Celia Thaxter collection, 1874-1996
Collection Scope and Content
This collection consists of correspondence, published material, reviews, clippings and photographs.
Celia Thaxter was born Celia Laighton in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on June 29, 1835. When Celia was four, her father Thomas Laighton was appointed lighthouse keeper and he moved the family to White Island in the Isles of Shoals. At sixteen, Celia was married to Levi Thaxter, a graduate of Harvard and eleven years her senior. Levi Thaxter had come to the islands hoping to make a fortune in the hotel Thomas Laighton was building on Appledore Island. But Thaxter became tired of life on the island, and moved the couple to the mainland, into a house built by his father in Newtonville, MA. The couple had three children.
Celia Thaxter was unhappy with her life on the mainland, and her marriage suffered. Levi Thaxter went on many long trips with the couple’s two youngest sons, while she was left at home with their eldest boy, Karl. In secret she wrote a poem called “Land-locked,” about her longing for the islands on which she grew up. When Levi found it, he sent it to his friend James Russell Lowell, editor of The Atlantic Monthly. The poem was printed in the next issue and became an instant success. Thaxter wrote many more poems and essays and became known for her special treatment of nature and especially the sea. Her most famous poems include “Milking,” “The Great White Owl,” “The Kingfisher,” and “The Sandpiper.” She is also known for her essay, “A Memorable Murder,” about the infamous murders that took place on Smuttynose Island in 1873.
Thaxter was accomplished in many things besides writing, including gardening, cooking, sewing, and painting. She eventually moved back to Appledore Island and became the hostess at her father’s hotel, welcoming members of literary society including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Sarah Orne Jewett, and the painter Childe Hassam, who painted many pictures of Thaxter and her garden. She held a salon each summer, where these luminaries would give poetry readings as well as musical and storytelling performances. In 1880, the Thaxters moved to Kittery Point, Maine, to the farm Champernowne, where Thaxter descendants still live to this day. Celia Thaxter died suddenly at age fifty-nine on August 25, 1894. She is buried on Appledore Island.