Nix's Mate – Winthrop, Massachusetts - Atlas Obscura
Unusual adventures and hidden discoveries. Explore our 2018 trips now »

Winthrop, Massachusetts

Nix's Mate

A daybeacon pyramid is about all that's left of this island that is said to have sunk due to a pirate's curse. 

In Boston Harbor sits the 200 square foot remains of what was once a 12-acre island. The now diminutive site is named after a certain pirate named Captain Nix, whose first mate was gibbeted there — that is, hung — and then displayed dangling from chains,  a gruesome warning intended to frighten sailors from piracy.

The unlucky, nameless pirate maintained his innocence and held that he was forced into service on Nix’s ship (not uncommon in those days) and threatened that were he gibbeted on the island, it would sink. Today, his words seem rather prophetic since, as a result of various mining operations and rising sea levels, the island has almost completely disappeared into Boston Harbor!

While this story is undoubtedly more myth than fact, that the island was actually used as a gibbeting site is no mere legend. Historical records exist which speak of the hanging of a certain Captain William Fly, a loudmouth with an acerbic wit, who transformed his execution into a comic spectacle by telling jokes, advising his inept executioners on how to properly tie a noose, and letting his criticism about the manner in which “Masters of Vessels” typically treat their crew flow freely, using this to explain the lure of piracy. Following his execution, Fly was certainly gibbeted on Nixe’s Mate.

Today, the miniature island is crowned with a granite wall and a black and white striped “daybeacon” first constructed in 1805 by the Boston Marine Society after its recognition of the hazard a small and barely visible island would pose for passing vessels. The site was eventually purchased by the federal government in 1832 and most recently restored — not, in deference to public outcry, replaced — in 2003 by the Coast Guard.

If one has a small boat, it is probably possible to visit Nix’s Mate. However, seeing as the site is so small and there isn’t much to be explored, the best way to get a perfectly good look at it is to board one of the Boston Harbor Island Ferries. Ferries to George’s Island and Peddock’s Island definitely pass it by, and it will no longer warn you against piracy. 

Know Before You Go

Nix's Mate can be viewed on the way to George's Island and Peddock's Island via ferry. It is possible that other ferry routes pass it by as well, but I'm not sure.