Story of Jerome is Reprinted By Request

By: Benoit Jeddry

(Reprinted by request)

St. Alphonse—The pages of world history contain many romantics stories of men regarding whose origin, identity, or fate, little or nothing is known.

“Robin Hood”—“The Man in the Iron Mask” — and "Fighting Mac"–are only a few of the many which memory calls to mind. And regarding almost every one of these there exists some historical fact, at least sufficient grounds for a reasonable explanation.

But regarding that strange , silent, pathetic personage, cast up upon the Digby County Shore, and known to us only as “Jerome”—not one single fact has ever been discovered. After one century –over forty years of which he spent among us—nothing whatsoever has cast any light upon the secret of his origin, the reason for his horrible mutilation, for his marooning on a foreign shore, or for his decades of resolute silence.

As dawn was breaking that October morning a century ago, Albright, a fisherman, looked out through the one small window of his shack high on the banks of lonely Sandy Cove that opened wide into the Bay of Fundy. He spotted something dark alongside the big rock on the sandy shore below. “A couple of otters plating out there,” he thought, as otters were numerous in the cove he looked again and saw not otters but a man by the rock.

Found By Fishermen

Hurrying down the path to investigate, he found the man lying just above the water’s edge, a legless man; his legs had been amputated at the knees, and they were only partially healed.

Although alive, he was helpless. He made no effort to explain his plight or tell who had placed him on this lonely shore.

Beside him was a can of fresh water and a tin of biscuits. He was clean and dressed in the finest linen. His hands were soft, not the hardened hands of a workman. A young man of splendid physique, of fine, intelligent features and dressed in the finest clothing, he was obviously a gentleman and probably a naval or military officer of some rank.

The old fisherman immediately recalled that the day previous, an unknown ship the likes of which was never seen before in these waters, and which they took for a foreign man-of-war, or privateer, was tacking aimlessly about the Bay of Fundy.

So came the Nova Scotia shores a mystery that in 100 years has never been solved. He was carried to the home of a M. Gidney, on Digby Neck. He was tenderly cared for, but, for reasons known only to himself and to those who caused him to be mutilated and cast ashore, he absolutely refused to speak or to give any account of himself, except for one sound resembling “Jerome” and so, as every man must have a name, they called him Jerome.

His foreign appearance, and his facial expressions when French was spoken in his presence, made it appear that he possibly was French. He was taken to the home of John Nicholas, a Corsican who spoke several of the Mediterranean tongues. Nicholas tried him with all these languages, and was perfectly convinced that he understood several of them.

Caught Off Guard

In fact, in more than forty years, in was only on two or three occasions that he wa caught off guard. Once , when asked suddenly where he came from he is said to mutter “Trieste”—and on another occasion is said to have given the name of his ship as the “Colombo”. On yet another occasion, in one of his blazing rages he is said to have broken into a few words of perfect English.

After seven years in the Nicholas home, he came to live with the family of William Comeau at St. Alphonse de Clare, where he spent the remainder of his life; the Government of Nova Scotia paying $164.00 a year for his maintenance.

In appearance and manner he was a gentleman and not difficult to care for. A doctor in the vicinity who remembered Jerome said: “He was an idle man with an idle mind”, and he added with professional admiration, “His legs had been amputated skillfully and evidently by a trained surgeon.” He got so that he was able to move around the house quite nimbly on his stumps of legs but most of the time he just sat. He never read.

Great efforts were made to solve the mystery. Ships put into the larger ports of Nova Scotia from all parts of the world in those days as now, and sailors of many nationalities from theses ships were brought to Jerome to see if he would speak their language, or to see if anything they said would arouse his interest. Though he still did not talk, it became apparent that he was most certainly familiar with several European languages. It was also found that he would become violently angry when any such visitor mentioned Trieste.

He usually was quite friendly. “Jerome” was perfectly willing to accept casual gifts of sweets, fruits or tobacco. However, any offer of money was refused, and any sign of patronizing air on the part of the visitor brought vehement, resentment and disdain.. Reduced as he was by fate or misfortune, this man of mystery seemed never to forget that , in a former life, he had been entitled to respect because of a higher station.

Rages Lasted Days

Certain words, among them “traitor,” and “pirate’ plunged him into rages that lasted for days at a time. But, taken all in all, he was well liked and well cared for by these kindly Acadian people to whom he seemed a poor, unfortunate creature, touched by the hand of God, nursing his dreadful secret in silence, and an object of special solicitude and care.

Some of the oldest citizens of St. Alphonse de Clare sill remember him. Mrs. Therese Comeau of Bear Cove relates that one day she visited “Jerome” and brought him a bag of candies. She states that the expression on his face showed his gratitude and he muttered something like “Scura turn by be”. The house where he lived and died can still be seen as one motors though St. Alphonse. It is now occupied by Louis Boudreau and his family.

Who was he? What was the secret which either through fear or for reasons of state, or for personal honor, he so stubbornly concealed? That, no one knows.

Finally in 1908, his lips still resolutely sealed, this “The Greatest Mystery of All time,” coming to the Acadian Shore out of some unknown land, departed to a shore hardly more completely unknown or mysterious, taking with him to the eternal silence of the grave the secret which through all the years, he had preserved so faithfully and with such steadfast determination.

Source: Benoit Jeddry, "Story of Jerome Reprinted by Request," Yarmouth Herald, February 21, 1962.

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