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The Palatine Light

The Palatine Light is a legendary ghost ship that was said to appear off Block Island (Rhode Island) in New England. When witnessed the ship was seen to burst into flames and sink into the ocean, and was the harbinger of bad weather.

There are many different stories to account for the legend of the Palatine Light and these have been embellished and changed over the years with every re-telling, however there is evidence that strange lights have been witnessed in the area and the legend has been used as an explanation for these sightings.

In one version of the legend a Dutch ship carrying immigrants to Philadelphia encountered bad weather and the ships crew mutinied, robbing the passengers and leaving the ship to run aground off Block Island (near Rhode Island) where it was plundered by wreckers. They set the ship on fire and the tide carried the ship back out to sea - however one of the passengers remained on board and her screams could be heard as the flaming ship sank beneath the waves.

In another version popularised in a poem John Greenleaf Whittier in 1867, the ship was lured onto Block Island by wreckers, who plundered the ship and then set it alight. The year afterwards the ship appeared in a storm, returning to haunt the islanders for their part in the ships destruction. This account caused some controversy at the time and Samuel Livermore, in a book about the history of the island in 1877, included a new account of how the islanders helped passengers off a ship that had run aground. Many were sick and died, and one woman refused to leave the ship. This may account for part of the folklore describing a woman screaming as the ship sank.

Folklore has added many twists and turns to the story , however there is little evidence to suggest that a ship carrying immigrants sank in flames on or near the island. There is evidence that a British ship, the Princess Augusta, ran aground in Dec 27th 1738. The ship was carrying passengers from Germany (or the region that would become Germany) this would account for the story of foreign passengers, and that the ship was said to appear between Christmas and New Year.

The Palatine light is an example of how folklore develops over time and is worthy of more in-depth research, perhaps the real mystery being the real origin of the lights that have been witnessed in the area.

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