In the Catholic cemetery of Meteghan, in the Municipality of Clare along St. Mary’s Bay in Nova Scotia, there lies a grave marked by a stone bearing the simple inscription, “Jerome.” Who was this Jerome? Where did he come from? For half a century the Acadians of St. Mary’s Bay asked exactly those two questions. On September 8, 1863, a stranger whose legs had been amputated above the knee was found on the beach of Sandy Cove, on the coast of the Bay of Fundy. Taken in by the local Acadians, he spent the rest of his life in almost total silence. People named him Jerome because in the midst of his grunting he is said to have uttered this name. The families that took him in received an allocation from the Nova Scotia government to provide for his needs. People came from everywhere to see the mystery man, who was put on show. By the time he died in April 1912, the legend of Jerome had only begun.
Over the decades, many people claimed to know the truth about Jerome. Most believed he was an Italian, a nobleman who had been mutilated for revenge and had shut himself away in near total silence for protection from his political enemies. Or that he was an Italian naval officer who had been injured on ship and was abandoned because he had become useless. It was often mentioned that he had apparently uttered the words “Colombo” and “Trieste,” proving that he was from Italy. But others believed that he was Jeremiah Mahony, an Irishman who had emigrated to the United States and run away from his family. Still others believed he was a poor lumberjack who had been injured in a logging accident and left to die. Jerome himself never revealed his own story.
On this site, you can try to retrace Jerome’s journey through the Maritimes from the 1860s to his death, using newspaper articles both local and regional, along with legal, political, private, parish, municipal and provincial records. You will do as historians do, piecing together an account and an interpretation based on historical documents, as you attempt to solve the riddles left behind by this stranger. Through our “virtual archives” you will have access to all these sources as you carry out the work of historian-detective. At the end of your experience, you may compare your conclusions with those of specialists on the topic. Like the other sites in the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project, this one offers a journey into the past and a virtual experience much like that of a detective, who must try to piece together events and their significance from a series of clues, just as do historians.
In the process, Jerome will lead you to discover the complex networks of trade and immigration linking Canada’s Maritime provinces and the ports of the New England states during the second half of the 19th Century. Similarly, you will explore the relationships among the various ethnolinguistic communities in the Maritimes, particularly those of the Acadians with the outside world and the provincial government.
Another excellent reason to explore the case of Jerome is that his real life, his true story, has become almost completely overshadowed by the legend that has built up around him. Because of this, the mystery surrounding Jerome consists not just of his unknown identity, but of the fact that the little that is known for certain has become lost in a whirlwind of tales, rumours and gossip, not to mention numerous tourist traps. People have even forgotten the date he was found on Sandy Cove and the date he died! Faced with the lack of information about his origins, and his silence, the Acadians of St. Mary’s Bay constructed an elaborate legend. This legend grew all the more as at the end of the 19th Century it was amply fed by newspapers in the Maritimes, New York and Boston. As you follow the trail all the way to the present, you will be able to trace how the legend around Jerome was built. You will hear the accounts of residents from Clare who remember him. You will also discover, in the “Theories” section, the many versions of Jerome’s story, and will see how deeply the Acadians of Nova Scotia are attached to him, how they remember and pay tribute to him in song, film and paintings.