When considering the topic of late 17th and 18th-century pirates who roamed colonial waters from the Caribbean to New England, we can’t forget the most gruesome and largely mythical tale of Marblehead’s screaming or screeching woman.
Samuel Roads’ “History and Traditions of Marblehead (1880)” is the earliest printed account. Roads relates the oral tradition of stories about pirates, phantoms and superstitious omens that “formed the burden of conversation through the long winter evenings” for as long as anyone could remember.
A Spanish ship had been captured by pirates somewhere off Marblehead. The pirates knew that Marblehead’s fishing fleet had left for the Grand Banks earlier that day. Pirates often watched for a fishing fleet to leave its small village and then swept into town to steal what they needed. Marblehead was in that state the night that Spanish pirates came ashore for a terrible deed that still sends shivers down the spines of many.
It was a dark night in the harbor, the moon shrouded in mist. The pirates had killed the entire crew of the Spanish ship and the only survivor was a beautiful English lady passenger,
dressed in an elegant gown of silk with many rings, necklaces and jewels.
She had proudly refused to give up her possessions, and defied the pirates as best she could. Finally, the rogues took her ashore to Lovis Cove (now the beach beside the Barnacle) in Marblehead harbor. There they brutally murdered the poor woman, even chopping off her fingers to get the rings.
The fine English lady screamed and begged for help from anyone who could hear her, “Lord save me! Mercy! O Lord Jesus, save me!” Her cries rang out over the lowland marshes that surrounded the cove. Many could hear her, but they were defenseless against the pirates and so they stayed quiet to save themselves. Her screams went on and on until finally there was silence. Legend has it that she was buried there on the beach.
The horror of the event was made worse because no one could or would save her.
Perhaps it is for that reason that the place is known as Screaming Woman’s Cove, and her cries can still be heard today. Even now people don’t like to walk down there late on dark and foggy nights, and every year there are police reports of yet another person who has heard Marblehead’s Screaming Woman.
Pam Peterson chairs the Marblehead Historical Commission.