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.

The text below is shared from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons License:

Ipswich Bar, as Sandy Point has been called historically, has a long history of tragedy. The swift currents and shallow waters are dangerous at any time of year, but they are fatal most often in winter and in a storm. Sailing vessels were driven aground on the bar and although in full sight of land only 1/4 mile or less away the victims could not reach it except through the chilled waters and breaking surf, and if they did reach it, found themselves far from assistance. The main cause of death is hypothermia or drowning following on hypothermia, which ensues in only a few minutes in the winter waters of Massachusetts, chilled by the Labrador current.

SandDunePlumIslboat

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.

plum_island_life_saving_station
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.

LifeBoat

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.
dune_shipwreck
Image from Sand Dunes and Salt Marsh by Charles Wendell Townsend, 1913
ada_k_damon_john_mcgrath.jpg
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.

ipswich_river_john_mcgrath.jpg
View from Castle Hill of the Ipswich River entering Plum Island Sound. Photo by John McGrath via Facebook.

Shipwrecks

Hurricanes and winter storms - 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…
Pigeon Cove 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 storm wrecked at least 190 vessels … Continue reading The ”October Gale” of 1841
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 … Continue reading The shipwrecks at Ipswich Bar
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 … Continue reading Awful Calamities: the Shipwrecks of December, 1839
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 Avery, his wife and six children and … Continue reading Wreck of the Watch and Wait, August 24, 1635
The Ipswich lighthouse - In 1837 the U.S. government erected two 29′ towers for guidance to the mouth of the Ipswich River along with a lightkeeper’s residence. The lighthouses were aligned such that they would provide guidance into the river’s mouth. The westernmost tower soon was updated with a revolving light. The first keeper of the Ipswich Light was … Continue reading The Ipswich lighthouse
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 Norman’s Woe off the coast of Gloucester, … Continue reading Wreck of the Hesperus, January 6, 1839
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.” Many people in Salem supposed them to be demons … Continue reading The Spectre Ship of Salem
The Great Colonial Hurricane and the wreck of the Angel Gabriel, August 25, 1635 - Featured image: Pemaquid Point plaque commemorating the wreck of the Angel Gabriel On the last Wednesday of May, 1635, the Angel Gabriel, a 240 ton ship set out from England, bound for New England. The ship had been commissioned as the Starre for Sir Walter Raleigh’s last expedition to America in 1617. It was stout … Continue reading The Great Colonial Hurricane and the wreck of the Angel Gabriel, August 25, 1635
Wreck of the Edward S. Eveleth, October 1922 - Featured image: the Edward S. Eveleth from Bill Varrell’s book, “Ipswich.” 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. From … Continue reading Wreck of the Edward S. Eveleth, October 1922
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 M. Collins It is almost certain that the coal … Continue reading Wreck of the Lucy M. Collins, August 19, 1891
Ada K. Damon, Ipswich MA 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 delivered sand from local beaches to Boston … Continue reading Wrecks of the 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 were buried in Belfast, Maine. Three bodies … Continue reading Wreck of the Falconer, December 17, 1847
Ipswich MA lighthouse Wreck of the Deposit, December 23, 1839 - The lighthouse located on Crane Beach was moved nine times because the channel to the harbor shifted, before finally being moved to Martha’s Vineyard. Every light keeper feared that at some time, especially at a critical time, the station would fail to provide guidance. The Ipswich Lighthouse The story as told by Susan Howard Boice: I … Continue reading Wreck of the Deposit, December 23, 1839
Ada K. Damon, Ipswich MA 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 States hard as far south as Maryland. … Continue reading Wreck of the Ada K. Damon

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