The very short tale (it takes up only three pages in Charles Ellms’ book) of the Lynn Pirates reads like an autumn night’s ghost story. In fact I had planned on including it in Triple P’s popular Horror on the High Seas week but with so much misery to hand it fell by the wayside. Here it is, then, as I sit typing in the dark and listen to the icy snow tapping at my windows. A perfect yarn for this kind of morning.
The story begins with a “great earthquake” in New England. The year is 1658 and “some time previous” a vessel dropped anchor at the mouth of the Saugus River. Four men came ashore from her and beat a path into the woods. Though the villagers who lived nearby were aware of what had happened, there was no sign of the small ship the next dawn. Interestingly, a note was found at the local “Iron Works” describing a need for shackles, hatchets and “other articles of iron manufacture” that should be left at a designated spot where upon silver would be put in their place. This was done, seemingly without question, and the silver appeared as promised. A few weeks later the four men emerged from the woods and “… selected one of the most secluded and romantic spots in the woods of Saugus, for their abode.”
It is curious to me that the locals, who at such a time and place one would imagine to be deeply suspicious of interlopers, seem to have accepted the presence of the four sailors. They not only had an iron works, which seems almost unbelievable, but simply made hatchets on demand for strangers. A questionable move to my mind but perhaps I have too much “modern” skepticism.
The area around the “romantic spot” in the woods became known in short order at the Pirates’ Glen which makes it easy to imagine what the villagers thought of their new neighbors. Ellms tells us that in his own day the glen was “a lonely and desolate place”. It appears that the sailors set up shop as smugglers and their location had a particularly good view of merchant vessels going back and forth from the large ports of Salem and Boston. At some point “one of the King’s cruisers” came to the mouth of the Saugus, hauled off three of the four strangers and set sail. The neighbors speculated that the men had been taken to England to hang.
The fourth “pirate”, Thomas Veal, escaped to a cave two miles north of the glen where Ellms tells us “the pirates had previously deposited some of their plunder”. He set up a home in the cave and curiously began to work at the trade of shoemaking. Veal became known in the village, evidently, but never moved to town preferring his cave to a home on the high street. The story goes that when the earthquake hit in 1658, part of the rock outside the cave tumbled down and Veal the shoemaker, who had once been a pirate, was trapped in his unorthodox home. The cave has “… ever since been called the Pirate’s Dungeon”.
Ellms then goes into detail with regard to the area as it appeared in his own day, writing as if he himself had been there:
On an open space in front of the rock are still to be seen distinct traces of a small garden spot, and in the corner is a small well… The Pirates’ Glen, which is some distance from this, is one of Nature’s wildest and most picturesque spots, and the cellar of the pirate’s hut remains to the present time…
Though Ellms stops short of saying the place is haunted, it certainly seems like an opportune area for the specter of Thomas Veal to wander on a misty night, perhaps rattling the mysterious, locally forged chains that he paid hard silver for. A death such as his would make eternal rest very hard to come by.
Header: Dungeon Rock and the Pirate’s Cave in Lynn, Massachusetts from The Pirates’ Own Book