Sunday, November 10, 2013

Jack Purnell’s Lantern Part ll

I shared the story of Patty Cannon and her gang of slave kidnappers in my previous post entitled, The Wickedest Woman in American, Part l. 

One of her associates was a free black man, named Jack Purnell, who also lived in Reliance, Delaware. Purnell like Cannon kidnapped dozens of free blacks and sold them for profit.

He kept his captives on a small island on the Nanticoke River. This island was in an isolated spot and concealed by brush, so it was ideal for his purpose. Purnell would tie his victims and then row them out to the island. He would shackle them to trees and then leave them there for safekeeping.

Purnell then would round up buyers and take them to this island to seal the deal. One hot summer, he returned after an absence of two days to discover two of his three captives had died from “heat exhaustion.” The third was just barely alive. 

As night descended quickly, Parnell took his lantern and dumped the bodies into the river.

This island which some call “Shackle Island” does not exist today. Like others, it has been lost to time and nature. The river’s changing flow most likely took it at some point. All that remains is a hill with three large Cypress trees.

The following is a first-person account told by a young man from Delaware named Tyler. He recounts an eerie experience he had near Phillip’s Landing on the Nanticoke River.

One November, Tyler and a friend were hunting. It was late on their first day when they decided they best establish a camp. They wanted to build a fire to dry out, so Tyler’s friend dug a fire pit and set up their tent. 

Tyler went in search of some stones to place around the pit as a “draft wall.”

He had walked further than he realized from the camp when darkness overtook him. He looked to see if he could spot the camp’s fire, but he saw nothing. He was lost. 

Staying calm he remembered he had his two-way radio with him. He radioed his friend, and they both used their compasses to determine where he was.

They concluded he must be about thirty yards from the river, so their plan was for him to reach the river and then head south. Tyler’s friend stated that he would use his whistle and flashlight to lead him back to camp. Tyler set out with confidence now he could find his way.

He continued to talk to his friend as he walked. But within minutes a large rotting boat “that was 15 feet long” blocked his path. It was partially buried in mud with a broken paddle near it. 

Tyler wondered why a boat was in the middle of the woods instead of being near the water.

He radioed his friend to tell him about his discovery, but all he heard was quick bursts of static. He tried several more times, but his radio seemed to be malfunctioning. 

He was distracted when he spotted a light. Feeling this must be one of their camp’s Coleman lanterns he concluded he must be closer to camp then they had previously thought.

He shouted as he “raced” toward the light. He became frustrated when his friend didn’t respond, he shouted once more. His radio started to make deafening, strange noises, so he turned the volume down. 

He continued to chase the light but was surprised when he found himself right back near the old boat. The light went out, and he was surrounded by darkness once more.

Tyler turned and saw a hill behind him. He climbed to the top, hoping to spot the camp’s fire. Once there he noticed three very tall Cypress trees nearby but he saw no light. 

He did spot something shiny below him, so he walked over. Under the brush, he saw what appeared to be a chain and a wrist shackle. The light appeared once more near the old boat, so Tyler quickly descended the hill.

He looked again for his friend, convinced he must be holding one of the camp’s lanterns. But when he reached the boat, the light had moved to the river’s edge. 

Following it, he was stunned to see the light go right over the water. Feeling “spooked” for the first time, he heard his friend call his name faintly over his radio. He turned the volume back up.

As he made his way south down the river’s edge, the light stayed over the water but followed him. He finally spotted the fire, he covered the ten yards quickly back to the camp. 

Tyler told his friend what had happened and then insisted they pack up and leave. He didn’t know the history of Shackle Island before their hunting trip, but he read about it afterward. He states he will never return.

Tyler’s story was first shared on

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