Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Ghost of Xavier Holmes

My roommate Salli recently mentioned a band's album to me which includes a song purported to be about a Maine shipwreck tale. The band is Icarus Witch, and the song is "The Ghost of Xavier Holmes" off their 2005 album "Capture the Magic." The band's site quotes the following information about their excitement about the song:

"...a second guest was brought in to ice the cake and fulfill their metal fantasies. Jason called his friend, Frank Aresti who had just returned from touring Europe with Fates Warning, & asked if he would contribute his one of a kind flare to their original song, "The Ghost Of Xavior Holmes." Once Frank got a hold of the track and delved into its murky themes of a haunted New England ship wreck, he was hooked & went above & beyond playing a solo to actually contribute several ideas to what has become one of the album's highlights."

In the album credits, "Lydia Carter (R.I.P.) at The Inn By The Sea, Portland, Maine" is listed under the Special Thanks section. At the head of the song's lyrics a quote is reproduced:

As he sailed into the shadows of darkness
He prayed to once again see the light of day
[July, 1807]

The song itself is an enjoyable listen for nautical heavy metal fans (har har), and an appreciable embracing of ghosts, Maine, and shipwrecks for the rest of you.

Here are the lyrics to the song, which is available in full as an MP3 on the Icarus Witch site:

The Ghost of Xavier Holmes
In the vessel's log a dying man had written;
"I've lost my captain & crew to a darkened and watery grave...
I'm so alone, trying to stay alive"
Xavior Holmes, fighting to survive
Heading out into the uncharted regions of the sea
"I'm so alone, eternally sailing into the night"
Xavior Holmes, now realizing he had died
Never to find his resting place near the Inn By The Sea
Among the crew, brave mariners and friends
With the passengers, the captain's wife, and a bride to be
Why is he the only one left, drifting forever on?
It seems like it's been midnight since the time of the storm
...since that storm
In the vessel's log the long dead man had written:
"What should have been a routine trip has cost the lives of sixteen"
Just off the coast of Richmond's Island the craft tipped on to one side
Xavior Holmes, never made it to Portland that night
Yet the Schooner Charles still sails on and out of sight...

The Inn By the Sea is in Cape Elizabeth, not Portland, though I can't imagine that (if it was in existence already in 1807) it was called "The Inn By the Sea" back then. Their website doesn't seem to have any information about the inn's history.
[UPDATE: Thanks to Rawni Kew -- there is indeed an account of the shipwreck on the inn's website, which you can read here.]

Searching "Xavier Holmes" online doesn't seem to bring up anything either, so that name may even be a fabrication. Not a big deal, just hard to research history without a real name to go on. So much for the song. Research of the historical event related in the song was a little more fruitful.

Icarus Witch aren't the first musicians to have a go at this tale of shipwreck. The "Town of Standish" from the History of Cumberland County, Maine (pages 372-378), as transcribed by Marilyn Leeland, recounts:

On the road leading from Standish Corner to the lake is the home of the poet Shaw, built in 1774, where the first settlement was made by Ebenezer Shaw. The ballads of Thomas Shaw, the son, were well-known along the coast of Maine for many years, and date back to the Revolutionary war. Conspicuous among his productions was the "Shipwreck of the Schooner Charles," on Richmond's Island, July 12, 1807. The ballad was headed by sixteen black coffins, to represent the number of victims, and surrounded with a heavy border.

It's well-known what attention getters coffin silhouettes are. It's a good thing there weren't dozens of deaths, eh? The printer would have run out of room.

Thomas Shaw is mentioned in an interesting October 1916 article in Sprague's Journal of Maine History written by Windsor P. Daggett. The article judges Shaw thusly:

His verse was indeed "unlernt," lamentably bad, worthless today, except that it indicates the isolation of mind and poverty of vision that was inevitable in those days of material and political struggle. Yet the "mournful songs" of Thomas Shaw supplied a demand of the time. Thousands of these "broadsides" were sold in Portland and in the numerous villages of Cumberland County. One song, at least, went into a second edition, and the "poet" must have found his writing profitable, selling thousands of his "Broadside Ballads" at six and a quarter cents a piece.

While poor in his skills, Shaw was rich in ambition, and poured out many of his dreary ballads for public consumption, including a couple of doozies, like:

  • "1819 March 17. Mournful Song, On a man and wife, who froze to death in one night, on Standish Cape, so called. This sheet has two black coffins printed at the top, but does not contain the author's name. It commemorates the death of Mr. Samuel Tarbox and wife who froze to death in the great storm of 1819."

  • "1808 August. On the Hanging of Drew. Shaw and his son went to Portland to see Drew hanged, and he records, in his journal, 'Aug. 27. While. I was at Portland I got a piece printed on Drew.'"

  • There is other ephemera on the Richmond's Island incident, as enterprising publishers no doubt smelled profits from miles away. Even today you can find items listed on Amazon that are relics of the event, such as An elegy on the distressing scene of the schooner Charles,: That was wrecked on Richmond's Island, near the entrance of Portland harbor, the twelfth day ... twenty two persons, sixteen of whom perished (The Saints) (Unknown Binding) S. Low, Son & Co (January 1, 1807).

    And the "Lydia Carter" thanked in the Icarus Witch liner notes can be none other than a misspelled Lydia Carver, as Gail Underwood Parker, author of It Happened In Maine (2004) writes:
    Look for the grave of Lydia Carver in a small, hidden Cape Elizabeth graveyard. She perished returning from a trip to Boston to purchase her wedding trousseau when the schooner, Charles, crashed and broke up on the foggy reefs off Richmond Island in Cape Elizabeth. Research the story of Captain John Deane’s 1710 shipwreck off Boon Island... and the survivors’ cannibalism! (Source)


    Chris said...

    Here's the account given in the Eastern Argus of Portland:

    On Sunday night last between the hours of 11 and 12 the schr. Charles, Capt. Adams, of Portland, with 23 persons on board and a valuable cargo, in her passage from Boston to Portland was run ashore on a point protruding from Richmond's Island about two leagues westward of Portland light, and immediately bilged. Three of the persons Mr. Sidney Thaxter, Mr. ____ Cook and Mr. ____ Monie swam to land and were preserved.—Seventeen of the number were washed overboard, or perished clinging to the wreck, which was drenched by every billow. Then was the child torn from the mother's arms and the husband widowed of his love. In vain were the efforts of a friend, to preserve a friend. The screams of terror, and the cries of despair were unavailing. There was none to save—The roar of the waves drowned the moan [of] distress; and it was heard no more. In the pride of health, in the glow of expectation, with the present prospect of rejoicing with friends; Death arrested their course, and added their names to the register of mortality. May the greeting of angels welcome them to that blessed haven, which is vexed not by storms, nor troubled with disasters, and their souls be harbored in peace.

    Capt. Adams and wife, Mrs. Hayden and child wife of Josiah Hayden, Mrs. Mary Stonehouse of Boston, Mrs. Richards two children & sister, Mrs. White, a young Lady of Freeport and a man name unknown, Mr. Tandy, Mr. Jenks, Mr. Sargent, a boy and the cook a black, man were lost.

    Mr. Williams, Mr. Thaxter, Mr. Monie, Mr. Cook, Mr. Richards and Mr. Pote, escaped the destruction. The three last were taken from the wreck, on the following morning exhausted with fatigue, and almost disabled with many bruises. The fragments of the vessel, the scattered remains of the cargo, and the lifeless bodies of the deceased, entangled in the shrouds, or dashed among the rocks, formed a dreadful scene of desolation, a spectacle of horror shocking to humanity.

    The bodies of Captain Adams, Mrs. White, and Mrs. Hayden, were recovered from the waves on the following day, and were interred on Tuesday afternoon.—The corpses were carried to the meeting house, and a funeral discourse was pronounced by the Rev. Elijah Kellogg on the melancholy occasion. Mrs. Stonehouse, Mr. Tandy, a child of Mr. Richards's, and a child of Mr. Hayden's, have since been found.

    A later article in the Portland Gazette gave this more complete account of the victims:

    Those drowned, belonging to the vessel, were, Jacob Adams, Mr. Tandy, seaman, Eben Ruby, cook, and Thomas Phillips, cabin-boy. —Passengers drowned.—Mr. E. A. Jenks, Mr. Sargent, Mrs. Adams, Mrs. Hayden and child, Mrs. Richards and two children, and Mrs. White, of this town; Mrs. Stonehouse, of Boston; Miss Richards, of Dedham, and Miss Lydia Carver, of Freeport.

    Anonymous said...

    The writer is incorrect in saying the Inn's web site does not have anything on their beloved ghost Lydia- if you go to and go to the bottom of the home page- click on "press" - then click the "Lydia Carver Story" - that page has not only the history of the shipwreck and information on Lydia and sightings, but also contains the various press articles that have been written about Lydia-
    or here is the link:

    Michelle Souliere said...

    Hi Rauni! Thanks for the correction. There is a terrific 12 page illustrated account of the story at the link Rauni mentions, also available if you click directly here:, which includes not only the historical account of the passengers and the shipwreck, but also stories told of current hauntings at the inn believed to be related to it.