Harpswell Historical Society

Incorporated 1979

929 Harpswell Neck Road
Harpswell, Maine  04079

The Harpswell Historical Society is dedicated to the discovery, identification, collection, preservation, interpretation, and dissemination of materials relating to the history of Harpswell and its people.

Table of Contents

Historic Park 
and Museum

Links to 
related sites


Life in Harpswell Maine in the Early to Mid 1900's
The Dead Ship of Harpswell

By the Third, Fourth and Fifth Graders at
Harpswell Islands &
West Harpswell Schools

A 1997-98 Harpswell History Project

Gladys Abby Allen
Allen's Seafood
Henry Barnes
Alice Catlin
Donald Coffin
Daniel Darling
The Dead Ship of Harpswell
Clem Dunning
Judith Howard
Harpswell Hotels
Bernard Johnson
Roy Knight & Cliff Moody
Arnold LeMay
Arnold LeMay
Becky Longley
Currier McEwen
Rob Miller
Barbara Munsey
Don Rogers
Alice Swallow
Dick Westcott
Malcolm Whidden
Ken & Marge Wille
Mary Wilson
Mary & Eleanor Wilson
The Witch Of Harpswell
Gerry York

The Dead Ship of Harpswell

The Dead Ship of Harpswell was a ghost or phantom, it was not a broken up ship. The ship was always under full sail and sailed straight ahead no matter what the wind and tide was like. The ship was mostly seen just before dark and between the afternoon and night.

Sometimes it was seen as a four mast ship, sometimes a two mast ship or sometimes a brig. As the ship was going toward the dock, the watcher saw there was no one on the ship and no one to steer the ship to the dock. When the ship was about to crash, the ship would disappear or go backwards and go into a mist. People thought that if someone saw the ghost ship that someone in Harpswell would die. The only people that saw the ship were the ones that were waiting for a ship. The ship was seen many times at Lookout Point in Harpswell Center and Potts Point in South Harpswell. It was also seen at Bailey and Orr's Island.

John Greenleaf Whittier talked about the legend in his poem, The Dead Ship of Harpswell. It was written in 1866 when the poet was 59 years old. His story was that the ship would appear on the horizon “as out of a mist,” approach a dock head on and then go out to sea again, stern first, against the wind and tide. According to his poem, the ship didn't go a certain way and it never came to port.

Some people said the Dead Ship of Harpswell was the famous ship Dash, built in Freeport for Seward and Samuel Porter of Portland. Other people said it was the “ill‑fated Sarah,” built for Charles Jose and George Leveret of Portland at the Soule yard in South Freeport. The superstition kept on for many years that whenever death was coming near for a resident of Harpswell, the Dead Ship of Harpswell would appear, driving into Merriconeag Sound and trying to make her way into Potts Harbor, “only to vanish in a cloud of fog when coming near the shore.” The Dead Ship's last appearance was supposedly in the 1880's when a guest at the Harpswell House said he had seen a full-rigged ship sailing into the sound in the daytime. When he told other people, the ship was gone.

Robert Coffin, the late Brunswick poet and novelist used the story “The Dead Slip of Harpswell” in his book John Daim. The ship was seen twice by Captain James Dawn. The sighting came before the death of his first wife and son; the second before his own death.

Easter Toothaker is said to have seen the phantom before jumping overboard to his death. Another source says the ship's final appearance was to Polly Toothaker at the time of Captain John Toothaker's death. Since that time no one has reported seeing the ship.