One only has to do an internet search for “Philip Babb” + “Isles of Shoals” to discover a number of myths and stories about Philip Babb “the fishing master”, Philip Babb “the constable”, Philip Babb “the butcher”, Philip Babb “the ghost”–not to mention Philip Babb’s purported hidden treasure.
There are equally as many theories as to the true identity of the immigrant Philip Babb who spent nearly twenty years of his life centered around the Isles of Shoals.
Family historians have found reports that a Philip Babb, son of Philip and Mary Babb, was baptized April 6, 1634, at St Dunstan, Stepney in London.
Docklands and East End vital records show the occupation of the father of this Philip Babb as “mariner”.
The family’s address was High Street in the Limehouse area. Limehouse gets its name from the lime kilns for the large potteries along the River Thames that date from as early as the 14th century. Limehouse became a major port and housed warehouses significant to the maritime industry.
It is easy to see why Philip Babb would have settled with his family in London’s East End.
The major problem with Philip Babb the immigrant being one and the same as the one baptized in 1634 is that records show that the same child was buried November 15, 1640, at St Dunstan’s. There is no mistaking this as the record gives both the baptismal and burial dates for this child.
This was the second child born to Philip and Mary who had a brief life. Their son John was baptized August 27th and buried September 4th in 1630 at St Dunstan’s. A third child, Mary, was baptized March 21, 1637. Nothing more is found of her. It is possible that none of Philip and Mary’s children survived childhood.
It is often reported that a Philip Babb and Marie Plumtree/Plumtry married November 19, 1629, at St Saviour in Plymouth, Devon. There is no doubt that Philip Babb the mariner could have found his way to the Docklands of London to make his living and support his family.
There was also a Philip Babb who was buried May 21, 1608, in Jacobstowe, Devon. It is not impossible that this was the father of immigrant Philip Babb. In fact, the actual name Philip Babb is found infrequently in records while there are pages upon pages of other Babb names to be found. The Devonshire connection cannot be overlooked. Additionally, if the Philip Babb who was buried in 1608 was father to the immigrant Philip Babb, this gives an approximate birth time for him, before 1608, that is. As we do not have any further information about the Philip who died in 1608 this is pure speculation but no wilder a theory than many others.
An alternative theory is that the immigrant Philip Babb, mariner, left London for several possible reasons. He was a mariner by trade. He could have agreed to sign onto a voyage to just about anywhere imaginable as merchant ships plied their trade globally.
The extra “spice” in this theory comes from another London vital record, the marriage of “Widowed” Mary Babb on July 9, 1642, to Alexander Leake. Mary still resided in the Docklands. Alexander was a laborer at Wapping Wall in London.
Like Limehouse, Wapping Wall is located in the East End. The area runs parallel to the River Thames in the warehouse and wharves district.
How this came about is open to speculation. Did Philip Babb simply leave and never return? Was he reported drowned or otherwise lost at sea? Had he decided to make his luck in New England with the intention of bringing his wife there at a later date?
These possible explanations bear up in light of the fact nothing more is found of Philip Babb in England. And we do know that his “Widowed” wife, Mary Babb, married again.
The gap in time between the burial of their son Philip and Mary’s remarriage is brief, indicating that she had received word that her husband was gone and that it was time to move on.
Of course, there is another possibility: Mary Babb had already made acquaintance with Alexander Leake, possibly during one of Philip’s absences at sea, and that was the reason that Philip Babb departed London, never to return. There is no record or report of his demise. He could have been at sea any number of years before making his way to the Isles of Shoals.
What is sure is that he was not a young man when he made his home on Hog Island. Indeed, a fisherman’s life in those days, especially in the Isles, was not an easy one, particularly harsh during the winter months.
However, Philip Babb was dead by March 1671, less than twenty years after he appeared there in 1652.
If this theory holds up, then Philip Babb married second Mary Baylie and had a second family to which he left an estate valued in excess of £320 pounds. The inventory included cattle, a warehouse with rooms attached, moorings, and at least one house, in addition to household goods, furniture, an old boat, salt, a valuable commodity to the fishing industry, plus fish and oil. The mention of extra rooms suggests to some that Philip Babb ran a tavern on the island. Not a bad legacy at all to show for less than twenty years of hard work.