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The Yankee Express

Betty Moody’s Cave

By Thomas D’Agostino


ing Philip’s War in New England was the most brutal conflict, per capita, ever fought on American soil. Whole villages were attacked and burned on both sides without regard of life or limb. Even after the treaties of 1676 and 1678, raids and attacks continued. Later, the French joined the Natives in an attempt to once more rid the land of the English. This was part of Queen Anne’s War and lasted into the first part of the 18th century. 

Hostilities between settlers and Indigenous peoples were not confined to the mainland of New England. The many islands that were populated by the English also became targets of aggression by raiding parties. Among them were the Isles of Shoals, about six to ten miles off the coasts of New Hampshire and Maine. There are nine small islands in total, five of them belonging to Maine and four to New Hampshire. Before being discovered by John Smith in 1614, some of the islands were used as seasonal fishing camps by the Natives. By the 1620s, the larger islands were being sparsely settled by Europeans. Star Island, Smuttynose and Appledore became home to fishermen and their families. Permanent settlements were in place by the time King Philip’s War broke out but saw little to no threat—that is, until Queen Anne’s War. In 1689, a band of Native warriors attacked Star Island, presumably in hopes of reclaiming their fishing camp. During the raid, a woman named Betty Moody escaped with her two children to a cave located on the southeastern edge of the island. While holed up in the cavern, the children began to cry out of fear. Betty tried to cover their mouths so they would not be heard. Unfortunately, she covered their mouths so hard that she suffocated them. Some say she did it to spare her own life, while others believe she was so afraid herself that she was not aware of how tightly she was gripping their mouths until it was too late. 

Whatever version you deem valid does not take away from the fact that she appears to be eternally sorrowful for her deed, as screams and wails can be heard from the cave where she mourns her fateful act. The crying is suddenly heard in the wind permeating the rocky outcropping just before a terrible storm grips the islands. Many say it is the ghosts of the children finally crying out. Either way, when the phantom wailing is heard and the winds pick up around the island, it is best to hunker down and listen for the echoes of the crying children or Betty to pass. 

Star Island holds three day and week long conferences during the warmer months and is also open for day visits and tours. One can stay one night as well without attending a conference. The choice is yours. There are more stories and legends that abound on the island which is the second largest of the Isles of Shoals and arguably, the most haunted.