In Episode 121, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger sail out to Boon Island, Maine, in search of the legend of the Boon Island Cannibals. On December 10, 1710, the Nottingham Galley shipwrecked on the tiny island during a nor’easter, leaving all 14 crewmen stranded. As the men started to die, the survivors were left with an awful choice — a choice that’s haunted the island ever since. But was the ship’s captain a hero or villain?
Read the episode transcript.
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Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Additional Voice Talent: Jim Harold and Michael Legge.
Theme Music by: John Judd
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The Wreck of the Nottingham Galley on Boon Island, Maine, December 10, 1710.
*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.
[SFX OCEAN WAVES]
[SFX STOMACH GROWLING]
JEFF: What was that?!
RAY: Oh man, I think it was my stomach. I’m starving!
JEFF: Dude, I told you to eat before we left. There ain’t exactly a food court out here on Boon Island, Maine.
RAY: I’ll be okay. Let’s move up from the water’s edge a bit and get closer to the lighthouse up there.
RAY: Jeff, we really pick the strangest times to visit some of these places. December on a desolate rock more than six miles off the coast of York, Maine, isn’t exactly ideal, is it?
JEFF: Not when it comes to weather, but we’re out here right now because it is an anniversary of sorts, a gruesome anniversary that will forever haunt Boon Island.
RAY: What are we looking for?
JEFF: Ray, we’re on the hunt for the Boon Island Cannibals.
JEFF: Hi, I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to episode 121 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every single legend in New England. And a very special thanks to our Patreon patrons who are sponsoring this week’s episode. This is a grass-roots show, we have no big sponsors or networks, it’s just us working on the show each week. And our patrons make it happen. If you’d like to become a bigger supporter of the movement, head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends and for just $3 bucks per month you’ll get early access to new episodes plus bonus episodes that no one else gets to hear.
JEFF: We also appreciate when you post a review of our show on Apple Podcasts or iTunes, and when you tell a friend or two about us on social media. We’re building a network of legend seekers. Great things happen when you share these stories!
RAY: Okay Jeff, we’re looking for cannibals on Boon Island, Maine?!
JEFF: That’s right.
RAY: The eat-humans cannibals?!
JEFF: Those are the ones.
RAY: How did that happen on a remote, rocky island like this? Why would anyone come here in the first place? The entire island is only 700 feet by about 300 feet—basically the size of two football fields. New England poet Celia Thaxter once described this place as the quote “the forlornest place that can be imaged.”
JEFF: Yeah, it’s pretty bleak out here. Let’s head back to December of 1710 and figure out what happened.
[SFX SAILING ON THE OCEAN]
JEFF: Welcome aboard the British merchant ship, Nottingham Galley, Ray!
JEFF: Captain John Deane is in command, and according to some of his 13 sailors on board, he’s a brutal tyrant. Crewman Christopher Langman had this to say about his captain:
LANGMAN: We were very incapable to sail, because the captain, by his barbarous treatment of our men, had disabled several of ’em, and particularly two of our best sailors were so unmercifully beaten by him… that they were not able to work in a month.
RAY: Other crewmembers said Captain Deane would horde food and water for himself.
JEFF: It’s creating a lot of tension on the ship. But then Langman adds another wrinkle to the story.
LANGMAN: We perceived he would either lose the ship or betray her to the French, because she was insured for much above the value. The captain seemed to sail unnecessarily close to shore to tempt fate.
JEFF: So you’ve got a highly-insured ship carrying butter and cheese, a tyrant and reckless captain, and then you throw in an element New England is famous for.
RAY: Bad weather?
JEFF: A nor’easter.
[SFX WHIPPING WIND AND WAVES]
JEFF: On December 11th, the weather was more than the Nottingham Galley and her crew could take. Unable to find a port, and with almost no visibility in the storm, the ship wrecks on Boon Island.
[SFX CRUNCHING WOOD SOUND]
JEFF: All 14 crew members make it on to the island alive where they huddle up to wait out the storm.
RAY: Once Captain Deane and his crew are able to assess their situation, they see it’s not good. The ship is completely lost except for some splintered wood and wreckage washed up on the shore of Boon Island. They have a small supply of the cheese they carried in their cargo, but not much for 14 men, and two of the men are on death’s door. They’re hypothermic, and dying from exposure. There’s no way for the survivors to build a fire. The situation is bleak.
JEFF: When night falls on the second day, the men find some hope in the form of lights on the horizon. It’s the lights of homes on the mainland seven miles away, but with no fire to signal, the hope is a cruel tease, they might as well be on another planet.
RAY: By dawn, the crew of 14 is now down to 12. The ship’s carpenter has died, as well as the ship’s cook. The captain makes the difficult decision to push the cook’s body into the surf in the hopes that his body will wash up on shore on the mainland, and someone will come out to the island to investigate.
JEFF: As more days go by, there’s still no sign of any rescue, and the men are growing weak. The supply of cheese is now gone, the weather is still cold, and with no food, any chance of getting off the island is looking slim.
RAY: It’s a bad scene out here. Really bad. The 12 survivors huddle up and have the most difficult conversation of their lives. Captain Deane sums up the horror that will come next.
DEANE: We are now reduced to the most deplorable and melancholy circumstances imaginable . . . no fire, and the weather extreme cold, our small stock of cheese spent, and nothing to support our feeble bodies. Faced with starvation, with no hope of relief, we reached the last extremity . . . to eat the dead for support. After discussing the lawfulness and sinfulness of our situation, we are obliged to submit to our craving appetites.
JEFF: With the carpenter’s body nearby, the men see no other choice than to eat their shipmate in order to survive.
RAY: This is a nightmare scenario for me. I get the urge to survive is a powerful force. But to rip into the muscles and meat of a guy you know, and then eat him. I can’t imagine what that must feel like. Knowing you survived another day because you ate part of the carpenter’s body.
JEFF: Their cannibalistic means of survival is eating away at the sanity of the 12 survivors. As more days go by, and facing the fact that their only other food supply—the corpse of the ship’s carpenter—is also running out, two of the men gather what splintered wood they can, and build a makeshift raft.
[SFX OCEAN SURF]
JEFF: Facing frigid water temperatures, in a raft that is anything but seaworthy, two of the crew begin to paddle the seven miles toward shore. The ten other survivors including Captain Deane, can only look on as the men paddle out of sight. Their only hope is riding on the back of splintered wood, and malnourished and exhausted men.
RAY: For the two men paddling, the journey is NOT going well. Icy sea water washes over the raft with every swell of the waves. They paddle with broken wood and with their hands. They know not only do their lives depend on making it to shore, but also the lives of their shipmates back on Boon Island.
RAY: With each passing minute, the sailors grow more numb from the cold. Their hands are freezing up. They’re getting sleepy and delirious. Hypothermia is setting in, and the mainland is still far in the distance.
RAY: One man drops on the makeshift raft, and his body slips into the sea. There’s no point in trying to save him, because his crewmate is just as delirious. And soon, he too loses consciousness, and slips into the ocean.
JEFF: The ten survivors of the Nottingham Galley on Boon Island don’t know it yet, but their situation just got worse. When night falls with no sign of a ship coming to their rescue, the survivors assume the worse. The raft must have been lost. It’s late December, they’ve been stranded here for three weeks, and now it appears as though they’re going to die here.
RAY: The following morning, a frozen body washes up on shore in York, Maine. Soon, some locals also see the broken pieces of a makeshift raft out in the surf. They quickly make the connection, and set about rigging a boat. They push out to sea, out toward Boon Island.
JEFF: When the men on Boon Island see a ship approaching, they muster all of their remaining strength to wave their hands and scream toward the boat.
JEFF: Near death themselves, the ten survivors are helped onto the rescue boat that then takes them seven miles back to York, Maine.
RAY: Once on shore, the ten survivors are tended to by a local doctor. But Captain John Deane is in better shape than his men, so he rests at the private home of an acquaintance in town. Captain Deane is quick to lay out a timeline of events painting himself as a hero, who against all odds, saved most of his crew.
JEFF: But that doesn’t sit right with crewman Langman as well as some of the other men. They’re grateful to be alive, sure. And on the mend, but they view their captain as the man that got them into this problem. In Langman’s eyes, the blood of those four men are on the hands of Captain Deane.
RAY: And the blood of at least one of them is in his stomach.
JEFF: Ewww, but good point. Langman had this to say about their Boon Island meal plan.
LANGMAN: The captain’s pretensions of being moved with horror at the thought of it are false, for there was no man that ate more of the corpse than himself.
RAY: And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: Today you’ll notice there’s a lighthouse on the island.
RAY: That makes sense, these are still some tough seas.
JEFF: The first lighthouse was built from wood in 1799, but it lasted only five years. The highest point on this island is only 14 feet above sea level. Violent storms can easily crest that and push boulders across the island like billiard balls.
RAY: Stronger lighthouses were built in 1811, then another in 1831. But as the crew of the Nottingham Galley learned, Boon Island is no place for people. Lighthouse keepers came and went here, because this place is a horrible rock that holds some very dark memories. And, we should add, the Nottingham Galley was not the first, nor the last ship to wreck on this rock. But they were the only survivors to resort to cannibalism, and that haunts us.
JEFF: Would you do it, Ray? If you thought it was your only way to survive?
RAY: If I had no other way to survive? Yeah, I think I’d do anything to try and make it until rescue. How about you, Jeff?
JEFF: Yes, I would to. I imagine I’d go vegetarian after an ordeal like that, but the will to survive is powerful.
[SFX STOMACH GROWLING]
JEFF: Was that your stomach again?
RAY: Yeah. Yes it was.
JEFF: Why… are you looking at me like that, Ray?
RAY: Because I’m really hungry, Jeff!
JEFF: If you too are hungry for more great New England Legends content, check out the television series on PBS and Amazon Prime! We have a brand-new Creepy Christmas episode of New England Legends available on Amazon Prime right this minute, so go check that out and put a little fear into your year.
RAY: Also, we love when you Legendary Listeners reach out to us through our super-secret Facebook Group, on our Web site at ournewenglandlegends.com, or when you call or text our Legend Line anytime at 617-444-9683. You can also leave our show closing on there for us.
JEFF: We’d like to thank Jim Harold from the Paranormal Podcast and Michael Legge, both for lending their voice acting talents this week. And our theme music is by John Judd.
VOICEMAIL_121: Hi, this is Eliza Dhaka from Bristol, Rhode Island until next time remember the bizarre is closer than you think.
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