Ghost Ship of Block Island

Several ghost ships are said to haunt the U.S. East Coast, among which is the Palatine, whose appearance in Block Island is regarded by local fishermen as an infallible portent of a terrible storm. According to local legend this ghost ship can be seen on every anniversary of this event, drifting away from the shore in flames. In 1738, the Palatine was carrying emigrants to New England, but conditions on board were terrible: the captain and the crew were frequently drunk, many of them terrorizing and robbing the passengers. It is often thought that the ship was the Princess Augusta, bound for Philadelphia with passengers from the states of Germany known historically as the Palatinates. The would-be immigrants could have intended to join the German-speaking Pennsylvania Deutsch who came to be known as Pennsylvania Dutch, a confusion that wound its way into explanations of the legend and had the passengers of the Palatine sailing from Holland.

It is believed some of the travelers died during the voyage; some reached their destination, when their ship was floated or by other means; others passed away and were buried near the house of Simon Ray on the West Side. There are two versions of what happened to the passengers. One is that the islanders nursed them back to health. The crew deliberately grounded the ship to hide their mistreatment of the immigrants and to hide their plundering. The other legend is that the islanders lured the ship to run aground to salvage what they could. In some versions, they set the ship on fire to conceal what they did.

A history book records that some of the locals lured ships ashore to plunder them during the new moon. The islanders of Block Island had experienced a bad season of farming, they were starving. Word had come that the Palatine would be traveling near, the villagers developed a plan to run aground and loot the vessel. As the Palatine approached Block Island the islanders ignited false signal lights. The Palatine ran ashore on rocky surf, the ship was bashed back and forth on the rocks. The islanders continued to launch signal lights which fell onto the ship and set it ablaze. The cold winter night was filled with screams, many passengers of the Palatine jumped to their deaths in the rocky surf rather than be consumed by flames. The Palatine finally broke apart and the islanders scavenged what they could, only to find the food on board rotten and spoiled. Along with the provisions that washed ashore were corpses, some islanders were horrified to find their relatives who had purchased boarding on the Palatine.

There were few survivors of the Palatine's demise. Among them, however, was Dutch Kattern who claimed she was a witch. She is said to have put a curse on Block Island and that the islanders would suffer the sight of Palatine in flames off it's shore, rather than the idyllic view of the ocean. It seems her curse has remained through the years. Many islanders now see a bizarre light off the shore of Sandy Point. It resembles a ship on fire, slowly sailing off shore, called the Palatine Fire.

Others have said that closer to the anniversary of the tragedy that the sounds and sight of the Palatine are much closer to shore. Their grave remains, on private property, today marked by a single granite monument into which the words "Palatine Graves - 1738" are cut.

Sources :
Seafaring, Lore & Legend by Peter D. Jeans;;;

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