The Pirate and the Disappearing Island

In legend at least, Nix’s Mate Island got its name from the first mate of a ship arriving to Boston Harbor. Accused of murdering the captain of his vessel, he was taken and hung on the harbor island. Before his death, he was said to have insisted upon his innocence, predicting as proof that one day the island upon which he stood would disappear.

Recorded with an area of 12 acres in the seventh century when sheep pastured on the island, today the island spans only an acre, and is covered with the high tides.

In the end though, there are two problems with the story, pointed out by Edward Rowe Snow, in The Islands of Boston Harbor. “The first is that none of the pirates brought to this island was still alive when landed on the shore; the second is that at the time the island was first called Nix [or Nick’s] in 1736, no man had been executed for a marine murder in the Massachusetts Colony.”

Nix’s Mate is the burial site for at least two pirates.

Above: Early drawing of Nix’s Mate from the King’s Handbook of Boston Harbor. Via Friends of the Boston Harbor Islands. Below: A photograph of the rehabilitation of the warning beacon on what’s left of Nix’s Island, via the US Coast Guard.

One thought on “The Pirate and the Disappearing Island

  1. Nick’s- Mate also was own by Adams Knox who bought it from James and Martha Gardner from Charleston and in 1805 Mr.Knox sold it to the city of Boston. ( I have a letter that the deed was certified by Williams Allen Register July 24,1805.

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