From the October 14, 1920 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

The coast of New England has many legends concerning spectre ships firmly believed by the rugged fishermen, who assert stoutly that on various occasions glimpses of the shadowy craft have been seen, followed invariable by disaster. The spectre of the Palentine is occasionally seen on the Sound, and is the forerunner of a gale. She was a Dutch trading vessel and was wrecked off Block Island in 1752. The wreckers, it is said, made short work of her, stripping her fore and aft and setting fire to the hull.

As she drifted blazing off the coast a human form was visible amid the flames, the form of a woman passenger, left to perish on the doomed craft. Since, and generally upon the anniversary of the wreck, a phantom ship with blazing hull, charred spars and scorched sail and rigging has been cruising off Block Island.

Whittier recorded the legend in graceful verse, as well as that of a ghostly cruiser that sailed from a New England port on her last voyage, which he termed “The Dead Ship of Salem.”

In the seventeenth century a ship was about to sail from Salem to England. Her cargo was on board, sails bent and passengers on deck when two strangers came hurriedly on board and engaged passage. The couple were a young man and a young woman, who, tradition records, were remarkable for their bearing and beauty.

Who they were or whence they came no one in Salem Town could tell. The ship being detained by adverse winds, the mysterious couple excited the suspicions of the townspeople, who viewed them as uncanny and prophesied disaster to the vessel if they were allowed to sail on her. But the master, a gruff and stern sailor, refused to listen, and finally departed on Friday.

The vessel never reached her destination and was never spoken, but later in the year incoming vessels reported sighting a craft with luminous rigging and sails and shining hull and spars. She was sailing with all canvas set against the wind, with a crew of dead men standing in the shrouds and leaning over the rail, while on the quarter deck stood a young and beautiful couple.

This famous spectre of the sea is said to appear only in the calm preceding a great storm, with every stitch of canvas drawing and her decks swarming with men, all running to and fro as if in a panic. Ahead of her the water is like glass; behind her the gale comes tearing along, beating the sea into froth and driving her straight on through everything in her way. She is an ancient model, full rigged and gray all over - hull, upper works, sails and spars- as if formed of fog. Gray, too, is her ghastly crew.

The Battle of Tarpaulin Cove was fought in 1689. Those who have sailed through the Sound on a pleasant day and seen Tarpaulin Cove Lighthouse glistening white in the sun, and the green trees of Naushon growing to the water’s edge - picture of quiet and safety - may be interested in the adventure of Pirate Thomas Pound. His robber craft held up ships in the very harbor of Holmes Hole, and it fought to the end when Capt. Samuel Pease came in upon him at Tarpaulin Cove.

Tom Pound, pirate, as it proved, had by two days outstayed his safety.

Down the harbor sailed the sloop Mary with a crew of twenty men. The vessel was under the valiant Captain Samuel Pease. He was instructed at all costs to get the pirates but “to prevent ye sheding of blood as much as may bee.”

With a stiff su’easter blowing the guardians of law and order sailed right in upon the sloop that bore a red flag at the top of its main mast.. Shots were fired and the outlaws were bidden strike to the King of England. Then Capt. Pound “standing on the quarterdeck with his naked sword in his hand flourishing, said, come aboard you doggs, and I will strike you presently or words to that purpose.” The pirate chief’s men stood by during this dauntless speech, and when it was finished let fly a spirited volley. The Mary got quickly to leeward and the firing continued on both sides as fast as it was possible to load and deliver until, “after a little space we saw Pounds was shot and gone off the deck.” An offer of good quarter was then made to the pirates in vain, they utterly refusing to have it, saying, “ai wyee dogs we will give you quarter.”

Thereupon desperately, “we still continued to fight, having two of our men more wounded, at last our Captn. was much wunded, so that he went off the deck. The Lieut. quickly after ordered us to get all ready to board them which was readily done, wee layd them on bord presently, and at our entrance we found such of them that were not wounded very resolute, but discharging our guns at them, we forthwith went to club it with them down with the but end of our muskets at last we quelled them, killing four, and wounding twelve, two remaining pretty well.”

Thus ended the battle of Tarpaulin Cove, as memorable in its way as the Chesapeake and Shannon affair.

Compiled by Hilary Wall