Cotton Mather related the tale of a doomed ship called “Noah’s Dove” which left Salem during the late 17th century for England.

The Spectre Ship of Salem
The Spectre Ship of Salem

Among the passengers were “a young man and a passing beautiful girl pale and sorrowful, whom no one knew and who held communion with no one.” Many people in Salem supposed them to be demons or spirits. When the ship’s flag was unfurled, a raven lighted on the hand of the town clock and by its weight pushed it forward ten minutes. Those who witnessed this sight were struck with fright but were unable to discourage their friends from the journey to visit friends in the “Old Country,” unknowingly sailing directly into a hurricane.

Mather related that on the fourth day after the ship left port, the sun came out and in the distance could be seen the same ship sailing effortlessly back into port directly into the wind. As the Noah’s Dove approached, its passengers including the young couple were visible but ghost-like. Suddenly, the masts of the ship collapsed and the ship sank into the sea, as if it wanted the people of Salem to see what had befallen it on the journey. The story was told in a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier:

The morning light is breaking forth
All over the dark blue sea
And the waves are changed–they are rich with gold
As the morning waves should be
And the rising winds are wandering out
On their seaward pinions free
The bark is ready the sails are set
And the boat rocks on the shore
Say why do the passengers linger yet Is not the farewell o’er
Do those who enter that gallant ship
Go forth to return no more
A wailing rose by the water side
A young fair girl was there
With a face as pale as the face of death
When it’s coffin lid is bare;
And an eye as strangely beautiful
As a star in the upper air
She leaned on a youthful stranger’s arm
A tall and silent one
Who stood in the very midst of the crowd
Yet uttered a word to none
He gazed on the sea and waiting ship
But he gazed on them alone
The fair girl leaned on the stranger’s arm
And she wept as one in fear
But he heeded not the plaintive moan
And the dropping of the tear
His eye was fixed on the stirring sea
Cold darkly and severe

The boat was filled the shore was left
The farewell word was said
But the vast crowd lingered still behind With an over powering dread
They feared that stranger and his bride
So pale and like the dead
And many said that an evil pair
Among their friends had gone
A demon with his human prey
From the quiet grave yard drawn
And a prayer was heard that the innocent
Might escape the Evil One
Away the good ship sped away
Out on the broad high seas
The sun upon her path before
Behind the steady breeze
And there was naught in sea or sky Of fearful auguries
The day passed on the sunlight fell
All slantwise from the west
And then the heavy clouds of storm
Sat on the ocean’s breast
And every swelling billow mourn’d
Like a living thing distressed
The sun went down among the clouds
Tinging with sudden gold
The pall like shadow of the storm
On every mighty fold
And then the lightning’s eye look’d forth
And the red thunder rolled

The storm came down upon the sea
In its surpassing dread
Rousing the white and broken surge
Above its rocky bed
As if the deep was stirred beneath
A giant’s viewless tread
All night the hurricane went on
And all along the shore
The smothered cry of shipwreck’d men
Blent with the ocean’s roar
The gray haired men had scarcely known
So wild a night before Morn rose upon a tossing sea
The tempest’s work was done
And freely over land and wave
Shone out the blessed sun
But where was she that merchant bark
Where had the good ship gone
Men gathered on the shore to watch
The billow’s heavy swell
Hoping yet fearing much some frail Memorial might tell
The fate of that disastrous ship Of friends they loved so well
None came the billows smoothed away
And all was strangely calm
As if the very sea had felt
A necromancer’s charm
And not a trace was left behind Of violence and harm.

The twilight came with sky of gold
And curtaining of night
And then a sudden cry rang out
A ship the ship in sight!
And lo tall masts grew visible
Within the fading light
Near and more near the ship came on
With all her broad sails spread
The night grew thick but a phantom light
Around her path was shed
And the gazer shuddered as on she came
For against the wind she sped
They saw by the dim and baleful glare
Around that voyager thrown
The upright forms of the well known crew
As pale and fixed as stone
And they called to them but no sound came back
Save the echoed cry alone
The fearful stranger youth was there
And clasped in his embrace
The pale and passing sorrowful
Gazed wildly in his face
Like one who had been wakened from
The silent burial place
A shudder ran along the crowd
And a holy man knelt there
On the wet sea sand and offered up
A faint and trembling prayer
That God would shield his people from
The Spirits of the air!

And lo the vision passed away
The Spectre Ship the crew
The stranger and his pallid bride
Departed from their view
And naught was left upon the waves
Beneath the arching blue
It passed away that vision strange
Forever from their sight
Yet long shall Naumkeag’s annals tell
The story of that night
The phantom bark the ghostly crew
The pale encircling light.

The legend bears some resemblance to the ghost ship which appeared off of New Haven in 1647.

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