In this article we will be looking at both versions of the Palatine ghost ship story. One hints towards neglect towards the passengers whilst the other involves an island full of greedy locals…
The ship in question was known by two names – The Palatine and the Princess Augusta.
It was on a voyage towards New England the day after Christmas of 1738 when disaster struck. The ship set sail with 340 passengers but many had died of sickness and disease – just 150 were left in good health.
When the ship was closing in to the New England shoreline it decided to gather itself and drop anchor and re-positioned. Without warning a strong windstorm started to blast the ship from the north-northwest.
As this terrible storm struck the sides of the boat the tide seemed to follow suit – things became extremely rough out there.
The ship began to crack and wheeze under the immense pressure so the crew decided to cut the mizzenmast.
At first this seemed to do the trick but out of nowhere a strong blizzard hit the ship. The captain’s vision was completely removed by this weather and he found it impossible to steer in any direction safely.
Unfortunately the ship ran ashore by the northern tip of Block Island.
The game was up and the captain had to let the remaining passengers abandon the ship and head for shore. When everyone was off the doomed Palatine, her ropes were cut and she was allowed to drift out to sea.
She did not reach that far – she crashed into a rocky outcrop and was ripped to shreds in the process.
The locals of the island felt sorry for the passengers as they firmly believed the ship’s crew had been up to no good. They thought the captain and his crew ran the ship into the island to cover up their neglect towards the passengers.
Another Version of Events…
The other version of this story tends to be a lot more sinister in nature. Many believe that the locals on Block Island were responsible for the tragedy of the Palatine.
They were thought to have stood out on shore in the bad weather holding lanterns to entice the Palatine in the wrong direction.
When the ship crashed the locals boarded and murdered the occupants and got away with all the ship’s valuable cargo.
Once they had fleeced the ship they set it on fire and let it drift out into the rocky outcrop to burn then sink.
The Palatine Ghost Ship
There were reports that one female passenger was somehow left on board the Palatine when it crashed into flames on the rocks.
Once a year the inhabitants of Block Island claim to witness the manifestation of the Palatine ghost ship slowly crashing into the deadly rock outcrop.
Reports also suggest that there is one lone figure on the deck of the ship staring back at the shoreline – a female.
A famous American poet named John Greenleaf Whittier penned a poem on the subject of the Palatine and we have decided to include a copy of it in this article…
Leagues north, as fly the gull and auk,
Point Judith watches with eye of hawk;
Leagues south, thy beacon flames, Montauk!
Lonely and wind-shorn, wood-forsaken,
With never a tree for Spring to waken,
For tryst of lovers or farewells taken,
Circled by waters that never freeze,
Beaten by billow and swept by breeze,
Lieth the island of Manisees,
Set at the mouth of the Sound to hold
The coast lights up on its turret old,
Yellow with moss and sea-fog mould.
Dreary the land when gust and sleet
At its doors and windows howl and beat,
And Winter laughs at its fires of peat!
But in summer time, when pool and pond,
Held in the laps of valleys fond,
Are blue as the glimpses of sea beyond;
When the hills are sweet with the brier-rose,
And, hid in the warm, soft dells, unclose
Flowers the mainland rarely knows;
When boats to their morning fishing go,
And, held to the wind and slanting low,
Whitening and darkening the small sails show,–
Then is that lonely island fair;
And the pale health-seeker findeth there
The wine of life in its pleasant air.
No greener valleys the sun invite,
On smoother beaches no sea-birds light,
No blue waves shatter to foam more white!
There, circling ever their narrow range,
Quaint tradition and legend strange
Live on unchallenged, and know no change.
Old wives spinning their webs of tow,
Or rocking weirdly to and fro
In and out of the peat’s dull glow,
And old men mending their nets of twine,
Talk together of dream and sign,
Talk of the lost ship Palatine,–
The ship that, a hundred years before,
Freighted deep with its goodly store,
In the gales of the equinox went ashore.
The eager islanders one by one
Counted the shots of her signal gun,
And heard the crash when she drove right on!
Into the teeth of death she sped
(May God forgive the hands that fed
The false lights over the rocky Head!)
O men and brothers! what sights were there!
White upturned faces, hands stretched in prayer!
Where waves had pity, could ye not spare?
Down swooped the wreckers, like birds of prey
Tearing the heart of the ship away,
And the dead had never a word to say.
And then, with ghastly shimmer and shine
Over the rocks and the seething brine,
They burned the wreck of the Palatine.
In their cruel hearts, as they homeward sped,
“The sea and the rocks are dumb,” they said
“There ‘ll be no reckoning with the dead.”
But the year went round, and when once more
Along their foam-white curves of shore
They heard the line-storm rave and roar,
Behold! again, with shimmer and shine,
Over the rocks and the seething brine,
The flaming wreck of the Palatine!
So, haply in fitter words than these,
Mending their nets on their patient knees
They tell the legend of Manisees.
Nor looks nor tones a doubt betray;
“It is known to us all,” they quietly say;
“We too have seen it in our day.”
Is there, then, no death for a word once spoken?
Was never a deed but left its token
Written on tables never broken?
Do the elements subtle reflections give?
Do pictures of all the ages live
On Nature’s infinite negative,
Which, half in sport, in malice half,
She shows at times, with shudder or laugh,
Phantom and shadow in photograph?
For still, on many a moonless night,
From Kingston Head and from Montauk light
The spectre kindles and burns in sight.
Now low and dim, now clear and higher,
Leaps up the terrible Ghost of Fire,
Then, slowly sinking, the flames expire.
And the wise Sound skippers, though skies be fine,
Reef their sails when they see the sign
Of the blazing wreck of the Palatine!
If you have any thoughts or opinions on the Palatine incident, please leave them in the comment section below.