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. From September 30 to October 6, inclusive, five and sixteen-hundredths inches of water fell. It snowed in northern New England, snow falling at Amherst, N. H., to the depth of six inches. It soon melted, however. It rained in southern New England, though in eastern Massachusetts, there was some snow with the rain, and in the western part of the state snow fell in great quantities, being a foot deep on the hills in Hampden county.

At sunset on Saturday, the second of the month, the wind came lightly from the northeast. It soon freshened and at eleven o'clock was blowing very hard. At midnight it blew a gale, and rain began to fall in Massachusetts and snow in New Hampshire. The violence of the wind continued to increase during the hours of darkness, until it became the cause of disaster on both sea and land. On Sunday morning, the sun rose clear, but it immediately went into black clouds, and the sky looked wild. At eleven o'clock in the forenoon a heavy sea was running all along the coast, and vessels were being thrown upon the rocks and beaches. The wind continued to blow all day, and at eight o'clock in the evening was still a gale. In fact, it did not produce its strongest force until two o'clock Monday morning. At daybreak it seemed as fierce as ever, having veered slightly to the north, but during the afternoon it abated considerably and continued to moderate until Tuesday morning. By ten o'clock a beautiful autumn day was gladdening the hearts made heavy by the destruction of property and lives.

On the land, trees were stripped of many of their small branches and leaves, a great deal of fruit was destroyed, and chimneys and buildings were blown down. On the sea, the gale was so terrific that it tore the newest and strongest canvas into shreds and masts and spars of vessels were carried away. The ocean roared as though with unbridled madness, and its waves ran mountain high, throwing their spray far into the sky, and forming a majestic yet fearful sight. Many vessels were wrecked on the water and on the shores.

In the harbors, vessels broke away from their moorings and collided or dashed against the wharves or upon the shore, some being sunk or afterward found at sea without a person on board. The tide rose so high that on Sunday wharves were covered and marshes submerged for long distances inland.

In the harbor of Portland, Maine, several vessels went ashore and became complete wrecks. At Portsmouth, N. H., the vessel named Maine, belonging to Bath, parted her cables and was driven out of the harbor on Monday morning. She was forced into Massachusetts bay, where she struck on Cohasset rocks at nine o'clock in the forenoon, and went ashore on Scituate beach, becoming a total wreck. There were on board seven passengers, four women and three men, and the crew which numbered four. The vessel was commanded by Captain Blen of Dresden, Maine, and with him was his daughter Miss Martha I. Blen. The captain, his daughter, five passengers, including all the women and one man, and one seaman perished.

At Cape Ann, only one human life was lost. Since the storms of December, 1839, a lifeboat had been obtained, and it was attempted to use it in this storm, but in getting it off the bottom was stove in. Vessels were snatched as it were from the waves and dashed into fragments among the rocks. The gale was most disastrous at Pigeon cove. The fisher dwellers there lost fourteen of their entire fleet of sixteen vessels. One of the two that were saved was thrown on the sand and much injured, and the other was at Squam. Many fish houses and fish flakes, together with about sixty barrels of mackerel, two hundred hogsheads of salt, and three hundred empty barrels were destroyed. This great loss of about fifty thousand dollars in value fell upon a class that was little able to bear it, for nearly all they had was invested in the fishing interest, and the vessels and other things necessary in carrying on the business. Public meetings were held at Rockport, Salem, and other places, in behalf of these honest, hardworking and worthy fishermen. The great loss there was on account of the destruction of the breakwater, that had been built in 1832 at an expense of seventeen thousand dollars by individuals in Gloucester, Rockport, Newburyport, and other commercial places.

On the Island of Nantucket, several vessels at the docks were considerably injured, and the tide rose two or three feet above the wharves, running into most of the lower streets. Large quantities of lumber and cord-wood were strewn in various directions. In the village of Siasconset, the high bank or bluff at the front of the hamlet overlooking the sea, gave way for some considerable distance, and the residence of Marshall Crosby with two barns was precipitated down the cliff. A man by the name of Hussey fell down the same place and had his thigh broken. But the most disastrous effect of the storm was on the land. The then new and extensive rope walk belonging to Barker and Athern, and occupied by Joseph James, was swept from its foundation and torn into fragments, leaving only the tar-house and part of the hemp-house standing. A large portion of Isaac Myrick's ropewalk was also demolished. The observatory, two or three barns or carriage-houses, and several chimneys were blown down. During Sunday night, every building trembled under the pressure of the furious elements, but few people were free from alarm and consternation and, as a writer of that time facetiously wrote, "not many slept without rocking."

The greatest loss of life and properly in this storm occurred on Cape Cod. The beach from Chatham to the highlands was literally strewn with parts of wrecks. Between forty and fifty vessels went ashore on the sands there, and fifty dead bodies were picked up. At Hyannisport, several vessels were cast on the beach, one of which was the schooner Franklin, which first capsized, the cook and a seaman named Newcomb being lost. One of the crew of the schooner Tangent, another vessel there, fell overboard from the mast-head and was drowned. The schooner Bride, belonging in Dennis, was driven ashore and the bodies of the crew, eight in number, were found in the cabin. In this storm the town of Dennis lost twenty-six of her most active and promising men, many of whom were just entering upon manhood, and eighteen of them had been schoolmates, leaving kindred living within a quarter of a mile of each other. The schooner Forest of Gloucester, commanded by Capt. Stephen Rich, was lost while mackereling, with its crew of eight men. The schooner Ellis, of Plymouth, went ashore on the east side of Truro, a little north of the Highland light, and Capt. Joseph Dunham, the master, and his crew of eight were all drowned. The schooner Industry, belonging in Halifax, and bound for Argyle, N. S., also went ashore near the same place losing three men. Another schooner, Spitfire, also belonging in Halifax, was wrecked about half a mile below Race point. From it were lost the captain, two seamen, and a lady passenger about twenty years of age. The male passengers were saved.

Most of the vessels of Truro, Mass., were on or near the southwest part of George's banks, and on the night of the second, the crews left off fishing, and made sail to run for the highland of Cape Cod. Mighty ocean currents that they had never encountered before carried them out of their course to the southeast, but being disabled by the gale they were driven upon the Nantucket shoals, which extend fifty or sixty miles into the ocean, southeasterly from the island of that name. These unfortunate mariners were nearly all young men under thirty years of age. Fifty-seven from Truro were lost and buried in the great ocean cemetery.

One of the vessels belonging to Truro was the Altair, with a crew of six, of which Capt. Elisha Rich was master. They had been fishing near George's banks, and were on their way home, when both vessel and crew were destroyed on the Nantucket shoals.

Another of the vessels belonging to Truro, that had been associated with the Altair in its trip, and was also destroyed with its cargo and crew, was the Arrival, Capt. Freeman Atkins, jr., master. The rest of the crew consisted of eight men.

The Cincinnatus, also belonging to Truro, commanded by Capt. John Wheeler, was a large able vessel, and had been fishing, on the second day, in the hook of the Isle of Sable. She started homeward with the rest of the fleet, and was wrecked with many of the other vessels on the Nantucket shoals. The crew of ten men were all lost.

The Dalmatian, Capt. Daniel Snow, master, was another of the Truro vessels that went down with all on board on the shoals off Nantucket, having come in with the fishing fleet from George's. There were on deck twenty or thirty barrels of salted mackerel. The vessel was last seen at about eight o'clock Sunday morning, off Cape Cod with the rest of the fleet, apparently in a comfortable condition. Ten men constituted the whole of the crew.

Another fishing vessel, the Garnet, of Truro, commanded by Capt. Joshua Knowles, also of Truro, left Provincetown on Saturday, the second, and at sunset was about three miles out from the head of Pamet, engaged in fishing. Soon after he spoke with the Vesper, of Dennis, that was returning home from George's banks. They reported good fishing there, and so the crew of the Garnet concluded to go down and try their luck. Heading in that direction, they put on all sail, for the wind was blowing lightly and from the northeast. It soon breezed up, and at ten o'clock the "light" sails were taken in. At twelve o'clock the wind was blowing a gale, and the mainsail was furled. At four o'clock, next (Sunday) morning, they took in the jib. The water now measured thirty-four fathoms in depth, and they supposed they were on the southwest part of George's. Two hours later they double-reefed the foresail, which soon after parted the leach-rope and tore to the luff. The sail was cross-barred, a preventer leach-rope put on as quickly as possible, and the whole was then close-reefed. The gale increased every moment, and at ten o'clock a heavy sea tore away the boat and davits. By sounding they discovered that they were fast drifting across the south channel, and they knew that the shoals were under their lee. Determined to carry sail as long as it would stand, for the purpose of clearing them, if it could be done, to the close-reefed foresail they set a balance-reefed mainsail and reefed jib. The foresail again gave out, was repaired and again set, but as soon as it was up the wind was so terrific that it was blown to ribbons. The mainsail soon shared the same fate, and the jib only was left. It was now about eight o'clock Sunday evening, and they could do nothing more to save themselves. They sounded and found that the water measured fifteen fathoms. They then knew that they were rapidly drifting into shoal water. At the next throw of the line it measured only six fathoms. The sea was breaking over the vessel fore and aft, and the captain advised the crew to go below. All but the captain and his brother did so. They remained on deck, and after discussing the situation, concluded to swing the craft off before the wind, that, if by any possibility they were nearing land, they might have a better chance of escape. The helm was put up, and just as she began to fall off, a tremendous sea, or a breaker completely buried the vessel, leaving her on her broadside, or beam ends. Zach, the captain's brother, was washed overboard, but he caught hold of the main sheet and hauled himself on board. The foremast was broken about fifteen feet above deck, the strain on the spring-stay hauled the mainmast out of the step, and tore up the deck, sweeping away the galley, bulwarks and everything else, and shifted the ballast into the wing. A sharp hatchet had always been kept under the captain's berth, to be used in case of an emergency. This he soon found, and to it fastened a lanyard, which was tied to a rope that had already been fastened to Zach's waist, the other end being secured on the vessel. Zach went to the leeward, and when the vessel rolled out of water, he watched his chance, and cut away the rigging. The captain did the same forward, cutting away the jib-stay and other ropes, and by that means relieved the vessel of the spars, sails, rigging, sheet anchor and chains. The crew got into the hold through the lazeret, and threw the ballast to the windward, so that she partially righted. They were now on a helpless wreck. After the great breaker had gone over, the motion of the sea became more regular. With a few of the waist-boards left, and spare canvas, they repaired the deck, and with the remaining anchor out for a drag, made a good drift considering the circumstances, though mostly under water. It was now nearly daylight, and the gale had abated. As soon as it was fairly day they knew by the appearance of the water that they were off soundings. On the morning of Tuesday, the fifth, the wind was blowing moderately. They saw a schooner standing by under reefed sails, the wind being northwest. Captain Knowles made every effort he could to attract the attention of the people on board if there were any, but on account of the masts being gone, and the hull so low, they were not noticed, and the vessel, which they had hoped would be the means of their rescue passed out of sight. They then put a stay on the stump of the foremast, set the staysail for a foresail and the gaff-topsail for a jib, to enable them to steer. By ten o'clock in the forenoon the weather had become pleasant and the gale was over. They opened the hatches, and found some potatoes floating on the water in the hold. Fortunately, when the galley was washed away the tea-kettle was in the cabin, so that it was saved. They built a fire on the ballast, boiled the potatoes in the tea-kettle, and had a lunch. This was the first food they had eaten since Sunday morning, and now it was Tuesday noon. Just before sunset a sail was discovered approaching them from the east. They hoisted their flag on a long pole as a signal and used every effort they could to get in her track. They were soon convinced that they had been seen, and that she was being steered toward them. They could see many men in the rigging and on the yards, apparently on the watch. When within hailing distance the captain inquired what assistance he could give, and the shipwrecked mariners explained their situation. It was determined to abandon the wreck, and a quarter boat was sent from the rescuing vessel. It was soon alongside, and the crew of ten men, with most of their luggage, were taken away in the first boat-load. The boat returned for the rest of the personal effects of the crew and for the captain, who had remained behind. After they had left the wreck he returned and with his hatchet cut a hole through the bottom of the vessel, letting the water into the hold, which soon filled. He stepped back into the boat, which was pulled away as the Garnet settled down to the bottom of the ocean. It had been the home of Captain Knowles for several years, and be had formed such an attachment for the schooner that even the distressing circumstances did not obliterate all regret for its destruction. He was happily surprised when he learned that the vessel which had rescued them was the packet-ship Roscius, plying between New York and Liverpool, the first merchant ship of her time, carrying on this voyage four hundred cabin and steerage passengers; and that she was commanded by Capt. John Collins, a Truro boy, formerly Captain Knowles' nearest neighbor as well as a relative by marriage. Another of the officers was Captain Collins' nephew, Joshua C. Paine, also a Truro young man. The rescued mariners were shown every attention while they remained on the ship. They were again surprised when they learned that they were rescued two hundred miles off the highlands of Neversink, N. J. They landed at New York on the seventh of the month. There they received the kindest and most generous treatment, and in due time all arrived at Truro in safely.

Another of the Truro vessels fishing on George's banks on the day before the storm was the General Harrison, Capt. Reuben Snow, master. It left the fishing grounds for home with the rest of the Truro fleet, and at about seven o'clock Saturday evening, was several miles off Cape Cod. The vessel was lying there very comfortably with others of the Truro boats, having on its deck some twenty or thirty barrels of salted mackerel. It never reached its port, however. but sunk with the other vessels on the shoals of Nantucket, with all on board, the crew being a large one.

The Pomona, a small fishing vessel, commanded by Capt. Solomon H. Dyer of Truro, was also returning from the George's, where the crew had been fishing. They were some distance behind the rest of the Truro vessels, and were seen about half-past ten o'clock to the northwest of the fleet off Cape Cod, lying under double-reefed foresail. They stood in toward the shore, evidently intending to come within the Cape. A man was seen to go out on the bowsprit and loose a part of the jib, which they hoisted. The vessel was last seen in the storm at about half-past twelve, when a squall came suddenly over the raging ocean, and it is believed that it was then disabled. The men on board were all lost. The crew consisted of the captain and seven young men, all belonging to Truro. After the storm, the vessel was found bottom up in Nauset harbor, and in the cabin the bodies of three of the boys were discovered and brought home for burial. Her boat and some other articles were picked up between three and four o'clock, only about two hours after the squall struck her.

Another of the Truro vessels that was with the fleet was the Prince Albert, Captain Noah Smith, master. The boat went down on the shoals of Nantucket, and the crew of eight, all of whom belonged in Truro, perished.

The Water Witch, Captain Matthias Rich, master, was also out in the storm. On the morning of Saturday, the crew were fishing with the fleet, and had caught about half a dozen barrels full of large, fat mackerel. The rest of the fleet sailed for home, and they soon followed but did not overtake them until after sunset. They were then ninety miles southeast by east from Provincetown, and lay to under foresail toward the east, carrying the jib all night. All the other vessels lay to the northwest under foresail only, and at four o'clock next morning (Sunday) bad weather had set in, and there was a smart northeast wind. They wore ship and started for the cape, which was calculated to be one hundred and twenty miles distant northwest by west. At five o'clock, all their sail was put on. Sometimes, on account of heavy seas, they were obliged to swing off the course. The sun rose clear, but it immediately went behind black clouds, showing two sun-dogs, the heavens having a wild appearance. Between seven and eight o'clock they passed the fleet, which was still lying to the northwest under foresail, two or three vessels having a bob-jib. About eleven, the crew urged the captain to tack ship, but he said it was too late, and that they must make a harbor or run ashore, as he saw no chance to fall to the leeward, and that he had concluded if the highlands of Cape Cod could not be weathered, to run on shore where it was bold, taking the chance of being saved. An hour and a half later, they judged they were nearly up to the land, and were about to make some observations, when a squall struck them, driving the sea completely over the vessel. The jib and mainsail were hauled down, and they lay under double-reefed foresail. The wind was now farther north. At one o'clock the force of the squall had passed, and the heavens had slightly cleared to leeward. The captain was then standing in the gangway, and all the crew were below, as they could not remain on deck. The captain saw land under the lee and well along to windward. The first thought of running on shore, to their almost certain destruction, was a terrible shock to him; but he quickly rallied, sprang on deck and called his men. The jib was set and the vessel fell off so far that the land was now to the windward of the bow-sprit. The captain knew that he had a good sea-boat, having tried her in many a difficult place, and that their race was now for life or death. The mainsail had been balance-reefed before lying to and it was now hoisted. The sail was small, but before it was half way up, the vessel lay so much on its broadside that the halyards were lost, and the sail came down by the run, blowing to pieces. The main boom and gaff went over the lee rail, and they tried to cut them away, but fearing the main top-in-liff would carry away the mainmast, got on a tackle, and pulled the boom and part of the mainsail out of the water. The vessel righted and came up to the wind, making good headway and gaining to the windward under the only sail it would bear — double-reefed foresail and reefed jib, the sea making a break fore and aft. They had now a slight hope that they would weather the highlands. They kept as close to the wind as possible, and at half-past three they had weathered the highlands, with no room to spare between them. When off Peaked hill bars, the jib was blown away, and they just cleared the breakers. But they had weathered! the lee shore was astern, and Race point was under their lee. They rounded the point, and anchored in Herring cove at half-past six, as darkness came on. The captain now left the helm, to which he had been lashed for twelve consecutive hours. When morning dawned, theirs was the only vessel in the cove.

The loss in this storm of the fifty-seven young men of Truro was the most serious calamity that ever visited the town. There was scarcely a person but to whom some of them were related; thus making it in the most literal sense a public bereavement. In commemoration of the event, there was erected in the town, a plain marble shaft, rising from a brownstone base, which is inscribed on the front face as follows: --


To the memory of
who were lost in seven
vessels, which
foundered at sea in
the memorable gale
of October 3, 1841.

Then shall the dust return to the earth
as it was; and the spirit shall return to
God who gave it.

Man goeth to his long home, and the
mourners go about the streets.

On the back of the monument is given a list of the names of the lost mariners, with their respective ages, arranged in columns.

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

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