One lovely summer afternoon on September 7th, 1863 fishermen were tending to their nets and lobster pots in the Bay of Fundy, right off Digby Neck. While they were working they noticed an odd white ship in the distance. However, full-rigged ships in the bay were quite common and they went about the work. But, after some time whispers began arising that the ship didn’t look quite right.
Some fishermen commented that it looked like a foreign ship. As they worked the ship continue to hover right offshore going back-and-forth on the same short course. This furthered curiosity among the fishermen and they could not decide on a logical explanation for why a ship, especially a foreign ship, would be acting so strangely in the bay.
The next day something even stranger happened. On September 8th, 1863 8-year-old George Colin ‘Collie’ Albright discovered a figure huddled by the rock. At first, the strange shape could have been mistaken for a seal or other detritus from the bay but upon closer inspection, Collie discovered it was a young man who was horrendously hurt. He went back home and got his family to go and help the man.
The man appeared to be in his mid-twenties. When he was found he was partially conscious and mumbling indistinctly in what people believed to be an unidentified foreign language. The sand around his body was deeply stained with blood from his very recently amputated legs. Besides this man were a loaf of bread and a jug of water. There were footprints on the beach, clearly not made by this man. Although the injury seemed dastardly what remained of his legs were skillfully and purposefully bandaged. His clothing was also strange. He had a wonderfully lined waistcoat with a pattern not seen before in Digby Neck, his shirt was made from extremely lovely linen, and his knee-length pants were equally strange and wonderful.
The man had been moved to Mr. Gidney’s in Mink Cove. Within hours the word has spread of the strange and injured visitor and people from all over made their way to the Gidneys. Many people tried to speak to him in languages other than English including Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian. The man responded positively to none of these languages.
According to the Gidneys he only really uttered one recognizable word, ‘Jerome’ which is what he then became known as to the community. After moving around the community a bit, locals unsure what to do with him but not wanting to abandon him, Jerome finally found a somewhat permanent home at the Nicolas.
Jerome seemed comfortable at the home of Jean Nicola and would stay for over seven years. Early in his time with the community he would growl at people trying to ask him questions, remain aloof, or simply smile sadly.
Wanting to help out Jerome without too much strife the community petitioned Nova Scotia to help pay for his keep. The government gave the family that cared for him $2 a week to help support him.
After seven years at the Nichola household Jeans wife, Juliette, passed away and Jean decided to return to Europe. Jerome then moved in Mrs. Deider Comeau. The Comeau family did use Jerome a bit and charged an admission to those who wished to visit with him. Jerome did not seem to put out by this idea and would remain with the family until his death.
The only true joy people saw in Jerome was when he was around children. In fact, when he was positive there were no other adults to overhear him he would speak ever so slightly to the children. He was reported saying in French ‘Non, non, non’ when children asked why he didn’t speak to other adults. On another occasion, a child asked what happened to his legs and he responded simply with ‘chains.’ He would also laugh and smile around children. Digby Neck stories report that “Not many months before he died, a Mrs. Doucet visited Jerome. She was the daughter of Jean Nicola and had been a child when Jerome lived at her father’s home. Mrs. Doucet had pleasant memories of the strange man who loved to watch children at play. Jerome’s eyes lit up as she entered the room. She appealed to him to speak to her. Tears came to his eyes as he leaned forward and tried to speak. But the words would not come. Evidently, the vocal cords, idle so long, would not respond.”
So, it appears, the man had some joy in his quiet and removed life.
He did utter a few words. According to Digby Neck stories, “Once, when asked where he came from, he snapped a reply: "Trieste." Another time someone asked what ship brought him to Nova Scotia, and he answered: "Colombo.” Each time he spoke even just one word to an adult he would withdraw and grow even more sullen and aloof. These moods would last for weeks after he had spoken.
Jerome spent his last thirty years alive in complete silence. He died on April 15, 1912, without ever having discussed where he had come from, what happened to his legs, or any other identifying information. He was believed to be in his mid-70s. He was buried and his headstone simply says ‘Jerome.’
However, theories abound with who Jerome was before he was found in 1863. One of the most logical answers is that he was a sailor who incited an unsuccessful mutiny. He was punished with the double amputation before being laid on the beach with the provisions where he would be found. Perhaps his silence stems from PTSD or even just the shame of going against his Captain. However, it was reported he had smooth hands and was dressed in finery which seems a bit odd for a sailor.
Others believed he was some kind of disgraced nobleman who had perhaps tried to gain more power or went against a higher-ranking noble and was cast off and crippled purposefully.
Others believe he had suffered some kind of head wound that impaired him (perhaps in the same accident that led to the loss of his legs or perhaps he lost his legs as a result of his injury and impaired judgment.) He was said to have rage, fear, and other problems controlling strong emotions and this could have been linked to an inability to clearly express himself because of his brain injury.
What do you think happened to Jerome?
Thanks to Neil A for this #blogstonishing topic suggestion!
The above image is not directly linked to the story. It is made available in the Public Domain and is entitled, “The war in America : the Federal steamer Chesapeake, seized by Confederates, landing crew and passengers off Musquash harbour, Bay of Fundy.”