October 6, 2016 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)
Last year we covered many of New England’s most notable islands. Considering how many islands there are, I must admit I am not surprised that we missed several that might be of interest to our readers. Today I wanted to present a pair of islands located in what is now the state of Maine, both of which I think might serve as points of inspiration for your game.
Six miles off of York, Maine is Boon Island, a small rocky island, roughly 300′ by 700′, one of several hundred in the Gulf of Maine. The area is prone to bad weather and has been the site of many shipwrecks, from the earliest days of European colonialism to the present day. The most notable of these wrecks, and the one which cemented the island’s notoriety, occurred in December of 1710, when the British merchant vessel Nottingham Galley foundered on the rocks just off shore. While most of the crewmen made it ashore alive, the ten survivors fared rather poorly, unable to recover much food from their sunken ship. The tiny island offered no shelter from the raging ocean and the approaching winters storms..
For twenty-four days the sailors from the Nottingham Galley subsisted on little more than a few gulls eggs and what few fish they could catch… and human flesh. You see, when the ship’s carpenter died from a combination of starvation and the cold, the other crewmembers cannibalized his body, allowing the rest to survive until rescue. Earlier in the voyage the crew had mutinied against their original captain; the ship’s sinking and the incident of cannibalism on Boon Island were used in evidence against the survivors, who were sued by the ship’s owners the next year, making the wreck and its notorious consequences well-known in England and their American colonies.
Because of the dangers the island posed to navigation, a lighthouse was erected on Boon Island in 1811, replaced by another in 1831, and that one replaced by one of the tallest lighthouses in New England in 1854-55, standing more than 130 feet tall. Staffing the lighthouse was a challenge – few people want to live in such isolation – and it was eventually automated in the 1970s after a severe storm had wrecked most of the equipment there and nearly killed the two lighthouse keepers
One of the smallest and most isolated permanently inhabited islands in the United States, Matinicus (from the Abenaki for “far-out island”) was first settled by Europeans in 1750. Ebenezer Hall, a retired solider, and his family began clearing some of its roughly two square miles for farming, felling trees and setting fires. This unsurprisingly irritated the Penobscot Indians who held a claim on the island. After several attempts to for Hall off the island via petition to the Massachusetts General Court, unsuccessfully, the Penobscot took matter into their own hand and, in 1757, the besieged his home, killed Hall, and abducted his family.
Others followed to the little island though… folks that apparently did not mind living more than twenty miles from the nearest inhabited spot. Matinicus gained a reputation as an insular place, where outsiders were not welcome. The small island’s population was never large – the earliest recorded population was 277 in 1870. By the 1920s, Matinicus’ population had declined to about 140 (today there are roughly 70 year-round-inhabitants). Nevertheless its few inhabitants had a fearsome enough reputation that yachting guides recommended against anchoring there and Maine State Police patrols only visited during the daytime out of fear of the occasional anonymous pot-shot from the shore. Even as recently as 2009 one Mantinicus lobsterman shot a rival in a dispute over fishing grounds, leaving him paralyzed.
Today, the island is trying to shake off its reputation for lawlessness – this article from Down East magazine is a good start – but Keeper and authors looking for a real-world model of a very isolated and lawless spot can look to this “far-out place” for inspiration.