THE BOON ISLAND CANNIBALS OF MAINE
Updated: Apr 21
DATE(S) VISITED: JULY 3, 2020
LOCATION: YORK, ME
During the first leg of our yearly Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death trip, which was this year heading to Maine, we stopped by the windy shores of York at the Nubble Lighthouse. From here you can see the largest lighthouse in New England (137ft - 42m high) on the rocky barren Boon Island six miles off the coast. John Winthrop, the English Puritan lawyer and one of the leading figures in founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony mentions passing Boon Island in the 1600s.
Numerous vessels have been wrecked on it's rocky shoreline and it is said that the wrecking of the coastal trading vessel, Increase, in the summer of 1682 is believed to be how the island got its English name. Four survivors — three Europeans and one native American — subsisted on fish and gulls' eggs. After a month on the island, they built a fire to attract attention when they saw smoke rising from the summit of Mount Agamenticus in York, Maine. The people on Mount Agamenticus saw the smoke from the island and the castaways were soon rescued. Seeing their survival as a boon granted by God, the men are said to have dubbed it Boon Island.
But more famous (or should that be infamous) was the shipwreck on December 11, 1710, of the British merchant ship, Nottingham Galley, captained by John Deane. All fourteen crewmen aboard survived the initial wreck, however two died from their injuries – the cook, who died a few days after the initial wreck, and a carpenter, who died two weeks after. Another two would drown when they attempted to reach the mainland on an improvised raft, succumbing to a watery grave in these inhospitable conditions. The remaining ten crewmen managed to stay alive despite winter conditions with no food and no fire for twenty-four days, until finally rescued. What saved them you may ask? Well, they resorted to cannibalism, eating the carpenter after his death, which gave the incident a notoriety that it retains even today.
The story also features a conflict between the captain and members of his crew, primarily his first mate, Christopher Langman. Langman, backed by two of his crew mates, claimed that Deane turned the ship over to French privateers and then planned to wreck the ship for insurance money. When his crew learned of this, they mutinied and forced Deane to continue to Boston, which then resulted in its wreck on Boon Island. A vigorous public relations battle ensued in London the following summer between the captain and members of his unhappy crew, which also helped make the story famous in its day.