Nix’s Mate

One of the things I love about Boston is it’s endless nautical folklore dating back as early as the 1600’s. One of my favorite tales is the story of Nix’s Mate.


Legend has it, that Captain Nix was a pirate killed at sea on his way into Boston Harbor, and the crew believed his first mate did it. The pirate was hung on an island inside the harbor, and the words he said on his last breath were,

“If I am innocent, this island will sink.”

And it did-in the shape of a question mark that is now only visible during low tide. During high tide, all you see is the monument pictured above, put there to warn boatsmen of shallow water.

Was Nix really killed by his mate? Nobody knows. There is no historical significance to the story. It is more or less the Bostonian version of a fairy tale. I love the concept though. In the story, Nix’s mate’s parting words are said with such certainty, the “legend” has been perpetuated for centuries, with generations of people falling in love with the gusto of a hanged pirate that never existed.

And what for? Maybe it’s the mystery of it all, but I think it’s something more than that. I loosely relate it back to this quote from Huck Finn where Mark Twain writes,

“I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up. ”

I recognize it’s not the same thing, but in both instances, there is an incredible amount of personal conviction. Both characters know to some degree they’re right, one way or the other. The mate will not be around to see the outcome. Huck has made peace with it could be.

And to tie it back to me, I think I’m finally starting to believe in myself that way-enough where I could sink an island, and walk myself through another hell if I had to. Knowing, that it’ll somehow be okay, even if I don’t make it out shining, or don’t make it out at all.


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