I found this story on Futility Closet’s blog here.
“On Sept. 8, 1863, two boys discovered a legless man struggling on the beach at Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia. Coughing violently and suffering from exposure, he appeared to be in his late teens or early 20s, and he seemed unable or unwilling to respond to their inquiries.
“As the villagers nursed him back to health they found him angry and gloomy by nature, keeping his identity to himself. Rumors began to circulate: He was a Civil War veteran, a pirate, a spy, an exiled Habsburg, a murderer, a mutineer. His soft hands seemed to suggest high birth, but he had been found with only a tin box of hardtack and a jug of water, and he spoke neither English, Spanish, French, Italian, nor Latin. His legs had apparently been amputated by a skilled surgeon. As all attempts to communicate with him were unsuccessful, he came to be known simply as Jerome, after a response he had mumbled when asked his name.
“That’s the whole story. For the next 50 years Jerome was lodged with various local families, maintaining his silence despite endless inquiries from curiosity seekers. His identity was never discovered. When he died, finally, on April 15, 1912, theHalifax Morning Chronicle wrote, ‘The people in this vicinity have given up the solving of the great mystery that closed today in death, thus ending one of the greatest secrets that ever occurred on this continent.'”
According to Wikipedia, when he was found and was taken in by a local family, he got tired of being relentlessly questioned by neighbors–so he began growling like a dog at people to show his displeasure. He was taken in by a Baptist community, but since he “looked Mediterranean”, the family decided that Jerome was a Catholic, so they shipped him off to a French community nearby. The government of Nova Scotia also voted to give Jerome a stipend of $2 per week for his upkeep.
He never really spoke for the rest of his life, nor seemed particularly capable to understand speech. Some speculate that this is due to a rough backstory–if he can’t be made to speak, he can’t be made to explain anything–while others have speculated that he was suffering from some sort of brain injury that had damaged his language center. We’ll never know.