Researching Legends: Post Script with Jeremy D’Entremont

Post Script with Jeremy D'Entremont on Fieldstone Common

Jeremy D’Entremont

Recently, I interviewed maritime expert Jeremy D’Entremont about his book Ocean-Born Mary: The Truth Behind a New Hampshire Legend. (Listen to the interview here.) The book details the items most likely based in fact about Mary’s ocean birth, the pirates and the ghosts surrounding the story and reveals the embellishments based purely in fiction.

With this Post Script interview we dig a little deeper into the importance of researching legends and Jeremy provides advice for those getting started in this kind of research.

Post Script: Researching Legends with Jeremy D’Entremont

MPL: Why did you think it was important to document which aspects of Ocean-Born Mary were true and which were fiction?

JD: I love legends and myths, but I think it’s important to try to separate them from factual history when we can. When we’re unsure of the dividing line between truth and fiction, I think we need to clearly say so. Also, it can be fascinating to trace the development of a legend over time, observing how embellishment is repeated to the point that it becomes “truth.”

MPL: Can you take us through the process of how you narrowed down which pirate was the most likely fit for the Ocean-Born Mary story?

JD: I had no preconceived notions about this. I simply went by contemporary newspaper accounts that showed a Scottish ship being attacked by pirates in July 1720, and determined that the captain, called “Thomas Roberts” in the accounts at the time, was, in fact, Captain Bartholomew Roberts. The only other strong possibility, as far as I can determine, would be Montigny LaPalisse, a French pirate who was possibly in command of a ship sailing with Roberts. I haven’t found any evidence that places any other pirate captain off the northeast coast around that time.

MPL: If someone were going to research a legend to determine the truth of it, what advice would you give to help get them started?

JD: The important thing is to assemble all the evidence first, without any preconceptions. I think it’s very similar a crime investigator would work by gathering evidence without any preconceived notions about how it all fits together. Scour every possible source and see where it leads you. These days you can do much research online, but you also need to get out to historical societies, libraries, and other repositories of old newspapers, genealogical publications, etc. It’s amazing what you can do on your computer from home these days, but you still need to get out in the field.

MPL: Ocean-Born Mary is based on a legend that combines both fact and fiction. Ocean-born Mary with Jeremy D'Entremont on Fieldstone CommonIn your research on historic lighthouses have you found similar legends? If so, do they tend to fall more into the realm of fact or fiction?

JD: Yes, I have run into some similar legends involving lighthouses. Sometimes it’s virtually impossible to prove or disprove some of the stories that have been passed down, but that’s where critical thinking becomes important. An example is the famous ghost story of Seguin Island Lighthouse in Maine. The story as it’s usually told involves a keeper’s wife who played the same tune over and over on the piano until it drove her husband insane, and he supposedly took up an axe and killed his wife and himself. It seems to me that if this was a true story, someone would have produced a newspaper account or other proof of it by now, but nobody has. But can I say that it absolutely isn’t true?; No, I can’t. It may have some basis in fact.

MPL: Have you ever discovered a legend, perhaps related to a lighthouse, where the true story was more interesting than the fiction?

JD: Hmmm… I’m not sure about that. But I will say that some of the true stories of rescues of shipwreck victims near lighthouses are as dramatic as any fiction. An example is a famous rescue carried out in January 1885 by Marcus Hanna, keeper of the Two Lights Station at Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He waded out waist-deep into freezing water during a blizzard to get a rope to two desperate, shipwrecked sailors, and he was able to get them safely ashore. Some of these true stories are so amazing that you would probably disbelieve them if they occurred in a novel or movie.

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FC 060 Ocean-Born Mary with Jeremy D’Entremont

This week on Fieldstone Common our featured guest is Jeremy D’Entremont, author of the book Ocean-Born Mary: The Truth Behind a New Hampshire Legend.


Jeremy D’Entremont, author of Ocean-Born Mary, has been writing about and Ocean-Born Mary with Jeremy D'Entremont on Fieldstone Commonphotographing the lighthouses of New England since the mid-1980s. He’s the author of more than ten books and hundreds of articles on lighthouses and other maritime subjects. He’s the historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation, founder of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, and the webmaster of New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide which can be found at He is also the owner and tour operator for New England Lighthouse Tours. Jeremy lives in Portsmouth, NH.

Book Summary

Ocean-born Mary with Jeremy D'Entremont on Fieldstone CommonMeet Mary: ocean-born and named by an infamous pirate. Her birth saved a group of Scottish immigrants aboard a ship bound for New England in 1720. Halfway through the grueling voyage, pirates intercepted and captured the vessel. Upon hearing a baby’s cry, the pirate captain promised to spare the lives of all on board if the mother named her newborn Mary, possibly after his beloved mother. The ship arrived safely in Massachusetts, and Mary lived most of her long life in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Discover the house in Henniker, New Hampshire, that Mary is said to haunt and where a pirate purportedly stashed his treasure. Historian Jeremy D’Entremont separates the facts from the fantastic legends shrouding one of New England’s most enduring folk tales.

Book Info

Title: Ocean-Born Mary: The Truth Behind a New Hampshire Legend

Publisher: The History Press (2011)

Trade paperback; 126 pages with an appendix, bibliography and some BxW photos and illustrations.

Ocean-Born Mary: The Truth Behind a New Hampshire Legend is available for purchase from and other booksellers.

The Interview

In this interview we dive into the original tale of Ocean-born Mary and follow the development of the tale in published forms through the years starting in the 1800s. In the 20th century a gentleman named Gussie Roy lived in Robert Wallace’s home which he called the Ocean-born Mary house. Gussie was responsible for many of the embellishments to the story. We also explore some ghost stories as well as the likelihood of which real life pirate was the inspiration for the tale.

Heather Rojo, President of the Londonderry, New Hampshire Historical Society, has written a blog post (with photos) about Ocean-Born Mary to coincide with the release of this interview. Stop by her blog and see some artifacts from Ocean-Born Mary herself!

Prize Winners

Two copies of Ocean-Born Mary were given out to the Fieldstone Common audience courtesy of the the History Press.

The winners are:

  • Peg Cronk of California
  • Linda Denton of Kentucky

Congratulations to our winners and thanks to the History Press for their generosity in donating the books!

Make sure you qualify to win the giveaway next week by signing up for the Bonus List! Once you sign up your are in the running each week!

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This Thursday: Ocean-Born Mary with Jeremy D’Entremont

Jeremy D’Entremont visits Fieldstone Common this Thursday, 10 October 2013, to discuss his book Ocean-Born Mary: The Truth Behind a New Hampshire Legend.

Ocean-Born Mary with Jeremy D'Entremont on Fieldstone Common

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