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THE winter of 1801-02 was very mild, the month of January being so warm that on the twenty-fourth, the ice on the Merrimac river began to move down the stream, and on the twenty-eighth, at Salem, Mass., the thermometer indicated sixty degrees above zero. It was the warmest January that the people remembered. There had been but little snow, and they congratulated themselves upon the pleasant winter and the prospect of an early spring.

On Sunday, the twenty-first of February, the aspect of the weather wholly changed. The first part of the day was remarkably pleasant, but the wind soon changed to the northeast, and a fierce snow storm came on. The storm continued for nearly a week, covering the earth with snow and sleet to the depth of several feet. Intense cold prevailed, which produced much suffering among all classes, and caused the sleet to freeze upon the snow, forming a crust so hard and thick that the people, not distinguishing the location of the roads, drove in their sleighs across lots over fences and walls. Hon. Bailey Bartlett, Ichabod Tucker and several others of Haverhill, Mass., drove from that place to Ipswich, a distance of sixteen miles, in a large double sleigh upon the crust of snow across fields and pastures. The mail carriers were also greatly interrupted in the performance of their duties.

This was one of the winters to which the old folks of two generations ago were wont to refer, when no roads were broken out, and the farmers dragged their grists of corn on hand sleds upon the crust of the snow across fields, through woods and over fences and walls to the mills to get it ground.

The storm proved very disastrous to the vessels along the coast of Massachusetts. A schooner came ashore at Plum island, and a brig and a sloop were cast away at Cape Ann. On Chelsea beach a ship and a schooner were wrecked. The brig Eliza, commanded by Captain Ricker and owned in Berwick, Maine, while on its trip from Demerara to Boston, by way of the Vineyard, was driven on shore near the place of its destination on Monday, the twenty-second. Two schooners were also cast ashore at the same time and place, one of them being from Havana and bound to Salem, and the other belonging in Marblehead. Fortunately, no lives were lost from either vessel. Two pilot boats belonging to Messrs. Cole and Knox were driven ashore in the bay at Braintree, and a schooner, bound from Halifax to Boston, was wrecked on Cohasset rocks, one or more of the crew perishing. At Marshfield, the ship Florenzo, commanded by Captain Ham, bound from St. Ubes to Portsmouth, N. H., by the way of New York, was driven on shore, a pilot, whose services they had secured at the Vineyard, and three of the crew being lost. Cape Cod, however, was the scene of the principal shipwrecks, among them being that of a schooner from Martinico, which was driven ashore at Sandwich, her crew and cargo of molasses being saved.

Fifty years ago, the storm was best remembered by the people living on Cape Cod, on account of the wrecks there of three East-Indiamen, from the port of Salem, Mass. They were all full-rigged ships, and were named Ulysses, Brutus and Volusia, being commanded by Captains James Cook, William Brown and Samuel Cook, respectively. The first two were owned by G. Crowninshield and sons, and the other by Israel Williams and others of Salem. On that lovely Sunday morning, the three vessels proudly passed down the harbor of Salem, the Brutus and Ulysses being bound to Bordeaux, in France, and the Volusia to a port in the Mediterranean. A few hours after their departure, snow began to fall, the temperature descended very quickly, and before the next morning dawned, the wind blew a gale.

The storm came on so suddenly and was so furious that the people in Salem, to many of whose families the officers and crews belonged, were anxious to learn something from the vessels, and their owners also were interested as the ships and their cargoes were valuable. The first information that was received indicated that all the vessels and their crews were lost. Gloom rested upon the faces of the people as they conversed about the probable accuracy of the report.

"Their is a waiting, anxious waiting, for the tidings of the missing-

And tearful eyes are looking in sadness to the shore;

And the mother's heart is aching as the child she's fondly kissing

Whispers softly from its cradle, 'Will papa come no more?' "


They were kept in suspense several days, and not till the fourth of March did they begin lo learn the particulars of the great disaster that had come to the vessels and their crews. The story has been told thousands of times around the hearth-fires of a past generation, always being listened to with great interest. A warm summer-like day in February would bring the tale to the minds of those who remembered how lovely that quiet Sunday was, and what a terrible storm of snow, sleet and wind immediately followed.

At sunset on that beautiful day, the ships were about ten miles south-southeasterly from the Thatcher-island lighthouse at Cape Ann, the wind was blowing lightly from the southeast, and all three vessels were sailing together toward the east-northeast. Snow began to fall soon after, and a storm seemed to have begun. During the latter part of the evening the captains spoke each other, and discussed the situation. Had they better return and wait until suitable weather came, or push out to sea as fast as possible? They finally concluded to continue on the voyage, and turning their prows toward the east added to their sail. They made but very little progress, however, as the breeze was so light it had but slight effect upon the canvas, and at times seemed to .leave them entirely. They continued together until midnight, when the snow fell faster and the wind grew strong, having suddenly changed to the northeast. The weather had now become so threatening that the captain of the Volusia regretted that he had consented to continue on the voyage, and at half past two in the morning, concluding to risk the trip no farther, he put about on his return to Salem. The other vessels were so far from him that he could not see them, and he therefore started back without informing them of his change of mind and course.

Before the Volusia could reach Cape Ann, the snow fell so thickly, and the wind blew so hard that it was found impossible to enter the harbor. Thwarted in their design they were now under the disheartening necessity of running before the wind, and endeavoring to keep the ship away from the dangerous coast. With reefed top-sails they managed to do this through the early morning hours and most of the forenoon, though the wind was blowing a gale from the east-northeast. At eleven o'clock they saw land to the leeward, which was immediately Cape Cod, whose perilous shores they knew full well.They saw that it was almost impossible to weather the cape, and that the only thing they could do would be to tack and try to run into the cape harbor. Just then the wind parted the fore-top-sail sheet and tore the sail into shreds, at the same time carrying away the slings of the fore-yard, which brought the yard down on deck, and rendered the head sails useless. Their hope of reaching the harbor was now utterly gone. They could do nothing but let the vessel drive on shore, and if they succeeded in reaching it all would be well; but how little hope any of the men had that they would survive the terrible breakers and the powerful undertow. They had spent their lives on the ocean and knew how slight their chance of preservation was. They thought of Salem, of their homes, their wives and children, that they would probably never see again, and they seemed to love them all then with an affection that was a thousand-fold stronger than they had ever felt before. Kindred thoughts filled their minds during the ten minutes that elapsed before the ship struck the bar, about a mile from the shore, off Truro near the Peaked hills. The crew had already cut away the mizzen-mast, and now the main lanyards were severed, and the main-mast fell over the side of the ship. After a short time the vessel beat over the bar, and was driven quite near the shore. Hope came to them again. They knew at what time of the day low-tide would occur, and so they patiently waited until the afternoon when the tide was at the lowest point. Many of the inhabitants of the cape had gathered on the beach, and with their assistance the land was successfully reached by the entire crew. The vessel and part of the cargo were also saved, although much damaged.

Let us now return to the Brutus and the Ulysses that the Volusia left in the night, plowing their way oceanward in the storm. The Volusia had left them at half-past two in the midnight darkness of the early morning, they not being aware of what had become of her. An hour later the captains of the two vessels spoke each other, and now agreed that the safest plan would be to tack to the north-north-west till daylight came, and then endeavor to run out of the south channel. They accordingly changed their course, and continued in the proposed direction until six o'clock. The Brutus then turned to the southeast, but the Ulysses headed for Cape Ann as the Volusia had done earlier in the morning. Captain Cook of the Ulysses kept his course until eight o'clock, then brought the ship round and stood out of the bay, under as much canvas as she could possibly carry. The gale increased, and they were obliged to reduce the amount of sail in the afternoon. At five o'clock they sighted the highlands of Cape Cod, and immediately tacked to the westward. The sky was dark and gloomy, the snow was falling thickly and the wind blew with so great fury that the only canvas the ship could carry were her fore-sail and mizzen-top sails. They did not dare to expect that they would weather the shoals, and thought they must strike immediately. The waves dashed over the deck carrying away from the bows one of the anchors, and more than an hour was spent in heaving it into place again. At ten o'clock in the evening the ship struck on the bar at the northern pitch of Cape Cod. The bowsprit and foremast were soon carried away by the wind and waves, and the main-mast, the mizzen-mast, the boats and everything on the deck followed a few moments later. The hull only remained, and the crew fled to the cabin for protection. The ship lay thumping upon the bar but a few minutes, when some gigantic waves lifted it over, and carried it toward the beach. There they remained all night in almost utter hopelessness. The ship had bilged, and the men watched it fill with water until the floor of the cabin was covered. Their situation was now most serious, as the vessel was filling with water and they were far from shore. Before morning dawned, the tide had reached its extreme ebb, and the ship was happily left on the beach, near the water's edge, only about a mile from the wreck of the Volusia. The crew easily reached the shore, and received assistance from some of the people of Provincetown. A part of the cargo was saved, though it was much damped, but the vessel finally went to pieces.

When the Brutus separated from the Ulysses at six o'clock on Monday morning, it changed its course to the southeast, carrying all the sail it possibly could. It weathered the gale all through that day, but was constantly driven shoreward. During the day Andrew Herron, who belonged in Salem, while engaged in reefing the foresail was blown from the yard, and fell, being instantly killed. He was a foreigner by birth, and a prudent and industrious young man, who by hard labor had accumulated considerable property. He was engaged to be married to a worthy lady of Salem, who was greatly affected by his death. About eight o'clock in the evening, the ship struck on the bar, two miles from the lighthouse and near the place where the Volusia and Ulysses came ashore. She remained on the bar some time, and at length was lightened by throwing overboard a large part of the cargo. The waves then carried her over, and she ran upon the beach. The mizzen-mast was now cut away, and a few moments later the main-mast also. Hardly had this been done, when the crew were horrified to discover that the ship was parting in the middle. They must get on shore immediately, or perish in the waves. But how could they reach the land? Fortunately, the main-mast had fallen toward the beach, and on that they crawled as far as they could, Captain Brown bravely leading the way. He was the first man to get on shore. The two mates followed, and then came the seamen. All but one man, George Pierce of Marblehead, reached the beach in safety. He was overcome by the terrible waves, and drowned. The men were wet and cold and exhausted, and it seemed to be as fatal to remain on the beach as to have staid on the vessel. Something must be done for their presentation immediately. They determined to keep in a body, and if possible to cross the neck of land and seek a place of shelter. This was the coldest night of the winter, the temperature being below zero, and the strong northeast wind pierced them through and through. Captain Brown was very thinly clothed, having lost his thickest garment as he left the ship. He soon succumbed to the intense cold and the fatiguing march through the deep snow, which was too exhausting for his weak limbs to continue further, Mr. Ruee, the first mate, and the other seamen tenderly assisted him as well as they could, but they could not rally his waning strength and will. When they had reached the western side of the bay, about a mile from Provincetown, between that town and Truro, the captain gave up entirely, and soon after expired. It was now nearly midnight. One by one the men began to give out, Jacob Ayers of Manchester, the second mate, a worthy and promising young man, being one of the first to perish in the snow. Soon after, several others of the crew, becoming exhausted, dropped into the drifts, and froze to death. The survivors travelled about, not knowing whither they went, till about four o'clock in the morning (Tuesday), when they discovered a lighthouse. The party was now reduced to five persons only. They had wandered about, back and forth, in the course of the night, more than twenty miles. With limbs stiffened by cold and fatigue, they were just able to drag themselves to a small house situated in the vicinity of the lighthouse. They made their presence known to the people within, who opened wide their doors, and assisted the wretched mariners to enter. Here the sufferers received the most humane treatment. Search was immediately begun for those who had fallen in the snow during the night, but not one of them was saved. Had the wrecked seamen varied their course either to the right or left, they would have seen either the town of Truro or Provincetown, and probably fewer of them would have been lost. One of the men, Benjamin Ober, who belonged in Manchester, was found buried in the sand and snow, after having been there for thirty-six hours, being all that time in his full senses, and perceiving people continually passing near him, but powerless to move his body or make the party of rescuers hear his feeble voice. At length he held up his hand through the snow, and a boy saw it. Willing and strong arms immediately bore him to a warm room, but it was too late to revive his feeble life, which soon ebbed away,

The following is a list of the names of the crew of the Brutus. Those that perished were William Brown of Salem, captain; Jacob Ayers of Manchester, second mate; and Benjamin Ober of Manchester, Andrew Herron of Salem, Samuel Flagg of Andover, George Pierce of Marblehead, and three negroes belonging in Salem, named Benjamin Birch, John Lancaster and John Tucker, seamen. The five men who survived were Thomas Ruee of Salem, first mate; and Joseph Phippen, jr., Robert Martin and William Rowell, all of Salem, and Daniel Potter of Marblehead, seamen. The bodies of those that perished were found the next day, and properly interred. Captain Brown, being found near Provincetown, was buried there, but the rest of the men having perished near Truro, were there given their last resting place. Captain Brown's death was sincerely mourned by a large number of people, as he had been a most valuable member of society.

During an easterly storm in 1880, the waves washed away a portion of the bank where the wreck of the Brutus had lain, and under it was found the skeleton of a man, who was supposed to have been an officer of that ship. With his bones were found some silver coin, and a watch that had stopped at two o'clock, which was shortly after the hour that the wreck occurred. The author of the History of Truro adds, "The wheels of the watch and the wheels of life stood still, and had been wrapped in their sandy winding-sheet for seventy-eight years.

Source: Historic Storms of New England by Sidney Perley, 1891

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