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October-ganza Day 20: New England’s Islands, part 1

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October 20, 2015 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)

I have (slowly) been developing Namacknowatt Island, a small addition to Lovecraft County I came up with a couple years ago while working on an as-of-yet unpublished scenario with the late Keith Herber.  As part of that mostly-on-the-backburner-project, I have done a far piece of research on New England’s actual islands.  Presented today and tomorrow are some general notes about the largest and most notable ones; I am leaving aside the islands of Boston Harbor as I have talked of them in previous October-ganza postings.

Plum Island (MA)

Out the window I could see the blue water and the sandy line of Plum Island, and we presently drew very near the beach as our narrow road veered off from the main highway to Rowley and Ipswich.

Situated in the northeast corner of Massachusetts, Plum Island is an 11 mile long barrier island and popular summer tourist attraction.  Jurisdiction on the island is divided between four towns and much of it is taken up by state and privately held wildlife refuges.  The island was most likely named for the beach plum (prunus maritima) copses that dot the island’s sandy shores.  The island is also said to be the home of the ghost of ‘Harry Main’ a pirate and smuggler whose remains were gibbeted on the nearby Ipswich Bar, a semi-submerged reef between Ipswich and Plum Island.

(Not to be confused with Plum Island in Long Island sound, home to an infectious disease research lab.)

Block island (RI)

This 10 square mile island south of Narragansett Bay was called Manisses (“island of small spirits”) by the Niantic people who lived here.  The English called it Block Island after a Dutch explorer to charted it in 1614.  It was incorporated forcibly into the Massachsuetts Bay colony in 1637 during the Pequot War; a punitive raid was dispatched to kill every islander they could find in retaliation for the killings of several English merchants and sailors though it would seem that Natives on Block Island were not involved.  Massachusetts sold the island to a group of settlers in 1663; it was incorporated into Rhode Island as the village of New Shoreham in 1672.  Perhaps due to its isolation, the Block Island’s people had a reputation for insularity, inbreeding, and of being ‘wreckers’, i.e. they lured ships near to the shore to cause them to founder and then plundered their cargoes.

The most notorious of Block Island’s many shipwrecks is the Princess Augusta, whose 1738 sinking was immortalized by John Greenleaf Whittier his his poem “The Wreck of the Palatine“.   Classic Era Call of Cthulhu Keepers should note that the S-51, a US Navy submarine, sank off Block Island in September of 1925 after being accidentally struck by a steam ship

The Isle of Shoals (NH/ME)

This collection of low-lying islands, treeless and storm-battered, was used as a seasonal fishing place both by the Native peoples and later by the English.  A permanent settlement, Appledore, was established here on what was then Hog Island in 1661; Gosport was established on Star Island in 1715.  Some authors suggest the island and its inhabitants had a dark reputation, pirates who raided passing ships and making a the islands a haven for pirates.  The islands were mostly abandoned during the Revolutionary War due to the threat of the British Navy and were only gradually resettled, with a summer tourist population increasing after a hotel was built in the mid 19th century.  An artist colony of sorts developed with writers and painters using the place for inspiration and increasing its fame.

Still, they weren’t for everyone:

Upon landing and looking about him in silent wonder, one is more and more impressed with the idea that the sea has bared these imperishable rocks by its subsidence, and that he is standing on the summit of a submerged mountain, emerging from the ocean like one risen from the dead.
Samuel Drake

At least one Lovecraft scholar has proposed that the Isle of Shoals provided some inspiration for Devil Reef in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”.

We have several accounts of ghost haunting these islands.  Captain Kidd is said to have buried a fortune here on Appledore Island and left one of his men to eternally guard it.  The ghost is said to have “a dimly luminous and unearthly appearance, like that of a glowworm… having a pale face and very dreadful to look upon”.  Another spirit, possibly the ghost of Philip Babb (an early settler), is said to walk the shingle beach at a cover bearing his name, a phosphorescent shade in a butcher’s smock and brandishing a sharp knife at any unlucky enough to witness his spirit.

Tomorrow: Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and maybe more

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