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 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 Genealogy of the Wilcomb Family provides continues the list of Ipswich shipwrecks.

  • 1872.
    • Schooner “J. R. Lawrence” went ashore on Plum Island.
    • Schooners “J. A, Ford” and “Harriet Samantha” wrecked Oct. 26.
    • The brig “Ida C.”‘ went ashore on the beach February 20.
    • Schooner “James Freeman” sunk in Ipswich bay1875.
  • 1878.
    • A sand schooner was destroyed on Ipswich bar in a storm, April 20.
    • Schooner “Hop Vine'” went ashore on Ipswich bar, Sept 6.
    • Schooner “Sarah Ann” went ashore on Ipswich bar, November 2.
  • 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.
  • 1883. 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 and three drowned.
    • 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
  • 1886.
    • 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:
    • Schooner “Isaac Chaplain” went ashore on Bar Island end, Mar. 5.
    • A schooner loaded with sand for Boston sank in Ipswich river.
  • 1892:
    • Sand schooner W. H. V. Hackett went ashore on Little Neck, in Feb.
    • The schooner Jonathan Cone went ashore on the beach, Nov. 21.
  • 1893.
    • The schooner Celia went ashore on Ipswich bar April 18.
    • Schooner A. Baker went ashore on Ipswich bar, Dec. 15.
  • 1894. Schooner E. F. Willard, of Portland, wrecked on the beach, Feb. 5.

Image from Sand Dunes and Salt Marsh by Charles Wendell Townsend, 1913

Remains of the Ada K. Damon at Steep Hill Beach. Photo courtesy of John McGrath. By the summer of 2020, the wreck had again become totally exposed, and broke apart during a coastal storm.

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.

View from Castle Hill of the Ipswich River entering Plum Island Sound. Photo by John McGrath via Facebook.
The name of the ship grounded on Crane Beach is illegible, but it comes from a collection of photos taken around 1930.


steamer ship Wreck of the steamer Laura Marion, December 23, 1899 - This is the story of the tragic fate of the Laura Marion and her crew, swept under by one fell stroke of the sea, bringing sudden anguish to the hearts of the families who on Christmas eve.
Pigeon Cove The ”October Gale” of 1841 - In the latter part of September, 1841, was a long, unbroken spell of uncomfortable weather, which culminated in a violent and cold storm of wind, snow and rain on the night of October 2, continuing four days.
The Great Colonial Hurricane and the wreck of the Angel Gabriel - 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 members of the Cogswell, Burnham and Andrews families, who settled in an area of Ipswich known as Chebacco.
The Spectre Ship of Salem - On the fourth day after the ship left port, the sun came out and in the distance could be seen the same ship sailing effortlessly back into port directly into the wind. As the Noah’s Dove approached, its passengers including the young couple were visible but ghost-like.
The Ada K. Damon, April 2020 Wreck of the Ada K. Damon - Christmas, 1909 witnessed the heaviest storm in many years. The ship was wrecked during the captain's first trip for a load of sand from the plentiful supply on Plum Island.
Wreck of the Deposit in Ipswich Bay Wreck of the Deposit, December 23, 1839 - Dec. 23, 1839 two days before Christmas a storm caught the schooner "Deposit" on her passage out of Belfast, Maine. Capt. Cotterall was lost, and several of the crew were buried at the Old South Cemetery.
Tombstone at the Old North Burying Ground in Ipswich from the wreck of the Falconer in Ipswich Bay Wreck of the Falconer, December 17, 1847 - On December 17, 1847 the brig Falconer, loaded with bituminous coal, wrecked at Crane Beach during a fierce winter storm. A dozen of the crew and passengers are buried in a common grave at the Old North Burying Ground.
Ships off Liverpool in the Great Storm of 1839 Awful Calamities: the Shipwrecks of December, 1839 - Three gales of unequaled fury and destructiveness swept along our coast carrying desolation and death in their stormy pathway, and overwhelming many families in the deepest mourning.
Hurricane Carol Union Street Ipswich MA Hurricanes and winter storms - Massachusetts has the highest probability of all of the states to be hit by an ocean storm, which includes hurricanes and nor'easters.
The shipwrecks at Ipswich Bar - 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. The hull of the Ada K. Damon sits on Steep Hill Beach.
Wreck of the Watch and Wait 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.
Benjamin Ellsworth at the Ipswich Lighthouse The Ipswich lighthouse - In 1881, a 45-foot cast iron lighthouse was erected at Crane Beach, replacing an earlier structure. By 1913, the sand had shifted so much that the lighthouse was 1,090 feet from the high water mark. Use of the light was discontinued in 1932 and in 1939 the Coast Guard floated the entire lighthouse to Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard.
Wreck of the Hesperus, January 6, 1839 - It was the schooner Hesperus, That sailed the wintry sea; And the skipper had taken his little daughtèr, To bear him company.
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 […]
Ada K. Damon, Ipswich MA Wrecks of the schooners - These are photos of two and three-masted schooners, several of which wrecked at Steep Hill Beach, Crane Beach and Plum Island.

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