Maine Mysteries: Nottingham Galley crew's escape from Boon Island

The Nottingham Galley shipwreck of 1710

YORK, Maine (NEWS CENTER)-- York beach will be a popular place for visitors to have fun come this summer, but just off the shore lies the spot where one of Maine's most famous shipwrecks took place.

Deep in the archeology lab of the Maine State Museum lie three cannons, some old powder bags, and some inactive black powers- all that's left of Boon Island's most notorious shipwreck. 

On the stormy night of December 11th, 1710, while en-route to Boston, the British merchant vessel the Nottingham Galley smashed into Boon Island- a jumble of rocks two football fields long just off the coast of York. You can see the small island from the beach six miles away. That's how clearly the crew of the Nottingham Galley could see safety, but they couldn't reach it. With barely any supplies and no way to make a fire or signal land for help, the crew sat there, slowly starving to death... for 24 days.

"They can see boats going by, and they can see smoke going up from chimneys, but there's just nothing that they can do."

Author, Andrew Vietze literally, wrote the book on the shipwreck along with historian Stephen Erickson, simply called Boon Island.Vietze knows all too well the horrors that Captain John Deane and his crew faced. 

After nearly three weeks of huddling together for warmth in the freezing cold and living off scraps and seaweed, the crew dwindles from 14 men to 10. That's when hunger finally pushes them to do the unthinkable with one of their dead.

"The captain, he was a butcher in a previous life. So, they asked him 'captain, can you do what you used to do? Can you make meat out of this for us, it's the only way we're going to survive'...so he did," Vietze said.

Just days after the crew ate what used to be their carpenter, at least one of the mens' bodies washed ashore Wells Beach, prompting the mainlanders to sail out to Boon Island where they discovered the emaciated group of sailors. Later, the captain would blame the storm for the shipwreck, but the crew was eager to tell a different story- one of problems starting months before the disaster.
 
"The men did say they overheard the captain telling the investors aboard, 'yes I took out plenty of insurance. We should be fine,'" said Vietze.
 
The crew accuses Captain John Deane of deliberately sinking the ship in a last ditch attempt of insurance fraud. Vietze says, in the crew's account, the men say the captain's first attempt to lose the ship was shortly after they set sail from London-- Deane allegedly tried to put the ship in the path of enemy French privateers. 
 
"They're accusing him of trying to, what they said, 'betray the ship to the French.' To turn it over for money, for profit."
 
Thats when ship's first mate and crew overpowered the captain's authority and escaped.
But Vietze says later in the journey, John Deane regained control by force.... and the rest of the story unfolded. 
 
History has always sided with the captain's account of what happened to the Nottingham Galley. But as for the truth... only the waves know.

Copyright 2016 WCSH


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