The "Hermit of Crawford Notch" was 85 years old when he died on April 24, 1912 and his obituary appeared in the New York Times. He was known at all as English Jack; his real name was Jack Vials.
Not a whole lot is known about Jack. He lived in a ramshackle home that he built himself and called his "ship". It was close to the Crawford House and apparently there was a path to his house from the railroad tracks at the Gate of the Notch. Postcards show the track and a sign indicating that Jack lived there. He was well known to tourists who frequently visited. He entertained his visitors with stories of his seafaring days and he sold them some of his homemade beer. Some claim that he also entertained his visitors by eating frogs and other unusual creatures.
Perhaps, perhaps not.
It's assumed that Jack arrived in Crawford Notch to work on the Portland and Ogdensburg Rail Road, which was completed through the Notch in 1875. Apparently he decided to remain when the work was done.
Jack told his story to James E. Mitchell in 1891. Mitchell produced a small book of about thirty pages, simply titled "The Story of Jack". The book is written in verse and Jack recounts his youth, growing up very poor in London. (A link to this book is at the bottom of this page.) He became a sailor, was shipwrecked and was the lone survivor of the crew. He and a few shipmates landed on a desert island. The others died off and eventually Jack and two others were rescued but the two died before getting back to London.
By the time Jack returned to London, the girl he had planned to marry had died. He returned to sea, fought in the Crimean War, joined the British Navy, eventually winding up in New Hampshire. Or at least that's way Jack told his story.
Jack's Castle from the Collection of Adam Apt
However that may be, he was a fixture in Crawford Notch for many years. In 1895, when Joseph Stickney purchased the sawmill property opposite his Mt. Pleasant Hotel from J .E. Henry, Jack told officials of Stickney's company that he owned twenty of acres of land adjacent to the mill pond. Jack said that he would not object to Stickney's use of the land. Although there is no way, right now, of knowing whether Jack had a claim to a piece of the land, one of the hand drawn survey maps, dated about that time, shows a small building with the word "Jack" next to it.
Jack testified in a land dispute case between George Morey and the Barron Hotel Co. He gave a lengthy deposition but the refused to swear to it.
First Hand Memories of English Jack
Jack spent three of the last seven winters of his life with the Fahey family in Twin Mountain, which is part of the town of Carroll, NH. In Dec. 1974, Ben English, Jr. and his wife visited with Annie Fahey Harris, at her home and they took notes of her recollections about English Jack. Annie was about seven years old when Jack first wintered with her family.
Jack spent the winters of 1906 to 1912 with the Fahey and McGee families in Twin Mountain. Prior to these years, he lived year-round at the “house” he had built in Crawford Notch.
Annie said that Jack was always well dressed while he stayed with her family. However, before returning to his house, he would look for old clothes. If he could not find old clothes, he would cut holes in his shoes and clothes to make them look old. He would also rub his clothes in the dirt to add to the worn and tattered appearance. Annie remembered that Jack always had a “roll of bills” but she recalled wondering if it was really all his. When Jack sent Annie to the store for a newspaper, he’d give her a nickel and let her keep the change left from the 2 cent paper. He appeared to want impress his hosts. Once he opened a letter with a $100 bill and, although he could read well, he asked Annie to read the letter to him. As she read, it became apparent that Jack had sent the letter to himself, but wanted his friends to think that a wealthy friend had sent him the money.
Jack was generally good-natured, read a lot and talked with the family although he never talked about his past. He never walked to the store for the things he needed. Instead, he would have them sent. Jack often gave candy to the family members and Annie remembered that he once tried to give candy to her sick brother after her mother told him not to. Her father was annoyed and told Jack not to do that. Jack also told Annie that he sometimes mixed grass with oatmeal and ate it in front of visitors to his house.
Jack died in the winter of 1912 while staying with the McGee family.