Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Sarah Soule

What flecks the outer gray beyond
The sundown’s golden trail?
The white flash of a sea-bird’s wing,
Or gleam of slanting sail?
Let young eyes watch from Neck and Point,
And sea-worn elders pray,--
The ghost of what was once a ship
Is sailing up the bay!

                    --From the poem The Dead Ship of Harpswell by John Greenleaf Whittier

The story of the fate of the Sarah Soule, a ghost ship, is immortalized in the poem above. Many people have seen this phantom “Schooner of Harpswell.” It is described as a “breathtaking sight” as it glides along, fully rigged and under sail in the late afternoon light. It then just vanishes into a rising fog.


Two industrious young men, George Leverett and Charles Jose both in their early twenties set sail from Portland, Maine one day in 1812 with the intent to prosper in the Indies trade. At this time one could trade: cod, lumber, molasses, and coffee for rum in the Indies-- and make a fortune in the process.

Their destination was Soule Boatyard in South Freeport where they hoped to have their own vessel built. But during the construction of their new ship, the two men had an unforeseen event happen.

They met Sarah Soule, the boat builder’s daughter--a local beauty. In a cruel fate, both men fell in love at first sight. Not surprisingly, this caused a rift in their friendship. Both George and Charles avidly pursued her, but in the end, Sarah preferred George. The two friends got into a heated argument with Charles trying to hurl George into a nearby river.

The two were now steadfast enemies. Charles disappeared, and George waited for the ship to be finished. He named it after his fiancé, the Sarah Soule.

Despite his luck in love, George met ill fortune at every turn. He had to overcome several “strange obstacles” in his preparations for his wedding, and after the ship was completed, he found it hard to find a crew.

But determined, George finally sailed out of Portland harbor fully loaded with cargo and an able-bodied crew headed for the West Indies. Within days George spotted a black craft that flew no flag following his ship.

What George did not know is the ship was the Don Pedro, and her captain was George’s rival in love, Charles Jose.

Sarah Soule’s crew became more and more uneasy as this black ship trailed them for weeks like a dark storm cloud. They petitioned Captain Leverett to way anchor in Nassau to report their pursuer to the British Admiralty.

Leverett agreed and set the appropriate course. But the Sarah Soule never reached the harbor for when Charles Jose saw where they were headed, he opened fire upon his exfriend’s ship. All on board perished except Charles Leverett. His unarmed vessel was heavily damaged, but it did not sink.

Charles, blinded by bitterness was not satisfied with just the destruction of the Sarah Soule, he boarded the ship with his men, and they looted her. Then they lashed George to the ship’s mainmast and set her out to sea as they returned to their own ship.

What happens next in this story is similar to what happens in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. A post about this epic poem is here.

Leverett knowing he faced certain death, was amazed to see his dead crew arise and take their posts one by one. They set a course for home as Leverett lost consciousness.

On a cold, bleak November day, a fully rigged schooner that appeared to be “wrecked” was seen as it sailed with accuracy along the channel. This ship then came to an abrupt stop in Casco Bay, but oddly no anchor was lowered.

The witnesses then watched as an unearthly crew silently lowered an unconscious man into a boat. They rowed this boat ashore and laid him on a rock, they placed what looked like a logbook next to him.

Again in eerie silence, this crew then returned to the strange ship. A dense fog enveloped the harbor, and the vessel disappeared within seconds.

This unconscious man was immediately identified as George Leverett. He recovered enough to tell his strange tale, but he never went out to sea again.

In another version it was actually, the witnesses who untied Leverett’s unconscious body from the mast and brought him ashore.

People said after this that the Sarah Soule returned several more times in the afternoon mists to Casco Bay near Harpswell.

The last recorded sighting of the Sarah Soule was in the 1880s.

It was a bright summer day as a houseguest sat on a lawn near the water. He looked seaward, and along the horizon, he spotted a large schooner under full sail. The sun glistened off its canvas. He watched as it headed for the bay.

He called several others over to take a look but as they watched, the ship just vanished into the afternoon mist.

Some take comfort in the fact there have been no recent sightings of the Sarah Soule. They hope that its weary crew has been able to finally make homeport for the last time.

Here is the link to John Greenleaf Whittier's entire poem, The Dead Ship of Harpswell.


Leona Joan said...

Thanks for sharing this truly sad yet spooky story. I've read about many ghost ships, but I had never heard about the Sarah Souls. I hope the ghostly crew has finally sailed their ship over to the Other Side and are finally at peace. 🙏

Leona Joan said...

I love the poem too. It's so eerie and spooky. 🎃