The southernmost attraction on Hatteras Island is Hatteras Inlet, and fishermen, mariners, beachcombers, and island lovers all know this area of the Outer Banks shoreline very well. Located approximately half mile past the edge of the populated Hatteras village and the Hatteras/ Ocracoke ferry docks, Hatteras Inlet provides plenty of outdoor entertainment and simply incredible scenery for those who pull up a beach chair, or are just passing through en route to Ocracoke Island or the Gulf Stream.
On a summer night each year, at the mouth of the broad Neuse River, a huge blazing outline of a ship speeds into view. It looks like a sailing ship being consumed by flames, its deck and masts a blazing skeleton. The vision vanishes, then reappears, then again disappears for another year. It blazes wildly but is not destroyed. It is the flaming ship of the Palatines.
The Palatines were a sect of German Protestants who departed England in 1710 to settle New Bern. As the boat crossed the Atlantic Ocean, the weathy Palatines, pretending to be poor, covered their gold and silverware from the view of the ship's captain and crew. When the Palatines caught sight of the coast which they believed to be their new home, they were so excited that they brought up from the hold and out from hiding places all their possessions to make ready for landing. Foolishly laid out on the deck was their precious treasure, all of it in full view of the unprincipled captain and his first crew. The captain made a quick plot and announced to the passengers than no landing could be made until the following morning. The discouraged Palatines once more hid their treasures and lay down to a deep sleep in anticipation of soon landing at their long journey's end.
When all was quiet, the captain gathered his hands together and told to them his scheme. They would massacre every Palatine aboard, then collect the gold and silver, set the ship ablaze filled with its horrific lifeless cargo, and flee in the lifeboats.
Many Palatines were stabbed before they awoke and in a very few minutes every one of them was dead. As planned, the ship was set afire, and the killers shoved off in the rowboats. From a distance they glanced back at the ship. It burned brighter and brighter, the fire shooting into the night air, but the vessel did not sink beneath the waves. ....And then the death-laden ship began to move. In a panic the murderers abandoned their boats on the shore of the river and fled into the woods.
"It continued to burn all night," according to an old witness, "speeding on but without a breeze to push it, now and again passing out from sight, blazing evermore, back another time, on the very spot where the killings had taken place. With the daybreak, it had quit burning, but there it stood, with the spars, sails, masts, intact. Everything was in place, but everything was blackened and charred." At nightfall the flames lept up again--"a ship in flames that would not burn!"
To this day the murders have not been avenged, and so each year on the anniversary of the crime the fiery vessel appears off New Bern, and so it will continue to do so until the Palatines have been repaid.