to and death at the newly discovered land (pages 12-14)

Close as the stone lays to Hampton Beach, hundreds have come to see it and have gone away without doing so because until very recently few of the people who live in the vicinity were unfamiliar with the history of Hampton and were unaware of the significance of the rock.

Perhaps the most persistent and undaunted searchers for the stone were Malcolm D. Pearson of Upton, Mass. and his friend a Br. Cheney of Hopkinton who arrived one morning about 10 o'clock almost within a hundred yards of the spot but were mislead in thinking a stone seen on the marsh might be the one they sought. Reaching it they found it only a natural boulder and then they drove to the beach itself where a search along the three miles of ocean frontage taking an hour or more proved unavailing. Rather discouraged they began inquiries of people they met as to the whereabouts of the stone. One and another were well disposed but although they were introduced to many and sent hither and yon to those thought possessing the desired information, the clues taking them again and again almost to the spot where the stone actually is, with trips between almost to Hampton Falls on one side of the town to North Hampton on the other. About mid afternoon they decided to ask no further but to make a minute study of the ground which they had been generally agreed upon by their informers as the probable place of the rock. Two hours were spent in careful but fruitless search. The afternoon was drawing to a close, and they gave it up as a hopeless undertaking. Still as a last resort, they visited the home of Commissioner Fred R. Batchelder.

Telling his story, Mr. Pearson said,"We found Mr. Batchelder at home and he took us where the rock was finally found, but only by the merest chance did we actually unearth the inscribed rock. Mr. Batchelder was sure when he pointed to the top of a rock just above the ground that it was the long sought rock, but no inscription was visible. As we turned to leave, Mr. Cheney chanced to dig away the rubbish and earth accumulated around the rock to reveal a groove near the top side. Going after shovels, we dug away the debris uncovering grooves which showed an attempt to engrave some sort of legend. I took photographs in a very diminished light, of the rock, which later revealed some inscription but entirely unsatisfactory to study the characters.

"Later, I returned to get more satisfactory results. Under favorable conditions to photograph the rock, we dug away more debris than on our first visit revealing several marks near the base of the stone. It was interesting to note that on our first trip, we traveled thirty miles within a radius of a few miles from where we first stopped, and at last discovered the inscribed stone within a few hundred yards of the first stop."

No one will have to undergo a similar trying experience the coming season, as with the observance of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Hampton in 1938, there will be markers placed to direct tourists from the main road and to the point on the side road where the rock remains, just the top above the ground level, at present only a small hole being observable in which the rock is.