Who is the Sea Hag?

As with most folklores, there are many variants of the Sea Hag story, but the basic premise as is follows:

In the late 1700’s or early 1800’s, a traveler and charlatan named Robert Henway came to New Haven in search of his latest business exploit. While there, he married a young beautiful local named Molly. As Henway’s business prospects soured, he abandoned Molly and boarded a ship to a distant location. Molly, impassioned by her love (and possibly fury) for Henway, stowed away on the ship in pursuit of her husband. During the voyage, Molly mysteriously disappeared. Her spirit returned to New Haven to haunt the port city.


In the coming weeks, I will be posting more detailed versions and variations on the legend. For now, there is some pretty good information on Wikipedia

I am also in the process of digitizing much of my Sea Hag archive. And I am very excited to share these resources as they become available.



After the trial, sentencing and subsequent overnight “departure” from the commonwealth of Virginia in the year 1783, the self-knighted Sir Robert Henway stowed away on a ship bound for the Massachusetts colony. Stopping over in the port town of New Haven in the settlement of Connecticut, the ship’s cabin boy discovered the non-paying Henway, and he was immediately placed ashore with great force.

Seeing a new arena in which to do business, Henway naturally hunted down the nearest pub/eatery. There, by means of his charismatic personality and boldface lying, he secured an apartment directly upstairs. And from that single room above the tavern, Henway began his journey into fortune and infamy by selling off unseen parcels of land in the “South Haven” area of the colony to wealthy importers.

Henway’s real estate wealth grew for years and would have continued if it weren’t for an intrepid surveyor who discovered that “South Haven” was in fact in the center of the waterway that would later be called Long Island Sound.
Losing most of his moneys in paying off those who purchased “land,” fines and court fees, Henway took his remaining savings and opened a small tavern. Forbidden to sell real estate by order of the court, Henway soon took up the art of brewing, making (and drinking much of) the ales that sold in the pub. He soon hired, fell madly in love with and married the bar maid; a 20 year-old, brown haired woman named Molly.

For years the couple made beer and lived above the tavern. Then after a frightfully intimidating encounter with an angry group of investors, Sir Robert Henway packed up his last remaining brewer’s hops- about 2 or 3 pounds- and quietly left his business and beloved wife, leaving only a note saying that he just might, maybe someday, almost positively,return. Unfortunately for Molly, Henway left a sizable debt behind when he sailed off for India. Everyone figured he was probably going to India to hook up with his old mates from England and explore the new territory and new opportunities to remove cash from unsuspecting “investors.”

Molly however was going to be left with the debt.

Here the story gets a little fuzzy. It is believed that Molly stowed away aboard the ship to escape the angry mob and be with her beloved husband. There is no record of Molly arriving in India. Rumor has it that Henway, in a drunken rage, may have thrown Molly overboard. Or, despondent over having to leave New Haven in disgrace and less than thrilled about going to India, Molly decided to take a leap off the deep end. No one really knows what happened aboard the ship but Molly never returned to New Haven, alive, in the flesh…



One variation on the Sea Hag tale told through the point of view of a shiphand is much more violent. Some believe that Molly did not simply disappear, but was actually a victim of murder. The beginning is similar to most other versions; Henway bribes his way aboard a ship and Molly stows below. However, Molly’s fate is more specific. An account by one of the shiphands who had been sneaking below to pilfer from the ships alcohol stores (something he had been systematically doing all night) described Robert kneeling over a young, struggling woman with his hands choking the life out of her. Fearing for his own safety, the shiphand scurried above deck to hide. The last thing he saw of the incident was Robert throwing a limp figure overboard. The next day the shiphand reported his story to the captain who quickly put together a maritime court. However, Robert was an experienced swindler and acted as his own lawyer. Because of his silver tongue, he was able to convince the captain and everyone on the ship that the shiphand’s drunken state had caused him to imagine Robert’s deed. At his destination, Robert walked off that boat a free man. Molly’s spirit remained in the harbor, to haunt it forever, as the Sea Hag.

6 Comments on “Who is the Sea Hag?”

  1. […] I have posted a variation of the Sea Hag legend on the Who is the Sea Hag page. It tells the story from the point of view of one of the boat’s shipmates. Enjoy! […]

  2. […] in my own defense I called her that without really knowing what a sea hag was.  Luckily I found this blog about New Haven folklore and now I see the error of my ways.  My humblest apologies, Anners […]

  3. paul Says:

    I love this story. My nickname has been seahagg for quite some time now (my friends are funny) but I never knew about the folklore. I thought a sea hag was some kind of oceanic bird. Thanks to you, now I know. I kinda like my nickname.

  4. Autumn Lawrence Says:

    I really want to learn more about the sea hag legends but I can’t find any websites I’ve read all your stories they are all really good but I desire to know more I’m so fascinated by it all someone help me perhaps

  5. there was a story about the hag who would sit on the chests of sleeping sailors immobilizing them and suffocating them. the sailors would stab at her but as she wasn’t real they would stab them selves. so the practice of putting a board on their chests before sleep to prevent stabbing came about. not too sure if this is bs or not, but it’s out there

  6. […] the help of a marketing agency, as the center of a campaign that included a fake Wikipedia page, a blog—hosting, among other items, a handwritten, historical-looking eyewitness account—and advice […]

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