Cannibals in Maine

The Nottingham Galley may have looked something like this

Saturday, the 11th of December, 2010 marks the 300th anniversary of the first known cannibals in the State of Maine. These primitives came from (pick one):

  1. Equatorial Africa
  2. New Guinea
  3. The Amazon rain forest
  4. England

The answer is, of course, “4”. How did we end up with human flesh-eating deviants from the mother country? Easy. Just wreck a 18th century sailing ship on a 5 acre lifeless rock in December, 1710. The rock was and is Boon Island, just 6 miles off York, Maine.

Courtesy of the collection of Jeremy D'Entremont

The next necessary ingredient for this fleshfest is extreme hunger. When the Nottingham Galley, having taken on dairy products in Ireland and bound for Boston, struck the reef off Boon Island, all 14 crew members made it ashore in the winter storm. Wet and cold, they made a shelter from sailcloth. The next day they found themselves on an island without the possibility of food or an easy swim to the mainland. When the cook died a day later, they set the body adrift, but when the carpenter died after two weeks, they ate him. Without fire, they wrapped the sliced carpenter in seaweed and ate him raw. English sushi.

At least two attempts were made to construct a vessel and sail to shore. The first failed and the two men were lost. The second broke apart soon after launch, but the men made it back to their dismal rock. One of these craft however, resulted in enough wreckage (and a corpse) to alert shore-dwellers that a rescue was needed. They knew where to look: Boon Island had been the site of many shipwrecks for many years. On the 24th day a rescue party arrived and the remaining 10 men were taken to Portsmouth, NH to recover.

In the aftermath, locals began to stock the rock with a cache of provisions to aid the unlucky visitor. Later still in 1799, a wooden beacon was erected but only lasted five years. In 1811 a stone beacon was erected, destroyed and rebuilt in 1831. Finally in 1854–1855 the tallest lighthouse in New England was built — 133 feet of massive granite blocks at a cost of $25,000. This lighthouse still exists and is in the above photo, but the lighthouse keeper’s house was swept away in 1978. Today the beacon is automated and powered by photovoltaics.

The Nottingham Galley’s Captain John Deane wrote a best-seller about his ordeal, as did his first mate Christopher Langman. The two accounts were very different, both accusing the other of lying, conniving and eating the most carpenter. Others have written books too. Our woeful tale is included in Great Shipwrecks of the Maine Coast by Jeremy D’Entremont. Kenneth Roberts wrote about it in Boon Island, a novel written in 1956, as did Edward Rowe Snow in Great Storms and Famous Shipwrecks of the New England Coast. For the 300th anniversary there are many articles appearing, such as the December issue of Down East Magazine and the November 29 issue of the Nashua Telegraph.

So for Saturday the 11th of December, eat something wrapped in seaweed and remember the Boon Island cannibals.

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Comments on Cannibals in Maine


Tom @ 10:32 pm

I’ve had Roberts’s Boon Island sitting on my bookshelf for years without reading it. This is what it’s about? Who knew!

Bruce @ 10:54 pm

You’ll have to write another post and tell me all the details I missed! Loved the cider story.


rachat credit @ 12:22 am

really an eye opener for me.

– Robson