13 Days of Halloween Tales of Terror: Ghosts of Damariscove
Damariscove Island is a ghost island. It is an uninhabited place, two hundred nine acres covered mostly in tall grass, raspberries, blackberries, and beach roses with a rectangular freshwater pond, huge in comparison to Damariscove’s overall size. The old Coast Guard Station and a few buildings including an island museum remain. Since 2005 it has been owned and managed by the Boothbay Region Land Trust and functions as a bird sanctuary during the summer months. It’s accessible to boaters, but not during the summer nesting season. Not just a ghost island, Damariscove is also a place that is haunted.
The abandoned island hosted one of the first European settlements in North America. Damerill’s Cove, as the island was known at the time, was well-positioned for fishing, and it contained a protected harbor. It became an early rendezvous for English, French, and Dutch ships crossing the Atlantic and a year-round fishing outpost predating Plymouth Plantation by a few years. It eventually grew into a fishing village where men drank, gambled, and fought in makeshift taverns and brothels. When the Pilgrims were starving in 1622, they sent a boat to Damariscove and received a shipment of cod that saved the colony from extinction.
Before this time, Damariscove was known by the Abanaki as Aquahega, which translates to “Place of Landing.” Native people lived on the island seasonally, fishing from open canoes. It was certainly occupied before European arrival as evidenced by the artifacts found by early farmers. Later, during the Indian Wars, it also proved a safe haven from Native American attacks. In 1675 the Native Americans staged widespread attacks on white settlements all along the Maine coast. Over 200 settlers fled their burning homes, took to their boats, and sought safety on Damariscove Island, six miles at sea.
Folklore claims that Captain Kidd is supposed to have sunk a cable across the island’s harbor mouth and then buried treasure on its shores. The ringbolts used to hold this chain still protrude from the rocks at either side of the harbor entrance. Another notorious pirate named Dixy Bull is said to have buried treasure in the bottomless pond on Damariscove. The pond is said to be bottomless in a mystical sense because the body of freshwater functions as some kind of portal where the island’s ghosts are concentrated.
Damariscove is home to three ghosts – a headless man and his dog and a woman in white. Captain Richard Patishall was Paul Revere’s great-grandfather and island owner. During the Indian Wars on the evening of August 2, 1689, Captain Patishall was sleeping below deck on his sloop anchored off the island. In absolute silence, Native American warriors canoed up to his ship and crept aboard. They seized the sleeping captain, and what happened next has been recorded in colonial histories of the time. Patishall was beheaded, and his corpse tossed into the ocean – a Native American tribute to a brave enemy. His faithful dog followed him by leaping overboard. Both bodies were later washed up on the shores of Damariscove Island where the two had long lived together.
Legend has it that the headless Patishall and his dog can be seen today wandering the island shores on moonlit nights. Fresh blood gushes from the stump of his neck, but his skin looks silvery white like a corpse that has long been out to sea. The headless man and his dog were seen by the work crew building the first Coast Guard Station on Damariscove in 1897. The next morning the entire work crew hurriedly left the island. Months passed before other men could be persuaded to go back. Later a highly respected fisherman, Captain Chase, saw the headless man and his dog. Chase refused to set foot on Damariscove again. Even today, it’s a common occurrence to hear a dog barking on the island. What makes this remarkable is the fact that dogs are strictly forbidden on Damariscove due to the island’s sensitive bird-nesting habitat. The barking comes from the captain’s faithful companion who washed up dead on Damariscove centuries ago.
The most witnessed ghost on Damariscove is the terrifying apparition of a woman in white. In the 1800s residents on the island reported that the spirit sometimes stalked Damariscove with flowing hair and a knife plunged into her chest. When the Coast Guard Station was in operation on this part of the island, an encounter with the lady in white was commonplace, especially for personnel walking from the station to the tower at night. These encounters were never something to be taken lightly. One worker was so traumatized by what he saw that he had to leave the island in a state described as “distraught.” There was a rash of sightings in the 1920s and 1930s, and repeated appearances were reported afterward by members of the Coast Guard up to 1959 when one of the last members of the Coast Guard stationed here called Damariscove “the spookiest place.”
Some people have even seen the ghost standing in the shallows of the pond, illuminated by the moonlight. She will try to lure a person in, smiling and motioning to come join her in the water. At other times, when a nor’easter is hammering the island, the ghost materializes only as a banshee wail, the scream of a young woman being stabbed to death. While the identity of the lady in white is unknown, she is so old she was already infamous in the 1800s.
For more ghost stories, I highly recommend Marcus LiBrizzi’s book Haunted Islands in the Gulf of Maine (DownEast Books, 2017) used as a source for this article.
Do you have a spooky story? Maybe you grew up in a haunted house or saw a UFO? Perhaps you’ve encountered a Bigfoot on a lonely trail? If so, please contact me at email@example.com - I’d love to hear your story. And if you enjoy mysterious stories like the ones featured in the 13 Days of Halloween Tales of Terror, look for our Mysterious Harbor Electric Bike and Walking Tours starting in Spring 2024.