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The Party From Gibbet Island


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

Ellis Island, in New York harbor, once bore the name of Gibbet Island,
because pirates and mutineers were hanged there in chains. During the
times when it was devoted to this fell purpose there stood in Communipaw
the Wild Goose tavern, where Dutch burghers resorted, to smoke, drink
Hollands, and grow fat, wise, and sleepy in each others' company. The
plague of this inn was Yan Yost Vanderscamp, a nephew of the landlord,
who frequently alarmed the patrons of the house by putting powder into
their pipes and attaching briers beneath their horses' tails, and who
naturally turned pirate when he became older, taking with him to sea his
boon companion, an ill-disposed, ill-favored blackamoor named Pluto, who
had been employed about the tavern. When the landlord died, Vanderscamp
possessed himself of this property, fitted it up with plunder, and at
intervals he had his gang ashore,--such a crew of singing, swearing,
drinking, gaming devils as Communipaw had never seen the like of; yet the
residents could not summon activity enough to stop the goings-on that
made the Wild Goose a disgrace to their village. The British authorities,
however, caught three of the swashbucklers and strung them up on Gibbet
Island, and things that went on badly in Communipaw after that went on
with quiet and secrecy.

The pirate and his henchmen were returning to the tavern one night, after
a visit to a rakish-looking vessel in the offing, when a squall broke in
such force as to give their skiff a leeway to the place of executions. As
they rounded that lonely reef a creaking noise overhead caused
Vanderscamp to look up, and he could not repress a shudder as he saw the
bodies of his three messmates, their rags fluttering and their chains
grinding in the wind.

Don't you want to see your friends? sneered Pluto. You, who are never
afraid of living men, what do you fear from the dead?

Nothing, answered the pirate. Then, lugging forth his bottle, he took a
long pull at it, and holding it toward the dead felons, he shouted,
Here's fair weather to you, my lads in the wind, and if you should be
walking the rounds to-night, come in to supper.

A clatter of bones and a creak of chains sounded like a laugh. It was
midnight when the boat pulled in at Communipaw, and as the storm
continued Vanderscamp, drenched to the skin, made quick time to the Wild
Goose. As he entered, a sound of revelry overhead smote his ear, and,
being no less astonished than in need of cordials, he hastened up-stairs
and flung open the door. A table stood there, furnished with jugs and
pipes and cans, and by light of candles that burned as blue as brimstone
could be seen the three gallows-birds from Gibbet Island, with halters on
their necks, clinking their tankards together and trolling forth a

Starting back with affright as the corpses hailed him with lifted arms
and turned their fishy eyes on him, Vanderscamp slipped at the door and
fell headlong to the bottom of the stairs. Next morning he was found
there by the neighbors, dead to a certainty, and was put away in the
Dutch churchyard at Bergen on the Sunday following. As the house was
rifled and deserted by its occupants, it was hinted that the negro had
betrayed his master to his fellow-buccaneers, and that he, Pluto, was no
other than the devil in disguise. But he was not, for his skiff was seen
floating bottom up in the bay soon after, and his drowned body lodged
among the rocks at the foot of the pirates' gallows.

For a long time afterwards the island was regarded as a place that
required purging with bell, book, and candle, for shadows were reported
there and faint lights that shot into the air, and to this day, with the
great immigrant station on it and crowds going and coming all the time,
the Battery boatmen prefer not to row around it at night, for they are
likely to see the shades of the soldier and his mistress who were drowned
off the place one windy night, when the girl was aiding the fellow to
escape confinement in the guard-house, to say nothing of Vanderscamp and
his felons.

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