Wednesday, October 16, 2013


This Halloween Tale is one of my favorites because I've actually seen Nix's
Mate Island. Back when I was a kid I wan an avid reader of books  by author
Edward Rowe Snow. He wrote many books about New England history, folktales
and catastrophes. One of the books  was The Islands of Boston Harbor, which
included a section on Nix's Mate. Years later, when I was in high school, I took
a cruise of Boston Harbor for the staffs of high school newspapers which was
sponsored by the Quincy Patriot Ledger newspaper and was hosted by Mr.Snow
who was writing a weekly column for the paper. So I got to hear him retell the
story as the boat sailed by the very small island. I've never forgotten that trip,
and I have four of Snow's books among my book collection now as an adult,
including The Islands of Boston Harbor.

It should be noted that history tell us the reason the island has shrunk from
twelve acres down to one was that colonists mined the island for shale and
for rocks to use as ballast for ships.

But really, this story is so much spookier!


The black, pyramidal beacon, called Nix's Mate, is well known to yachtsmen, sailors, and excursionists in Boston harbor. It rises above a shoal,—all that is left of a fair, green island which long ago disappeared in the sea. In 1636 it had an extent of twelve acres, and on its highest point was a gallows where pirates were hanged in chains. One night cries were heard on board of a ship that lay at anchor a little way off shore, and when the watch put off, to see what might be amiss, the captain, named Nix, was found murdered in his bed. There was no direct evidence in the case, and no motive could be assigned for the deed, unless it was the expectancy of promotion on the part of the mate, in case of his commander's death. It was found, however, that this possibility gave significance to certain acts and sayings of that officer during the voyage, and on circumstantial evidence so slight as this he was convicted and sentenced to death. As he was led to execution he swore that he was not guilty, as he had done before, and from the scaffold he cried aloud, " God, show that I am innocent. Let this island sink and prove to these people that I have never stained my hands with human blood." Soon after the execution of his sentence it was noticed that the surf was going higher on the shore, that certain rocks were no longer uncovered at low tide, and in time the island wasted away. The colonists looked with awe on this manifestation and confessed that God had shown their wrong.

 Charles Montgomery Skinner Myths and Legends of Our Own Land: Vol. I (Google eBook) J.B. Lippincott, 1896 Philadelphia Pa pp308-309

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