Much like the terrible loss of the Susannah, the tragic wreck of the Charles nearly 20 years later has found its place in Maine maritime lore. Both vessels were schooners, both sailed from Maine to Boston on a regular basis. Both wrecks involved many deaths. And both tragedies spawned stories and tales of melancholy and loss.

One difference is that there were a few survivors from the Charles wreck, while Susannah was lost with all hands. But the loss of Charles was horrific and poignant enough that it generated a ghostly legend regarding an apparition, one said to haunt the beach where the poor soul washed up. There, she walks aimlessly, crying while looking for her lost wedding dress. She is also said to inhabit a nearby hotel.

Pictured is Crescent Beach with Richmond Island in the distance. This is the beach where bodies from the Charles washed ashore, including that of Lydia Carver. Photo by Charles H. Lagerbom

The schooner Charles was built in Portland in 1806 and was immediately put on the Portland to Boston run. Portland native Jacob Adams was captain and the schooner operated out of the city’s north side of town dock.

On the night of July 12, 1807, the vessel was returning from Boston when it hit rough seas and fog off Richmond Island. Adams, confused by the conditions, figured he was farther out from shore. About midnight, the schooner crashed onto Watt’s Ledge, just 50 feet offshore from Richmond Island, across from Crescent Beach and Kettle Cove at Cape Elizabeth.

This chart of Richmond Island shows Watts Ledge and Adams Head. Courtesy of Casco Bay NOAA Chart 13290

Adams and three men aboard the ship crawled to the ledge then swam to the island’s beach, safely reaching shore. Hearing the cries of his wife and other stranded passengers, the captain swam back in the stormy seas to where the ledge held the ship firmly on the rocks. For over an hour he tried to get back aboard the vessel but ended up drowning when a wave washed him off the ledge.

Adams’ body was the first of three found the next morning. The body of his wife, Dorcas, was never recovered. They left five children orphaned. One of the points of land where the Charles struck is now called Adams Head. Another of the bodies recovered that next morning was a woman named White; whether Miss or Mrs. is not clear. No other information has been found regarding her.

When the ship struck the ledge, it spun sideways, and the deck became perpendicular to the water, which caused passengers to slide into the ocean. Waves crashing on the schooner swept more people into the water. It must have been extremely frustrating with Richmond Island just 50 feet away in the swirling black night. Some grabbed onto and clung to the ship’s shrouds.

The mate of the Charles is simply recorded as a Mr. Williams, no first name. He had been on the bow of the schooner helping Adams navigate in the fog when he heard nearby surf breaking. The alarm was raised but too late and the ship hit. Williams spent the night trapped aboard Charles and was one of only three rescued from the vessel the following morning. He was the last to be taken off the schooner.

The other crewman, Thomas Tandy, did not survive, although his body was recovered. The African American cook named Eben Ruby did not survive, nor was his body ever found. The cabin boy, Thomas Phillips, clung to the shrouds of the wreck all night long. When rescuers approached in the morning, he finally let go and tried to get aboard one of the vessels but was unable to, most likely from the extreme exposure he had faced. Phillips was washed out to sea, his body never recovered.

The three who had swum to shore with Adams were passengers named Cook, Mooney, and Sidney Thaxter. They survived the ordeal and were found by rescuers the following morning. Thaxter reported he had seen four men, a woman and a boy clinging to the shrouds of the Charles.

One of the men in the shrouds was named Pote. He grimly held on through the night and was rescued along with Williams in the morning. Another one rescued from the shrouds that morning was Portland resident Samuel Richards.

While he survived, Richards sadly lost his wife, two children and his sister, who were all traveling with him, basically his entire family. Worse still for the grieving man, only the body of one child was ever recovered.

The body of passenger Nathaniel Sargent, a 21-year-old Portland resident, was never recovered. Portland printer Eleazer Jenks grabbed onto the shrouds to keep from being washed off the sloping deck. As the night wore on, he tied himself more firmly to the lines. In the morning, when rescuers arrived, they were horrified to find Jenks’ lifeless body hanging in the ropes.

Three bodies were recovered representing three generations of a family. They were wealthy widow 62-year-old Mary Stonehouse, her daughter, Eliza Hayden, and infant grandson, Robert Stonehouse Hayden. Eliza’s body had been found first thing along with Capt. Adams and Miss White. Within the day, the grandmother’s and infant’s bodies were also recovered.

Lydia Carver was a native of Freeport, the 24-year-old daughter of a wealthy Portland businessman. She soon became the most poignant story from the wreck of the Charles. Her body was recovered on Crescent Beach and she was the only victim to be buried right there at Cape Elizabeth.

I found Crescent Beach to be a long somewhat lonely stretch of sand looking out onto Richmond Island. The surf and waves were quite audible. On the hot, sunny summer day I visited, it was difficult to imagine Charles on the far side of the island out there in the dark and stormy seas, people desperately clinging to the schooner rigging or getting washed off its decks.

Ebenezer Robbins’ 1807 poem entitled “An Elegy on the Distressing Scene of the Schooner Charles” devoted eight stanzas to Lydia Carver, way more than any other victim. In it, he referred to her as an intended bride.

And that, in turn, spawned songs, legends and tales of ghostly visits. The story goes that Lydia Carver sailed to Boston in 1807 to buy a wedding dress and was returning with it aboard Charles when the schooner wrecked at Richmond Island. Her lifeless body was found on the beach supposedly with her trunk nearby containing her folded wedding dress.

While no contemporary news accounts make mention of any wedding party or wedding gowns or anything of the sort, the story has taken on a life of its own and become quite the legend of Lydia Carver, the Ghost Bride, or the “Lady in White.”

A grave marker for Lydia Carver is located in a small cemetery next to Inn by the Sea on Route 77 in Cape Elizabeth. It is a melancholy little accumulation of gravestones; many sit broken or tumbled upon the grass. Carver’s marker, however, is in the best shape and most prominent of all. Crescent Beach and the nearby ocean are just beyond the grave past some trees. Breaking surf can distinctly be heard in the small cemetery.

Lydia Carver’s grave marker is in small cemetery next to the Inn by the Sea. Photo by Charles H. Lagerbom

Since her burial in this small forlorn location beside the inn, there have been sightings by locals of an apparition known popularly as the Lady in White. She is also said to inhabit the Inn by the Sea and is sometimes even seen out along Route 77 or on Crescent Beach, which is now a State Park. It is suggested that Lydia Carver roams the area still waiting for her wedding.

At the inn, Lydia Carver the Ghost Bride is referred to as a kindly presence, although things there tend to get moved around and its elevator has been known to run on its own, especially late at night. Some even say that crying can be heard out along Crescent Beach on certain dark nights, as the Ghost Bride roams the sands lamenting her never-to-be wedding day.

I asked the State Park attendant at the gate if he had ever seen the ghost. While he smiled and said no, he did say that having grown up around there, he knew many who had reported seeing “people” in the woods behind the beach. Finding that odd, I felt kind of a chill as he said that, even though the day was warm. Maybe it was not just Lydia Carver the Ghost Bride that roamed the area, but a whole host of those victims from the schooner Charles.

Charles Lagerbom teaches AP U.S. History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport. He is author of “Whaling in Maine” and “Maine to Cape Horn,” available through Historypress.com.

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