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Horrific Boon Island Wreck Has Portsmouth Link


History’s mysteries

Was Captain Deane trying to commit insurance fraud? Did he have a secret deal with French privateers? Was his brother Jasper in on the scam? Or were the crewmen of the Nottingham Galley, perhaps, working some mutinous revenge of their own against the innocent captain? Were they driven mad with feasting on their dead companion? Inquiring minds still want to know.

“All history is interpretation,” Erickson says. “When you are dealing with something that happened 300 years ago, sources are scarce.”

“It became very clear to me,” says co-author Andrew Vietze, “working on the structure of this book, that it was just begging to be treated like a mystery novel. Open with a body, follow up with twists and turns and hints of menace, and then close with the big reveal. The story is one of history's great mysteries - you have the Captain saying one thing and the First Mate and two other crewmen saying something else entirely, and under oath.”

Equally mysterious is what will happen to the 137-foot lighthouse that now stands on Boon Island. Built in 1855, the tallest lighthouse in New England was not there when the Nottingham Galley crashed during a December nor’easter in 1710.  It may not be there long.

“The future of Boon Island Lighthouse is in limbo at the moment,” says historian and author Jeremy d’Entremont. “The light itself, still used for navigation, will continue to be maintained by the Coast Guard for the foreseeable future. The lighthouse tower, however, is up for transfer to a suitable new owner.”

“It's one of the most fascinating lighthouse locations in the country, but it has none of the advantages of tourist attractions like Portland Head Light and the Nubble Light,” d’Entremont adds. “Boon Island is simply a miserable little pile of rocks far out in the ocean.”

Victorian poet Celia Thaxter may have said it best from her vantage point on the Isles of Shoals 15 miles away. Boon Island, she once wrote, is “the forlornest place that can be imagined.”


Copyright © 2012 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s history column appears in the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday and exclusively online at his independent Web site He is the author of 11 books including UNDER THE ISLES OF SHOALS and AMERICA’S PRIVATEER. His signed collectible gift books are available on and in local stores.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018 
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