The Never-ending Ride of Peter Rugg

 


“Let the storm increase! I will see home tonight in spite of the last tempest, or I may never see home!"

Those were the last words ever spoken in anger by Peter Rugg. A man short of temper, but long on rage, his white wig flopped about on his head, matching time with his furious gesticulation.

With the pleas to wait out the storm by his friend silenced, this soon to be unfortunate soul climbed into his one horse carriage and drove off into the night with his young daughter, Jenny, seated next to him. The two were fated to never reach their Boston home alive.

The Never-ending Ride of Peter Rugg

With so many of us preparing to travel for the holidays, it only seems right to spend a little time on the story of Peter Rugg. This was a man foolhardy enough to challenge nature itself and refuse the kind offer of safe haven at a time when just driving down the street had a 50/50 chance of survival. His anger and stubbornness are still known, these many years later, and his final night in his mortal coil might just be all the proof you need that a little bit of road rage can go a long way toward damning your immortal soul!

Our story opens sometime around The Boston Massacre in 1770. It was directly before, or after, the event that Peter Rugg left his Boston home on Middle Street for a day in Concord, with his ten year old daughter.

Redcoats, am I right?

They were on their ride back home when the two were overtaken by a sudden and fierce storm. It was so intense, and typical of New England weather, that he was forced to redirect his route and take refuge with a friend by the name of Mr. Cutter, in a town called Menotomy.

If you don’t know where Menotomy is, don’t worry about it because it doesn’t exist anymore. Well, it still exists; it’s just called Arlington now. The name was changed in 1867 in honor of the people buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Don’t say I never learned ya nothin’.

They even had their own Minute Men and a battle. It was a whole thing.

Anyway, Mr. Cutter gladly accepted his friend and young daughter into his house to wait out the storm. That, however, would never actually happen. Ole’ Angry Face got a little antsy and decided he didn’t want to sit around being all dry and comfortable while there was still pavement to pound. He sat his daughter back in his carriage and mounted up, against the will of his host.

Mr. Cutter pleaded “Why, Mr. Rugg, the storm is overwhelming you. The night is exceedingly dark. Your little daughter will perish. You are in an open chair, and the tempest is increasing.”

That’s when Peter Rugg hit him with the quote from the beginning, whipped his horse, and sped off into the night. He would be both never seen again and a regular sight on the road to Boston from then on.

He was still a nice guy

Now, none of this is to say that Peter Rugg was a bad human. In fact, by all accounts, he was a pretty nice guy. He was warm and caring to his friends and family, as well as sober, which automatically made you a good person in the 18th century for some reason. He just happened to have a temper and it didn't take much to set him off. I mean, if you get that pissed off at a rain storm, then it's probably time to take up mediation or yoga or some damn thing.

So, the story goes that Peter Rugg and his daughter never made it back home to Boston. Days missing turned into weeks and then turned into months. The pair was given up for dead, but Peter and his tempest were never gone nor forgotten.

50 years later

It was a full 50 years later when a man named Jonathan Dunwell, from New York, wrote to his friend Herman Krauff about his last trip to Boston in 1820. He was making his way to the city by way of Providence, Rhode Island and had quite the tale to tell about it. He was sitting next to the driver of his carriage and ten miles out into the middle of nowhere when… Well, I’ll just let him tell it:

Allow me to set the stage.

 

“Presently a man with a child beside him, with a large black horse, and a weather−beaten chair, once built for a chaise−body, passed in great haste, apparently at the rate of twelve miles an hour. He seemed to grasp the reins of his horse with firmness, and appeared to anticipate his speed. He seemed dejected, and looked anxiously at the passengers particularly at the stage−driver and myself.

'Who is that man?’ said I. ‘He seems in great trouble.’

’Nobody knows who he is, but his person and the child are familiar to me. I have met him more than a hundred times, and have been so often asked the way to Boston by that man, even when he was travelling directly from that town, that of late I have refused any communication with him; and that is the reason he gave me such a fixed look. I have never known him to stop anywhere longer than to inquire the way to Boston; and let him be where he may, he will tell you he cannot stay a moment, for he must reach Boston that night.’”

And so it went for many years. Travelers as far and wide as Connecticut and New York State would be set upon by the phantom Rugg and his horse. The storm always followed him and his haste is never satisfied. It didn’t help that he’d always choose to disbelieve any directions that a traveler might give him. Just take this exchange between him and another man who shared his story with Jonathan after Peter Rugg asked him the way home:

"’It has just rained a heavy shower up the river. But I shall not reach Boston tonight if I tarry. Would you advise me to take the old road or the turnpike'

‘Why, the old road is one hundred and seventeen miles, and the turnpike is ninety−seven.’

‘How can you say so? You impose on me; it is wrong to trifle with a traveler; you know it is but forty miles from Newburyport to Boston.’

‘But this is not Newburyport; this is Hartford.’

‘Do not deceive me, sir. Is not this town Newburyport, and the river that I have been following the Merrimack?’

‘No, sir; this is Hartford, and the river, the Connecticut.’”

No matter which direction someone tried to send him in, Peter Rugg would go off the opposite way. The entire world changed around him and he was soon riding over bridges that used to be ferries back in his time. Streets were built and demolished and the world moved on while Rugg held onto his rage.

Some more time later

Every journey needs an ending, though, and Peter Rugg, his daughter Jenny, and their horse did finally make their way back home. It just happened to be right as the empty lot, where his house once stood, was being sold at auction.

Like this, only his house used to be there.

With all of his neighbors long gone and his neighborhood nothing but a distant reminder of what it used to be, Peter demanded an explanation from the auctioneer. Clearly, the man had demolished his house and now meant to sell it in Peter’s absence!

The people surrounding him were reminiscent of his friends and neighbors, but not quite them. It was then that someone spoke from crowd and informed Mr. Rugg of his decades long journey:

“’There is nothing strange here but yourself, Mr. Rugg. Time, which destroys and renews all things, has dilapidated your house, and placed us here. You have suffered many years under an illusion. The tempest which you profanely defied at Menotomy has at length subsided; but you will never see home, for your house and wife and neighbors have all disappeared. Your estate, indeed, remains, but no home. You were cut off from the last age, and you can never be fitted to the present. Your home is gone, and you can never have another home in this world.’"

He’s still on the road

To this day, people driving down long, empty stretches of road should always be on the lookout for Peter Rugg and his phantom horse. He’s still in search of his home and the storm always follows with him. Many drivers have been overtaken by sudden storms, only to have Mr. Rugg pull up next to them, his horse rearing, and ask for directions to Boston. No matter which way they point him, he always goes the opposite way. It’s the curse that he must eternally bear for his anger and his day of absolution may never come.

Are we there yet?

Let that be a lesson to you to always hold onto your patience over the holidays. Make sure to always look over your shoulder while you travel, as well. You never know when the angry Peter Rugg will overtake you and bring the storm with him!

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