Maine maritime history is as deep and filled with fish tales and folklore as any of the colonial states, just as sensational as Salem’s witches. Maine is home to horror story author Steven King, haunted houses on Summer Street in Kennebunk AND cannibalism!? Creepy stuff. Boon Island may be the most fascinating and graphic of our State’s seafaring scariness because it’s not just hearsay–it’s true! Dun dun DUN! Here’s the story that continues to invite intrigue and inspired the Travel Channel to visit the remote Boon Island to film the freak things that happened there back in 1710.
Boon Island is a barren 300×700′ shoal located just 6 miles from the shores of York in the Gulf of Maine. Boon Island Light, the tallest lighthouse in New England at 133′, stands on this small desolate island. By no means is this a secluded island paradise, especially when you hear the history.
In 1710, the ship Nottingham Galley ran aground here, while the crew had sight of land, they had no way to reach the shores six miles away. Legend goes that they resorted to cannibalism through the cold harsh winter before the few remaining were rescued. This was not Boon Island’s first shipwreck however, in 1682 a coastal trading vessel, the Increase, wrecked here and four survivors, three white men and one Indian, survived for a month, eating fish and bird eggs instead of each other. Their smoke signals were spotted by Indians on Mount Agamenticus, and eventually rescued. Lore has it their rescue was a “boon” from God – hence the name Boon Island, though Captain John Winthrop’s sea journal details passing Boon Island several years prior.
Come visit Boon Island in York and discover the story yourself!
As for the Boon Island Lighthouse, the first day marker was established in 1799, and later converted to a light station when the huge granite tower was built in 1811.
Lighthouse keepers at Boon Island rarely lasted long, leaving the desolate harsh environs, except for William W. Williams who stayed 27 years and lived past 90. That tower has been washed away by storms several times from harsh ocean weather, including most recently the blizzard of 1978. In 1980 the US Coast Guard installed solar power to Boon Light and it is now automated to flash every five seconds, so that no others will be shipwrecked on this perilous rock cropping. The most recent shipwreck was 1944, the Empire Knight, a 428′ British ship, ran aground at Boon Island. NH Author Celia Thaxter called Boon Island “the forlornest place that can be imagined.”
Boone Island Light is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as of 1988 and is on lease to the American Lighthouse Foundation by the USCG since 2000. The Travel Channel “Mystery of Boon Island” airs Friday June 27, 2014. We don’t suggest you eat ribs or liver while watching.
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