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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #87: The Isles of Shoals, Rye

New Hampshire's answer to the Caribbean.

Here's a dirty little secret: I've never been to the Isles of Shoals. I love the ocean, love sailing ships and history, and yet I've never ventured the six miles offshore to the archipelago of islands and ledges, though I've certainly gazed wistfully at it enough times from the beaches in Rye and Hampton. When we get back it's high on my priority list of places to visit.

It's a storied part of New Hampshire geography, a fishing mecca for indigenous populations and later British and French colonies. Their modern name comes from Captain John Smith (yeah, the Pocahontas guy), who sighted them during his 1614 survey of the New Hampshire coastline. The names of the islands themselves (those in both NH and Maine) are drenched in Yankeeness: Smuttynose, Appledore, Star, Crab, Cedar. Duck, Shag. In the 1660s the islands were collectively incorporated as the town of Apledoore in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (which included both Maine and NH at the time). The population on Star Island (now in NH proper) grew and became established as the town of Gosport, while the non-NH islands were absorbed into Kittery. Eventually, the NH islands became part of Rye.

The Isles of Shoals have a romantic, quasi-legendary history, including pirates and poets: Blackbeard reputedly honeymooned there, and Celia Thaxter, the 19th century's most celebrated female poet, grew up and lived on the islands. (Aside: a great-grandparent of mine on my mother's side lived on the islands and knew Thaxter in the poet's old age). Mysteries and myths wreathe those rocky shores. Oh, and never you mind whatever bunk Anita Shreve peddles - Louis Wagner was guilty of the Smuttynose murders.

There's still a hotel out on Star Island (The Oceanic, once one of the old grand hotels). Who's up for a weekend retreat next summer?

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