Featured image: Map from Plum Island: The Way It Was by Nancy V. Weare
The Ipswich Bar has a long history of tragic shipwrecks. Its swift currents and shallow waters are especially dangerous during storms, and many ships have gone aground. In 1802 and again in 1852 the Merrimack Humane Society of Newburyport constructed shelters at Sandy Point for shipwreck victims, and massive timbers can still be seen protruding from its dunes. Several ships that made safe passage between Sandy Point and Crane Beach went ashore at Steep Hill Beach, where the remains of two schooners can still be observed.
Records of the loss of small boats began in the 18th century. They went aground on the beach or bar in winter. The boat’s complement attempting to reach shore died in the surf or on the beach. As those buried in the sand did not stay buried a cemetery was established for them on Bar Island.
The Plum Island Life Saving Station was constructed in 1890. Photo by George Dexter
Among the disasters of greater magnitude is the wreck of the Falconer, a 360-ton brig from Belfast captained by Joseph Rolerson, of the same city. She was transporting 350 tons of coal from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to Boston when she encountered the northeaster of December 15, 1847. The ship carried 53 passengers and crew, and the wreck resulted in 17 deaths. After a funeral procession winding through town they were buried in Ipswich, except for the captain and his family, who were shipped back to Belfast.
On December 3, 1849, the Nancy with a cargo of bricks went aground on Plum Island. The crew of five were lost.
On December 24, 1850, the Argus with a cargo of worked stone foundered on Emerson Rocks. The captain and some of the crew were lost. Two were trailed through the snow to a thicket, where they were found dead.
The list continues:
- The Ornament, the Teazer, the Votary
- 1778. Six Salem men drowned by a wreck on Ipswich beach.
- 1784. Eight men drowned October 1, in Ipswich bay.
- 1785.Four men were drowned in Plum Island river.
- 1795. Four men perished in Chebacco river during a snow storm.
- 1872. Schooner “J. R. Lawrence” went ashore on Plum Island.
- 1875. The brig “Ida C.” went ashore on the beach February 20. Schooner “James Freeman” sunk in Ipswich bay.
- 1878. A sand schooner was destroyed on Ipswich bar in a storm April 23.
- 1879. Schooner “G. F. Higgins”‘ was driven ashore on the point, August 20.
- 1881. Schooner “Alice Oakes” was wrecked on Ipswich bar, June 10. Schooner “Lucy K. Cogswell” sunk by collision with Stmr. Wm. Crane.
- 1882. Steamship “City Point”‘ wrecked on Plum Island and is a total loss.
- 1884. Schooners “Alfaretta,” and “Ella M. Johnson,” wrecked on Plum Island.
- 1885. Schooner “Isabella Thompson” wrecked on Castle Neck Dec. 1. Schooner “Beta” wrecked on Plum Island, April 7, and three drowned. Schooner “Lizzie” of Machias, Me., wrecked on Ipswich bar. Schooner “Mark Gray” seriously damaged by collision. Schooner “Franklin” wrecked on Plum Island, Nov. 13.
- 1887. Schooner “E. M. Branscome” wrecked in Ipswich Bay.
- 1889 A schooner loaded with sand for Boston sank in Ipswich river.
Remains of the Ada K. Damon at Steep Hill Beach. Photo courtesy of John McGrath
In 1802 and in 1852 the Merrimack Humane Society of Newburyport constructed shelters for cast-away mariners at Sandy Point. Only scattered stones remain. The dunes at the south end of Plum Island are strewn with massive ship timbers, some protruding from the sand at odd angles, causing visitors to speculate concerning their origin.
Awful Calamities: the Shipwrecks of December, 1839 - Featured image: Ships off Liverpool in the Great Storm of 1839, painted by Samuel Walters. From: “Awful calamities: or, The shipwrecks of December 1839: “It has probably never fallen to the lot of the citizens of New England to witness or record so many terrible disasters by sea in the […] Hurricanes and winter storms - Featured image: Union Street in Ipswich after Hurricane Carol. Our friend Bill Sargent reminded me that Massachusetts has the highest probability of all of the states to be hit by an ocean storm, when you include hurricanes and nor’easters. Here are a few stories… The ”October Gale” of 1841 - A strong hurricane stayed offshore of the Carolinas in early October, 1841 As it continued moving north, it pulled cold air into its circulation and intensified as an extra-tropical storm, with a direct hit on New England on October 3. The Georges Bank fishing fleet was destroyed with the loss of 81 fishermen’s lives. […] The shipwrecks at Ipswich Bar - Featured image: Map from Plum Island: The Way It Was by Nancy V. Weare The Ipswich Bar has a long history of tragic shipwrecks. Its swift currents and shallow waters are especially dangerous during storms, and many ships have gone aground. In 1802 and again in 1852 the Merrimack Humane […] Wreck of the Watch and Wait, August 24, 1635 - Many ships and lives were lost in the Great Colonial Hurricane, including 21 passengers who had set out from Ipswich on August 21, 1635 on a small bark named “Watch and Wait.” As they rounded Cape Ann they were suddenly met by the force of the winds. Reverend John […] The Ipswich lighthouse - Benjamin Ellsworth was appointed keeper of the Ipswich lighthouse by Abraham Lincoln in 1861. With his daughter Susan, he remained at the station until his death in 1902. In 1837 the U.S. government erected two 29′ towers for guidance to the mouth of the Ipswich River along with […] Wreck of the Hesperus, January 6, 1839 - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem was inspired by the Blizzard of 1839, which ravaged the North Shore for 12 hours, starting on January 6, 1839. Twenty ships and forty lives were lost during the storm. The probable subject of the story is the schooner Favorite, which sank on a rock called […] The Spectre Ship of Salem - Cotton Mather related the tale of a doomed ship called “Noah’s Dove” which left Salem during the late 17th century for England. Among the passengers were “a young man and a passing beautiful girl pale and sorrowful, whom no one knew and who held communion with no one.” […] The Great Colonial Hurricane and the wreck of the Angel Gabriel, August 25, 1635 - In August 1635, the 240-ton Angel Gabriel sank in Pemaquid Bay after sailing into the most intense hurricane in New England history. Among the survivors were John Cogswell and his wife, three members of the Burnham family, Captain Robert Andrews and his nephews, who all settled in an area called Chebacco, which is now Essex. Wreck of the Edward S. Eveleth, October 1922 - In October 1922, the sand schooner Edward S. Eveleth rolled over when a wave rushed over her deck and pushed her onto the edge of Steep Hill Beach. Filled with sand, each tide buried her deeper. Her remains were visible for several years. The skeleton of the hull is just off-shore a short distance from the wreck of the Ada K. Damon. Wreck of the Lucy M. Collins, August 19, 1891 - When you’re walking on Crane Beach near Steep Hill Coal, you might be surprised to see lumps of coal lying on the sand. This would be quite a mystery were it not for the tragic history of brigs and schooners transporting coal in the 19th century. Wreck of the Lucy […] Wrecks of the sand schooners - These are photos of two-masted sand schooners, several of which wrecked at Steep Hill Beach, Crane Beach and Plum Island. Featured image: Wreckage on Steep Hill Beach believed to be the Ada K. Damon is frequently exposed by the changing tide and sands. Photo by Bruce Lord. Sand schooners […] Wreck of the Falconer, December 17, 1847 - On December 17, 1847 the brig Falconer, loaded with bituminous coal, wrecked at Crane Beach (known then as Patch’s Beach), bound for Boston from St. John, New Brunswick. 36 crew members were rescued but 17 were lost at sea. Captain Joseph Rowlinson and his son, master Charles Robinson […] Wreck of the Deposit, December 23, 1839 - Three hurricanes swept the New England coast in 1839, two days before Christmas. The second of these storms caught the schooner "Deposit" unaware on her passage out of Belfast, Maine. Aboard the "Deposit" on Dec. 23, 1839, was Capt. Cotterall, with his wife and crew. Wreck of the Ada K. Damon - Ada K. Damon shipwreck photo from “Ipswich” by Bill Varrell Christmas, 1909 witnessed the heaviest storm in many years and is known by sailors on the Atlantic Coast as one of the most fateful days in the history of these waters. The “Great Christmas Snowstorm” struck the North Atlantic […]