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Nix’s Mate

(This story appears in my book, Pirate Ghosts and Phantom Ships, by Schiffer Publishing. There are a lot of great legends and accounts to be found within.  Here is one of my favorites.) 

As the sun recaptures the sky glistening over Boston Harbor, a lonely monument stretches from the briny deep to greet it. Its intention is to warn mariners of the rocky reef it lay perched upon, yet many consider it a burial marker for those whose souls lie with the boulders, unseen beneath the pressing waves. It is the last vestige of an extinct isle where lay buried among its remains, the bones of many a corsair. These were freebooters of the high seas, whose fate was sealed by the hangman’s noose that hung portentously from a scaffold on the highest point of the rocky atoll. The misty spirits still pervade the quarter, and a curse rendered from the lips of an innocent man, remain as the only other testaments to the existence of Nix’s Mate. 

It is believed that the island of Nix’s Mate received its name from an incident in 1636 when Captain Nix set sail with his crew. Once at sea, the captain was ruthless and unsympathetic with his band. Woe to those who stood beyond his favor: for he would flog them on the deck, or chain them in the hold as a message to all of his absolute authority. At some point, the crew had taken enough abuse and mutinied while the ship was docked near the island in Boston Harbor. A harbor watch heard some dreadful cries from the vessel and rowed out to investigate. There, they found the captain viciously murdered in his bunk. During interrogations, the scallywag crew pointed the finger at the first mate. Their stories were close enough in detail to convict the naïve sailor and he was found guilty of murder on the high seas. Punishment for mutiny and murder was death by hanging, and so befell the fate of the first mate.  

Forever swearing his innocence, he was rowed out to the little island where the hangman awaited. As the rope was slipped around his neck he began to vehemently cry for true justice to be served upon the men that carried out the evil deed. The crowd that had gathered for the hanging was moved by his sincere convictions. They knew the scurvy brethren he was cohort with were guiltier than he. Still, the powers that ruled ordered the execution to prevail. Before he hung from the gallows he made his final plea, “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!” 

As his words trailed off into the void, so did the sound of the rope ringing taught, creaking to and fro from the scaffold. The Magistrate thought justice to be served but it was only beginning. Many more pirates would feel the wrath of the gallows on Nix’s Mate. It was customary in those days to suspend the executed from chains at the gibbet near the entrance of the city as a warning to those visiting. It was a town’s way of stating the intolerance of criminal discretion. Those who entered the Boston Harbor would pass by Nix’s Mate and get a glimpse of the destiny that befell many a freebooter as the hardened flesh fell from their long forgotten bones. Soon the bones of those left on the gibbet would crumble themselves and fall below to join the pile of others, who heeded not the grisly warning of ill will. The island literally became a graveyard of pirate remains. 

Slowly, the claws of white and water began to claim the boulders and bones. Though the hanging of pirates and rogues continued, it was evident that the isle was diminishing in size. At some point it was noticed that all but the hill where the gibbet stood had mysteriously succumbed to the sea. Old timers remembered the cursed words that permeated the air on that fateful day when Nix’s first mate went to the gallows. Before anyone could remember much more, the island vanished into the deep, and the curse was fulfilled. The curse and island of Nix’s Mate would seal the fate of men, innocent or guilty, never more. 

Now, only the cries of innocence and mercy pervade the air surrounding the monument where the small island once jutted from the sea. Are they the cries of pirates gone to the gallows, or the caws of a lonely gull? Row out to the marker and listen closely, or look into the deep where the bones of those who paid a dear price for their dealings lay, but do not rest in Davy Jones Locker along with both Nix’s Mates.