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Block Island And The Palatine


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

Block Island, or Manisees, is an uplift of clayey moorland between
Montauk and Gay Head. It was for sailors an evil place and bad medicine
for Indians, for men who had been wrecked there had been likewise robbed
and ill treated--though the honest islanders of to-day deny it--while the
Indians had been driven from their birthright after hundreds of their
number had fallen in its defence. In the winter of 1750-51 the ship
Palatine set forth over the seas with thrifty Dutch merchants and
emigrants, bound for Philadelphia, with all their goods. A gale delayed
them and kept them beating to and fro on the icy seas, unable to reach
land. The captain died--it was thought that he was murdered--and the
sailors, a brutal set even for those days, threw off all discipline,
seized the stores and arms, and starved the passengers into giving up
their money.

When those died of hunger whose money had given out--for twenty guilders
were demanded for a cup of water and fifty rix dollars for a
biscuit--their bodies were flung into the sea, and when the crew had
secured all that excited their avarice they took to their boats, leaving
ship and passengers to their fate. It is consoling to know that the
sailors never reached a harbor. The unguided ship, in sight of land, yet
tossed at the mercy of every wind and tenanted by walking skeletons,
struck off Block Island one calm Sunday morning and the wreckers who
lived along the shore set out for her. Their first work was to rescue the
passengers; then they returned to strip everything from the hulk that the
crew had left; but after getting her in tow a gale sprang up, and seeing
that she was doomed to be blown off shore, where she might become a
dangerous obstruction or a derelict, they set her on fire. From the rocks
they watched her drift into misty darkness, but as the flames mounted to
the trucks a scream rang across the whitening sea: a maniac woman had
been left on board. The scream was often repeated, each time more
faintly, and the ship passed into the fog and vanished.

A twelvemonth later, on the same evening of the year, the islanders were
startled at the sight of a ship in the offing with flames lapping up her
sides and rigging, and smoke clouds rolling off before the wind. It
burned to the water's edge in sight of hundreds. In the winter following
it came again, and was seen, in fact, for years thereafter at regular
intervals, by those who would gladly have forgotten the sight of it (one
of the community, an Indian, fell into madness whenever he saw the
light), while those who listened caught the sound of a woman's voice
raised in agony above the roar of fire and water.

Substantially the same story is told of a point on the North Carolina
coast, save that in the latter case the passengers, who were from the
Bavarian Palatinate, were put to the knife before their goods were taken.
The captain and his crew filled their boats with treasure and pulled away
for land, first firing the ship and committing its ghastly freight to the
flames. The ship followed them almost to the beach, ere it fell to
pieces, as if it were an animate form, bent on vengeance. The pirates
landed, but none profited by the crime, all of them dying poor and

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