Peter Rugg’s eternal search—Part 1
By THOMAS D’AGOSTINO
One of the most endearing legends of New England originally began sometime before the start of the American Revolution, 1770 to be exact. Although its origin can be traced back centuries, its end has no record, for, you see, it has never concluded. To this day, the ghostly visage of Peter Rugg still haunts the highways and byways of New England.
There are some people alive in the present, who have beheld a phantom chaise drawn by the largest black horse ever seen. At the reins, one unfortunate man named Peter Rugg desperately wanders the countryside eternally searching for the streets for home with his ghostly daughter clutching his sleeve. The sighting is always followed by a sudden and unexpected storm.
Who was Peter Rugg? Or, rather, who is Peter Rugg? There are many New Englanders who know the story behind the glowing carriage led by an unearthly roman-nosed bay, furiously racing along the roads with the drenched spirit of Peter Rugg at the reins and his ghostly daughter alongside him.
The story began in 1770 when Peter Rugg, a wealthy cattle and horse merchant, harnessed his light carriage with his favorite horse, a great roman-nosed bay for a small business trip in Concord, Massachusetts.
His ten-year-old daughter, Jenny, accompanied him on that fine and fair day. As they rode away from their Middle Street home in Boston, Massachusetts, his neighbors had no idea it would be the last time they would see Peter Rugg. Alive, at least.
The trip out was uneventful, but on the way home, a terrible thunderstorm suddenly took the area by surprise, forcing them to take refuge at a friend’s home in West Cambridge. Tom Cutter served Rugg a dram of hot-spiced rum while his daughter shivered from the wet by the fire. The fierce storm raged on with no end in sight, yet Rugg, stubborn and determined, decided to make his way home despite the torrential downpour. Tom Cutter pleaded for the man to stay and wait out the tempest to no avail.
Rugg just shook his fist and exclaimed in oath, “I shall see home tonight by god or the devil, or I will never see home!”
Truer words were never spoken in all of West Cambridge. Rugg’s chaise never made it home. Authorities along with friends and neighbors searched for months, yet not a trace of the wagon and its occupants was ever found.
It wasn’t until spring of the next year when neighbors on Middle Street were arisen out of their sleep by the clopping of hoof prints on the cobblestone road. Thomas Felt peered out the window into the midnight mist and saw a glowing phosphorescent chaise with the countenances of Rugg and his daughter coming down the cobblestone street. The apparition gave him such a scare, he quickly locked the windows and drew the shade. Soon reports of the phantom chaise were coming in from all parts of the region.
Adonariah Adams claimed to have encountered the ghoulish carriage while delivering mail in Newburyport. He told of how Rugg’s chaise overtook his coach at such a clip, it caused his horses to leap from the road, wrecking his wagon against a rock outcropping. As the glowing carriage passed him, he could see the apparitions of Rugg and his frightened daughter gripping his sleeve. Flames flew from the horse’s ears and nose and the smell of brimstone overwhelmed the otherwise jovial man. He was sure what he saw was the devil’s shade of Peter Rugg.
New York businessman Jonathan Dunwell had an unforgettable encounter with the ghostly carriage. On a trip from Providence, Rhode Island to Boston, he was forced to sit atop the coach, as the stage was overcrowded inside. The horses suddenly recoiled and their ears went flat against their heads. At that moment, an old rickety wagon with a man and a little girl raced by them at a furious pace. Dunwell, stunned and a bit frightened, asked the driver if what he had just seen was real.
The driver confided with Dunwell that he had encountered the coach hundreds of times and that sometimes the man, dressed in previous century clothing, asks directions to Boston before racing off out of sight. The incident is always followed by a sudden and terrible thunderstorm.