August 1738, the Princess Augusta, a two hundred ton British ship, set off from Rotterdam, of the Palatinate region in Germany (from which it derived its contemporary name “the Palatine Ship”) to Pennsylvania. The Palatine was transporting a fourteen man crew and over two hundred immigrants to the United States, and its voyage seemed to be doomed from the start, with a contaminated water supply that caused “fever and flux”, killing many passengers and half the crew, including Captain George Long. Before it the ship could arrive in Pennsylvania, it wrecked on the shore of Block Island, RI, in December. As it ran aground in a snow storm, passengers leapt from the flaming boat into the rocky waters, rather than be burned alive, filling the cold night with screams heard across the island.
After the wreck, many locals of Block island claim that they see a burning ship sail past the island on the Saturday between Christmas and New Years. Others account that they saw a flickering blue triangle, that disappeared and then reappeared a short distance away. Some say that close to the anniversary of the wreck, they can hear sounds of the ship and its late passengers.
And so, the story of the Palatine has been forever immortalized by the inhabitants of Block Island and the words of poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who wrote a poem titled “The Palatine”.
“Behold! again, with shimmer and shine,
Over the rocks and the seething brine,
The flaming wreck of the Palatine!” – Excerpt from “The Palatine”, John Greenleaf Whittier