Ships off Liverpool in the Great Storm of 1839History

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 short period of fourteen days as have transpired within that length of time the present month.

Only survivor of shipwreck

Three gales of unequalled fury and destructiveness have swept along our coast carrying desolation and death in their stormy pathway and overwhelming many families in the deepest mourning.

Many who entered upon the month of December with a fair prospect of enjoying a happy new year and perhaps a long life now sleep in the bosom of the great deep with the seaweed wrapped around them or have been tossed on shore by the bellowing surges and all bruised and mangled have been followed perhaps by strangers to an untimely grave.

Often as we have been called to weep with those who have wept over the sad wreck of human hope we have seldom met with any thing so well calculated to excite the sympathy of all the friends of humanity as the melancholy events which we have recorded below.

Awful Calamities shiprecks December 1839


On the night of Saturday, December 14 at about midnight a violent snow storm commenced along the coast and continued to rage until late on Monday. During a part of the time the snow gave place to a freezing rain. About 2 PM on Sunday the rain commenced and the wind at the same time rose to a gale, but it was not until 11 PM that the unprecedented and devastating hurricane broke upon the ill-fated shipping. From that time until 2 or 3 o’clock AM of Monday it continued a perfect tornado. It blew hard all Monday and Monday night but the most damage was done on Sunday night. The following is a list of the vessels wrecked or damaged as far as has been learned.


  • At Lynn the schooner Catharine Nickols Woodward went ashore on Nahant at about 4 PM. The vessel was washed into a mere mass of splinters. Three men were lost
  • At Marblehead, the schooner Minerva Rollins from Pittstown for Plymouth lost both masts and bowsprit threw over her deck load of hay
  • Schooner Paul Jones high and dry on the rocks bilged
  • Schooner Sea Flower with corn and flour on the beach, a total loss of the vessel and part of the cargo.
  • Schooner Brilliant lost her main boom stern ripped down.
  • Schooner Tasso slightly damaged.
  • The schooners Mary Swazey, JQ Adams, Plutus, Two Brothers and Burlington ran ashore on River Head Beach.
  • The stern of a small craft was found on this beach, probably wrecked on one of the Islands at the mouth of the harbor.


The greatest destruction took place here. The gale was truly terrific and the devastation unprecedented and terrible. The following is a list of the vessels that were most severely injured, all of which ran ashore unless otherwise stated:

  • Schooner Eliza and Betsey of Mount Desert sunk at her anchors; Joseph Gott,Alpheus Gott (picked up),Peter Gott and Joseph Gott, her crew all lost
  • Schooner Boston Thomas of Belfast with wood and lumber for Salem, vessel and cargo totally lost, crew saved
  • Schooner Mary Jane of Portland cargo of molasses cut away, masts stove, deck load crew taken off
  • Schooner Columbia of Bremen Maine, Jacob L Kaler master, total wreck; William Wallace and Horses drowned
  • Schooner Neutrality of Portland, William Shays master, crew saved, vessel and cargo total loss
  • Schooner S.t Cloud Park from New York for Prospect, total wreck, crew saved
  • Schooner Favorite of Wiscasset, vessel and cargo total loss,Mrs Sally Hilton and Wm Mann drowned, former picked up
  • Schooner Sally of Wiscasset, Capt. Drake vessel and cargo total loss, Capt Drake and brother drowned
  • Schooner Fame, three-masted of Ellsworth, Capt Lord, vessel bilged, cargo may be saved, no lives lost
  • Schooner Delta of Augusta, Capt. Moor, vessel above high water mark no lives lost
  • Schooner Sarah of Portsmouth, owned by G Melcher, cargo corn and flour partly saved, no lives lost
  • Sloop Portland of Brunswick on shore, hands saved
  • Schooner Prudence of Prospect, vessel and cargo lost, crew saved
  • Schooner Sally and Mary of Bristol, vessel and cargo lost, crew saved
  • Schooner Industry of Prospect, vessel and cargo lost, crew saved
  • Mary Francis of Belfast, Warden. Just as the Custom House boat boarded her on Monday afternoon, her last cable parted and she went to sea. The boat took off the crew and two passengers.
  • Schooner Volant of wreck crew believed to be all saved
  • Schooner Mary Gould of wreck crew saved
  • Schooner Charlotte of wrecked crew saved
  • Schooner Walrus of Bucksport, wrecked at Pigeon Cove crew all perished, four bodies found. Cargo of corn flour.
  • Schooner Brilliant of Mount Desert, vessel, cargo, and three men lost, names unknown
  • Schooner Milo of Bristol, vessel and cargo lost, one man Samuel Sprawl drowned
  • Schooner Splendid of New Castle, vessel and cargo lost, crew saved
  • Schooner Sally of Wiscasset, vessel cargo and two men, Hartley and Isaac Decker lost
  • Schooner North Carolina of Calais. James Barter Jr. bound to Newport with lumber, cut away masts and rode out the gale, sustained injury by vessels drifting afoul of her
  • Schooner Cooper’s Fancy Bridges of Mount Desert, vessel sunk, crew saved
  • Schooner F. Severs lost on Norman’s Woe
  • Sloop Eagle of Bowdoinham, went to pieces, crew saved
  • Schooner Ariel Ellsworth from Boston for Frenchman’s Bay, dismasted,crew taken off
  • Schooner Eliza & Betsey of Mount Desert, driven ashore, crew saved.
  • Schooner Alert Dunten of Woolwich for Boston, dismasted, crew taken off
  • Schooner Henrietta Dunten of Westport for Norfolk, dismasted, crew saved
  • At Sandy Bay a schooner struck a reef while entering the harbor and went to pieces instantly. It is thought all on board were lost. Her name was unknown. Four bodies came ashore


  • At Ipswich , schooner Deposit of Belfast with lumber went ashore on Lakeman’s beach, four lost, two men and one woman saved.
  • At Essex a schooner went ashore on Patch’s beach, six persons lost, one saved


Fifteen or twenty vessels were injured, but we believe no lives lost. Among the vessels damaged were:

  • The Nancy, loss of mast and other damage
  • Ivy Mechanic and Harmony
  • Schooner Good Intent at one of the lower wharves got foul of the Hope and both were damaged
  • Schooner Glide loaded for New Orleans was badly chafed at the wharf
  • also the Margaret for Baltimore
  • Ship Huntress reported on Saturday to have sailed, did not get out but returned to the wharf where she lay with no other damage than rubbing her paint

Such is believed to be a very correct account of the destruction caused by the first storm, and who in looking over the extended list can fail to perceive that it was one wide scene of devastation along the whole eastern coast of Massachusetts.

Source: “Awful calamities: or, The shipwrecks of December 1839

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