The Story of Jerome

(FOR CANADIAN RADIO COMMISSION)

By F.G.J. COMEAU.

Every Canadian citizen knows, or should know, that the Province of Nova Scotia has long been recognized as being the possessor of an almost endless fund of legends of buried treasures, of phantom ships, of wily privateers, of Indian raids, etc., in addition to her colorful history, from her early discovery in 1604.

Other provinces of the Dominion of Canada may also have fascinating legends ranking, more or less, with those of the old Province by the sea, but none of them have the parallel of the mysterious “Story of Jerome”.

Who is Jerome?

What about him?

Let me relate the mystery story which lingers yet, in the minds of the oldest inhabitants of the County of Digby, as a fresh spring rose. The initial chapter happened in the year 1854.

In the early summer months of that year, the fisherfolk, on the Digby Neck Shore, saw a large ship sailing up St. Mary’s Bay. Some thought she resembled a man-o-war; others, that she was a pirate ship. She was never seen in these waters afterwards.

It is probable that nothing would have been thought of the mysterious maneuvers of the mysterious looking ship had not a startling discovery been made the next morning.

A man named Albirght, on coming down to the shore, as was his daily custom, found, not very far above the tidewater mark, the huddled form of a man with both legs freshly amputated just above the knees. Beside him, on the sand, lay a jug of water and a loaf of coarse black bread.

For a long distance along the Digby Neck, the shore is very rocky and rises up abruptly from the sea-shore. But at Sandy Cove, where the stranger was found, there is a beautiful sandy beach, semi circular in shape, shut in on either side by lowering cliffs, and an ideal setting for a mysterious deed of this kind.

The strange man was suffering intensively from his wounds, as well as from cold and exposure. His legs gave evidence of having been very recently amputated, because they were still very sore and bleeding, although rather skillfully bandaged.

The stranger was carried by kindly hands to Mr. Morton’s home, at Centreville, then known as Trout Cove, and was given every attention under the circumstances.

In answer to the questions put to him as to his name, and the cause of his strange abandonment, no reply could be obtained.

He was either dumb by nature, or by some surgical operation. In an attempt to say something one day, he was understood to have said “Jerome”. From that day on he was known as Jerome.

For years he never made any attempt to speak, and his nationality and the secret of his strange landing at Sandy Cove remained an unexplained enigma.

In an attempt to solve the mysterious adventure of this stranger, John Nicholas, a Corsican by birth, nicknamed the Russian, who was then residing at Meteghan, was brought to him in an endeavor to ascertain something about him, and the mystery of his strange casting away on a foreign shore. Nicholas could speak several languages.

John Nicholas himself had had many thrilling adventures, having fought in the Crimean and other wars. Escaping from a war prison, he had at least found a haven of peace and quiet rest among the Acadians of the French shore at Digby County.

The Russian was not a man of means, but remember the old adage that “a kindred feeling makes us wondrous kind”, he greeted Jerome cordially and he and his family offered to take care of the casteway in their own home. He lived with the Nicholas family for a term of seven years. When Nicholas passes away, arrangements were made with the Dedier Comeau family at St. Alphonse de Clare, in the French Shore district of the County of Digby, Jerome lived 42 years with this kind family.

A strange annual entry, in the Blue Books of the Province of Nova Scotia, until the death of the mystery man, the story of whom is no doubt unique in the annals of public documents, reads:-

Jerome ----------------------------------------$104.00

Who was Jerome? No one knows, or will ever know.

Whence he came? No one can ever guess.

From Jerome’s general appearance and the clothes that he wore on being found at Sandy Cove, one would say that he was a gentleman of noble birth. He was about his nineteenth tear. His features were of the type of a distinguished College student. Complexion light, forehead wide and high, everything denoting much more than ordinary intelligence. His fingers were long and slender, not the hand of a working man.

Many conjectures as to his identity were current among the country folk. But only three or four times in all his forty-eight years on the French Shore was any information obtained from him. On each occasion it was after some great favor had been shown him, that he was caught off his guard, and would leave him in a dread panic. On hearing the mention of pirate ships, he would get into an uncontrollable rage.

On one occasion when suddenly asked where he came from he was understood to mumble “Trieste”. This was many years after he came to live with the Comeau family. On another occasion when questioned as to the name of the ship that brought him to Digby Neck Shore, he unconsciously muttered “Colombo”. This led to the common belief that he was of Italian birth and has either been a prisoner of war, of the tragic victim of some piratical tragedy of the sea.

The passing of Jerome on April 19th, 1912, and his burial in the Cemetry of the Catholic Church at Meteghan, closed the last chapter of an unsolved mystery, that would have baffled the great genius of a Sherlock Holmes, or the fertile imagination and the keel scrutiny of any of the world’s most famous bards and romanciers.

On several occasions the Government of Nova Scotia published short accounts of the casteway, hoping to elicit information from some quarter. The only response came from two sisters said to have been natives of Mobile, Alabama, then residing in New York, who thought Jerome might prove to be their long lost brother. The description of Jerome did not tally and nothing further was heard from them. Many thousands of visitors saw Jerome on passing through the Shore Road and all were mystified at the tragedy that had brought him so far, evidently, from his own people.

Thus ended the tragic career of the mystery man.

Halifax, Nova Scotia.

June 28th. 1933.

Source: Centre Acadien, UniversitÚ Sainte-Anne, Fonds F. G. J. Comeau, MG31.b2.d39, F. G. J. Comeau, "The Story of Jerome," June 28, 1933.

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