Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ghost Ship: The Young Teazer

The story of the Young Teazer inspired one of the best-known ghost ship stories in Eastern Canada. 

The Young Teazer, a typical sailing schooner of its day was a privately owned ship—a privateer, which exploded in Nova Scotia during the War of 1812. A year after this, strange sightings of this ship began to be recorded. 

The “Teazer Light” as it has become known has been seen for over two centuries and is described by witnesses as a fiery ship seen in Mahone Bay.

It was a common practice among countries to allow privateers in times of war to attack enemy merchant ships and claim any loot they found. This was a big help because it robbed the enemy of needed supplies. It also gave naval ships more time to fight battles. 

Privateering was a hazardous way to make a living, but many ship owners participated for it was a quick way to make a fortune. During the War of 1812, many American privateers chased down British ships along the the southeastern coast of Nova Scotia.

HMS Hogue
In June of 1813 one of these American privateers, the Young Teazer, became the hunted instead of the hunter. 

On June 27th the HMS Hogue encountered the Young Teazer and forced her into Halifax Harbour (spelled: Harbor in the U.S.) but the Young Teazer managed to escape. 

A few days later the frigate HMS Orpheus chased the Teazer into Luneburg Harbour. But the Orpheus lost her near Mahone Bay due to light winds. The Hogue then picked up the chase again, after 18 hours she was able to trap the Young Teazer in Mahone Bay. The Hogue began to fire upon the Teazer viciously. Soon the Orpheus joined in.

That evening the Hogue readied five boats to board the Teazer. 

Meanwhile, Captain Dobson on board the Young Teazer discussed plans to defend his privateer with his 38-man crew. * 

Lieutenant Johnson known for erratic behavior on previous cruises, argued with the captain and then disappeared below. The schooner exploded a few minutes later. 

Johnson, who was a British deserter knew that once his identity was discovered, he would be hanged. So in desperation, he threw a lit torch into the ship’s supply of gunpowder.

Of the few Teazer men who survived the explosion, several were severely burned. They were found by local residents clinging to the burning spars and bow of the shattered hull of the schooner. Approximately, 30 of the Teazer crew died. 

The local militia secured the survivors including the captain. 

These men were sent to the Melville Island prisoner war camp in Halifax. Most were eventually returned to America in a prisoner exchange. 

The locals buried the dead in unmarked graves in the St. Stephens’ Anglican cemetery in Chester. They also took charge of the Young Teazer’s wreckage. **

Mahone Bay
Nova Scotia
Almost a year later to the day a ghost ship was first seen near Chester in Mahone Bay. This was the first of many appearances. 

Hundreds have seen a burning ship out on the Bay. Many witnesses state this ship just appears out of nowhere. Others have reported seeing this flaming ship head right for them. Terrified, they felt it was about to run them down-- only to see it vanish at the last second. 

Sometimes this ship would pass so close to the shore witnesses on the beach can even make out seamen up in its riggings.

In most documented reports it is stated the ship appeared to be on fire. This is why people believe that it is the ghost ship of the Young Teazer. 

Some have  even stated they heard the tortured cries of the men who were trying to escape this flaming ghost ship. 

The Young Teazer is most often seen near the anniversary of when it exploded and in the exact spot where it exploded. Most witness reports mention that once seen this ship just vanishes into thin air.

In recent years there haven’t been as many sightings. A possible reason for this being the encroachment of civilization—lights from homes, marinas, etc. make it much harder to see out over the bay. 

Others claim that they have debunked these sightings. They state that when a bank of fog covers the moon as it rises over the horizon, it causes the illusion of a ship on fire.  ***

*  The number of the crew members and how many were killed in the explosion are not known, so approximate numbers are given.

** Some of the wreckage salvaged was used for building materials. One store near Mahone Bay was built from this salvaged wood. Other materials were turned into souvenirs. 

A piece of the keel was used to build a cross--this cross is inside the St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Chester. Another fragment of the scorched oak wood keel is displayed at the Maritime Museum of the Atlanta in Halifax.

*** A folklorist, Helen Creighton spent two decades collecting maritime ghost stories. She was first inspired to do this when she encountered a couple by the name of Enos in the community of Hartlen’s Point on the eastern side of Halifax Harbour. 

When she expressed an interest in a deserted house near the Enos property she was informed, “That’s our ghost house.” The house was partly constructed using wood from the Young Teazer wreck. They then told her that it was haunted, strange knocks and footsteps were heard regularly.

Creighton who wrote a book entitled Bluenose Ghosts mentions that several witness accounts that she collected about the strange sightings of the Young Teazer could be explained by an optical illusion during full moons, but others could not be so easily explained away. In her book, she includes numerous eyewitness accounts of the Young Teazer.

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