More Coastal Legends

Another chilling coastal story, which many Beaufort locals believe to be true, lives on Cape Lookout National Seashore. On a cold night in January 1886, a schooner named the Crissie Wright was making her way along the coast when bad weather approached. The captain knew about the approaching Diamond Shoals, so he decided to set a course for Cape Lookout Bight instead. As the ship drew near the harbor, the main mast brace parted, leaving the vessel drifting helplessly, until it finally collapsed onto the shoals and was pounded with incoming waves.

The sea was too dangerous for lifeboats, so the captain and crew took to the rigging. Many locals gathered on the banks to watch the ship's plight. The whalers tried repeatedly to launch their small boats, but were not successful. The would-be rescuers built a large bonfire on the beach, hoping the crew could spot it and swim to shore, but the sea was simply too rough. In the end, the captain and several crew members were swept overboard, while the horrified locals looked on.

Beaufort locals still use the expression "cold as the night the Crissie Wright came ashore," as homage to that chilly January night. When the waves subsided the following morning and whalers were finally able to get to the boat, they found four men huddled together in a sail: three had frozen to death, but one was still alive. Unfortunately, the lone survivor died just one year later, having never recovered from the awful events.

Ship stories can evoke legends and tales both on the coast and on the sounds and saltwater marshes that comprise the Inner Banks. In New Bern, legend has it that an outline of ships covered in flames can be spotted once a year in the summer along the Neuse River. The sight vanishes just as quickly as it appears, and this phenomenon is said to be the flaming ship of the Palatines.

The Palatines were a sect of German Protestants who left England in 1710 to settle New Bern. They were wary of the captain and his crew, so they hid all their gold and silver so it wouldn't be found. When the ship sailed within sight of the coast, the Palatines mistook the coastline for their new home and were so happy, they took all their treasures out of hiding and laid them onto the deck, ready to leave the ship.

They were smart to be suspicious. After seeing all the loot, the captain lied and said they could not head for land until the next morning. Disappointed, the Palatines put their treasure away and retired for the evening, eagerly awaiting the next day.

While they slept, the captain and his crew made their attack. They killed all of the Palatines and set the ship on fire as they took off towards the coastline, near New Bern, but did not quite make it to their destination. To the captain and crew's shock, the fire blazed higher and higher, but the boat would not sink, and many witnesses reported that the fire blazed well into the night until suddenly, the ship began to move, even though there wasn't a breath of wind.

The captain and crew panicked and abandoned their boat. By morning, the fire had stopped, with only a charred boat left, but the following night witnesses swear that the first started again. The captain and crew were never found, and as such, the ships appear every year on the anniversary of the Palantines' death, making their way towards New Bern.

Not all coastal stories revolve around mysterious shipwreck stories and the treacherous waters of the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, many of the coastal islands have their own local legendary figures, and on Harkers Island, that title goes to Decatur Gillikin, who, legend has it, was one of the strongest men on the island, if not in the world.

Stories about Gillikin swarm, as he is said to have been involved in many fights, never losing a single one. One such tale claims that he was recruited as a sailor aboard a British ship and it wasn't long before he was in a fight with the ship's strongest and most loved member of the crew. He won, of course, and this made the crew so angry that he had to fight them all. When the fight was over, Gillikin had won fights against 15 men.

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Terms: North Carolina Tales, North Carolina Folklore, NC Tales, NC Folklore, More Coastal Legends

Various Tales and Folklore of the North Carolina Coast: More Coastal Legends

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