On a certain evening every year, at the mouth of the wide Neuse River, a large bright object speeds into view. It looks like a sailing ship being destroyed by fire, its deck and masts in blazing outline. The apparition disappears, then reappears, then again disappears for another year. It burns furiously but is not consumed.
It is the ship of the Palatines. The Palatines were a group of German Protestants who left England in 1710 to settle New Bern. As the vessel crossed the Atlantic, the prosperous Palatines, pretending to be poor, hid their gold coins and silver dishes from the eyes of the ship's sinister captain and crew. When the Palatines caught sight of the shore which they believed to be their future home, so excited were they that up from the hold and out from hiding places came all their belongings in preparation for landing. Unwisely displayed on the deck was their precious wealth, all of it in full view of the corrupt captain and his first mate.
Quickly the captain formed a plan. He announced to the passengers than no landing could be made until the morrow. The disappointed Palatines once more hid their valuables and lay down to a sound sleep in anticipation of soon landing at their destination. When all was quiet, the captain gathered his crew together and revealed to them his plan. They would murder every Palatine aboard--the young and the old, the women and children as well as the men--then gather together the gold and silver, set afire the ship filled with its dead, and escape in the lifeboats.
The strike was sudden. Many Palatines were knifed before they awoke and in a very few moments every one of them was dead. As planned, the ship was set afire, and the murderers pushed off in the small boats. From a distance they looked back at the ship. It burned brighter and brighter, the brilliant blaze of the fire shooting into the air, but the vessel did not sink into the water. And then the thing began to move.
"It continued to burn all night," according to an old account, "--speeding on with the wind,--now passing out from sight, and anon, visible, flaming forever, back again, on the very spot where the crime had been committed. With the dawn of day, it had ceased to burn,--but there it stood, erect as ever, with the spars, sails, masts, unconsumed,--everything in place, but everything blackened, charred." At sundown the flames leaped up again--"a ship on fire that would not burn!"
The frightened murderers could bear no more. They abandoned their boats on the bank of the river and fled into the forest. There they and their descendants lived on their "ill-gotten spoils." To this day the crime has not been avenged, and so every year on a certain evening the burning ship appears off New Bern, and so it will continue to appear till the blood of the Palatines has been paid for in kind.