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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Schooner “Isaac Chaplain” went ashore on Bar Island end, Mar. 5.
- A schooner loaded with sand for Boston sank in Ipswich river.
- Sand schooner W. H. V. Hackett went ashore on Little Neck, in Feb.
- The schooner Jonathan Cone went ashore on the beach, Nov. 21.
- 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.
Wrecks of the sand schooners
Sand schooners delivered sand from local beaches to Boston to be used in concrete for the construction industry. The captains would bring the schooners broadside to a beach at high tide and anchor the bow and stern. A long gangplank would be extended from the ship for men to roll wheelbarrows full of sand, which would be dumped into the hold.
In January 1894 the sand schooner A. Baker was lying sunk and abandoned in Plum Island Sound near the southerly end of Plum Island in Ipswich, and was an obstruction to navigation. Upon investigation it was found that the owner had no means of removing her. The matter rested for a while until Mr. Anton Graf of Georgetown removed the wreck for $195 on May 29, 1894. (from the Annual Report of the Board of Harbor and Land Commissioners of Massachusetts). In October 1922 the Edward S. Evelyth rolled over when a wave rushed over her deck and pushed her onto the edge of the beach. Filled with sand, each tide buried her deeper. Her remains were visible for several years.
In 1909 Capt. A. K Brewster sold his farm in York, Maine and invested everything in the sand schooner Ada K. Damon. The ship was wrecked during the “Great Christmas Snowstorm” on his first trip for a load of sand from the plentiful supply on Plum Island. On the 26th of December she stranded 3.5 miles south-southwest of the Plum Island Coast Guard station. The gale swept down from the northeast thick with snow, the anchors dragged and parted, and the ship wrecked at Steep Hill Beach at high tide.
The 66-ton schooner M. L. Wetherell was built in Essex, MA in 1865, owned or fitted by Henry Hardy and is among the 1887 Gloucester MA List of Vessels. M. L. Wetherell was a Gloucester MA pharmacist, and I assume that the ship was named after him. In the early years it fished in the Gulf of St Lawrence with hand lines along with the William W. Hutchins of Gloucester.
In the book Down to the Sea, we read that in October, 1870, Albert Faulk was lost overboard from the M. L. Wetherell. The following year, Finley McFadden, Michael Key and Thomas Mackay were lost as well. On April 11, 1872, George T. Sanford, of Deer Isle, Maine, and Alex McDonald, of Prince Edward Island were lost on Grand Bank from the schooner M. L. Wetherell.
There is an odd report by the Rye Beach Life Saving Service of a man who was adrift in a boat belonging to the schooner M.L. Wetherell, rescued near the Rye Beach Station on the coast of New Hampshire. “While going from Newburyport to Plum Island, the boatman broke an oar and was carried out to sea on the ebb tide, and drifted all night before a southwest wind. In the morning he was seen and rescued by the Rye Beach life-saving crew who gave him breakfast, provided spare oars, and replenished his supply of clothing. When he was sufficiently refreshed (the wind having hauled meanwhile and moderated) he left the station to pull down the coast to his vessel, the schooner M. L. Wetherell, 13 miles distant.”
In the History of Newburyport, John J. Currier wrote that on the sixth of December 6, 1891, the schooner M. L. Wetherell, loaded with sand, was stranded near Lighthouse Point at the northern end of Plum Island, MA. The vessel was a total loss.
The Thomas H. Lawrence
Coal schooners were generally larger with three masts. The 374-ton Thomas H. Lawrence stranded at Crane’s Beach on September 4, 1939. A channel was dug and the ship was refloated.