Halloween is only 3 days away and to celebrate we bring you the tale of a ghostly ship that reappears every year off the North Carolina coast.
“The Flaming Ship of Ocracoke”
Abridged from The Flaming Ship of Ocracoke and Other Tales of the Outer Banks
by Judge Charles Henry Whedbee
Some most unusual things continue to happen just off the northern shore of Ocracoke Inlet… but the Ocracoke Happening, they say, repeats itself year after year, always under the same conditions and always at the same spot. Many people have seen it time after time, and always on the night when the new moon makes its first appearance in September….
In the region itself, the most widely accepted explanation is… of the time when Anne was Queen of England and many efforts were being made to colonize the Carolinas….
In the beautiful Rhine River Valley in 1689, the retreating armies of Louis XIV had brutally scourged and laid waste the entire countryside, leaving everything destroyed and most of the people destitute. Some ten thousand Palatines, as they were called, flooded into England for refuge, and the authorities did not know what to do with them….
…Baron Christopher de Graffenried… proposed taking several hundred of these poor people to the Province of Carolina in the New World across the sea….
The mass migration… resulted in the settlement of a large portion of land in what is now eastern North Carolina….
Most people, though, do not know about a later shipload of Palatines whose financial status was much better but whose destiny was not to be so bright. While homeless, they were still possessed of a large amount of gold and silver plate, gold candlesticks, and many valuable coins and jewels, which they had managed to conceal from invading armies….
At that time, Ocracoke Inlet was the principal point of entry for ships with passengers or cargoes bound for the interior of North Carolina….
Thus it was with the ship carrying these later Palatines….
By the time it was fully daylight, all the Palatines were dressed in their best clothes and were assembled on the deck of the ship…. Not wanting to risk the theft of their valuables, they made the mistake of bringing these belongings up on deck with them. There they stood, their eyes full of hope and anticipation and their hands full of more treasure than the ship’s captain had ever seen in any one place in his entire lifetime.
Unknown to his passengers, the Captain had, at one time, been a pirate, but he had taken the “King’s Pardon,” promising to lead a law-abiding life. At the sight of the Palatines’ treasure, however, his new moral code promptly went by the board. Calling a hurried meeting with his officers and then an even briefer meeting with his crew, the skipper found them all of a like mind to his. This was too easy a chance to be missed.
So the plot was laid….
…The sun had set some hours before, and the new moon was low in the sky when the crew, led by the Captain and both mates, slipped up behind the few passengers still taking the air on deck and silently strangled them with short lengths of line. Then, silently and swiftly, they crept below, knives in hand, and cut the throats of every remaining passenger, children as well as adults. Not one was spared.
These brutal murders accomplished, the crew then brought lights into the hold and methodically ripped open all the sea bags and chests belonging to the murdered people, stealing all the gold, silver, jewels, and coins they had so much coveted on the deck of the ship that morning. Pirate-like, they divided their loot on the deck of the ship. Then, lowering the ship’s longboat into the sea, they prepared to go ashore. Just before they left the ship, they spread the vessel’s mainsail and jib and slipped the anchor chain so that the craft could run before the gentle southwest wind. As a final touch, the Captain set fire to the large pile of rifled sea bags and chests which had been heaped near the mainmast. This was to make more credible the tale of disaster they intended to tell when they reached the shore.
… The fire had spread more rapidly than he had anticipated…. Now, all the sails seemed to be set, and the ship was driving at full speed, not in a northeasterly direction but almost due west, right toward the crowded longboat.
The sails seemed to be solid sheets of flame, and from the hold of the burning ship came long, loud, pitiful wails, filling the dark sea with the mournful sound of souls in torment. The inferno ship bore down upon the frantically fleeing longboat until, with a crash of splintering timbers, it rolled the doomed little craft over and over under its keel, spilling the murderer-robbers into the sea. Most of them were drowned outright. Some, however, were able to cling to pieces of wreckage from the longboat until they were washed ashore many hours later. Amazingly, the burning death ship then came about and, with no living soul at her lashed helm, set a steady course toward the northeast again, her sails still aflame and the mournful wails still emanating from the hold.
To this day, they say, that flaming ship reappears on the first night of the new moon in September. Her sails are always sheets of flame and her rigging glows red-hot in the near darkness. Always there is the accompanying eerie wailing, as she sails swiftly and purposefully toward the northeast….
Check back for more terrifying legends in our Haunted Halloween Countdown or pick up one of the spooky books they come from.