The Project Gutenberg eBook of Shipwrecks on Cape Cod

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Title: Shipwrecks on Cape Cod

the story of a few of the many hundred shipwrecks which have occurred on Cape Cod

Author: Isaac M. Small

Release date: February 14, 2024 [eBook #72960]

Language: English

Original publication: Chatham, Mass: The Chatham Press Inc, 1928

Credits: Steve Mattern and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


Transcriber’s Note

Larger versions of most illustrations may be seen by right-clicking them and selecting an option to view them separately, or by double-tapping and/or stretching them.

Additional notes will be found near the end of this ebook.




Shipwrecks on Cape Cod



MAY 1st, 1928

Reprinted 1967 By

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Author’s Preface 5
Loss of the Josephus 8
The Clara Bell 11
The Loss of the Ship Peruvian 14
The Bark Francis 18
Loss of the Giovanni 21
The Jason 24
Loss of the Steamship Portland 27
The Gift of the Sea 31
A Few of the Many Deep Sea Mysteries 34
The Monte Taber 35
Loss of the Oakland 37
Loss of the Castagnia 39
Thomas W. Lawson—the Largest Schooner 41
Loss of the Ship Asia 42
Barges Wadena and Fitzpatrick 43
Story of the Sloop Trumbull 46
Wreck of the Somerset—British Man of War 48
The Mystery of the Mary Celeste 50
The Self-Steered Craft 52
Tragedy of the Herbert Fuller 53
The Job Jackson Wreck 56
Loss of the Number 238 57
The Palmer Fleet 59
A Gale, and What it Did 61
Loss of the Montclair on Orleans Beach 63
Loss of the Reinhart at Race Point 65
Was it Murder? 67
Stranding of the Barges 69
The John Tracy Mystery 72
Wreck of the Roger Dicky 73
The Gettysburg Tow 75
Loss of the Elsia G. Silva 77
A Terrible Disaster 78
Terrible Submarine Disaster 80
Stranding of the Robert E. Lee 85



I hardly know whether to call this a preface or part of the story, it seems rather too long for the former and too short for a chapter of the latter, but I may as well follow the general rule and call it a preface.

Friends have often said to me, “Why don’t you write some stories concerning shipwrecks which have occurred on Cape Cod?”

Perhaps one of the strongest reasons why I have not done so is because, to describe all of the sad disasters which have come under my observation during my more than half a century of service as Marine Reporting Agent, at Highland Light, Cape Cod, would make a book too bulky to be interesting, and a second reason has been the difficulty of selecting such instances as would be of the greatest interest to the general reader.

But out of the hundreds of shipwrecks which have become a part of the folk lore and history of this storm beaten coast I have finally decided to tell something of the circumstances connected with the loss of life and property in a few of the more prominent cases.

The descriptions herein written are only just “unvarnished tales,” couched in such language that even the children may understand, and in order that there may be a clear understanding of how I came to be in close touch with the events of which I write, it is perhaps necessary to state briefly a few facts concerning my life work here.

So far back as 1853, the merchants of Boston, desiring to obtain rapid and frequent reports concerning the movements of their ships along the coast of Cape Cod, were instrumental in causing the construction of a telegraph line from Boston to the end of Cape Cod, and a station was established on the bluffs of the Cape at Highland Light, this station was equipped with signal flags, books and a powerful telescope, and an operator placed in charge, whose duty it was to watch the sea from daybreak until sunset, and so far as possible obtain the names of or a description of every passing ship. This information was immediately transmitted over the wires to the rooms of the Chamber of Commerce, where it was at once spread upon their books for the information of their subscribers.

When the boys in blue were marching away to southern6 battlefields at the beginning of the Civil War, in 1861, I began the work of “Marine Reporting Agent,” and now on the threshold of 1928, I am still watching the ships.

A fair sized volume might be written concerning the changes which have taken place in fifty years, as to class of vessels and methods of transportation, but that is not what I started to write about.

My duties begin as soon as it is light enough to distinguish the rig of a vessel two miles distant from the land, and my day’s work is finished when the sun sinks below the western horizon. Every half hour through every day of the year we stand ready to answer the call at the Boston office, and report to them by telegraph every item of marine intelligence which has come under our observation during the previous half hour. With our telescope we can, in clear weather, make out the names of vessels when four miles away. When a shipwreck occurs, either at night or during the day, we are expected to forward promptly to the city office every detail of the disaster. If the few stories herein told serve to interest our friends who tarry with us for a while in the summer, then the object of the writer will have been attained.



This is known as Cape Cod Light, more often spoken of as Highland Light. It stands on a bluff 140 feet above sea level. The brick tower is 65 feet high. It was built by the United States Government in 1777 and rebuilt in 1851. It is a revolving flash light and its rays can be seen 45 miles at sea.



The first shipwreck of which I have any personal recollection was that of the British ship “Josephus,” which occurred about the first of April, 1849. The terrible circumstances attending the destruction of this ship were so vividly impressed upon my childish mind, (I was four years of age at the time) that they are as plain in memory as though they had occurred but yesterday.

This vessel stranded during a dense fog, on the outer bar, directly opposite the location of the present Highland Life Saving Station, about one mile north of the Highland Lighthouse. She was a full rigged ship from some port in England, bound to Boston, and carried a cargo of iron bars. Losing her bearings during a protracted fog and severe easterly gale her keel found the sand bar half a mile from shore, immediately the huge waves swept her decks, and the ship was doomed to destruction.

In those days no life savers patrolled the beach to lend a rescuing hand and the first intimation of the disaster was when, during a temporary rift in the fog the light keeper, from the cliffs, discovered the stranded ship. The alarm quickly spread to all the neighboring farm houses and to the village, from all directions men came hurrying to the beach, hoping in some way to be able to aid the suffering sailors on the wreck, which by this time was fast being smashed to pieces by the thunderous waves which pounded upon her partly submerged hull. Her masts had already been torn from her decks and with tangled rigging and strips of sail thrashed her sides in a constant fury. Many of her crew had been crushed to death and their bodies swept into the boiling surf. When the spars went down others could be seen clinging to such portions of the wreck as yet remained above the angry waters, and their screams for help could be heard above the wild roar of the awful surf, by the watchers on the shore, utterly powerless to render the least assistance. At this moment down the cliffs came running two young men, just home from a fishing voyage. They had not even stopped to visit their homes and families, but hearing of the wreck had hurried to the beach. Lying on the sands of the shore was a fisherman’s dory, a small boat, about twelve feet in length, such as small fishing vessels use and carry on their decks.


These men were Daniel Cassidy and Jonathan Collins. Immediately they seized this boat and ran it quickly over the sands to the edge of the surf. The watchers on the beach stood aghast, and when they realized that these men intended to launch this frail skiff into that raging sea strong cries of protest arose from every one. “Why, men,” they said, “you are crazy to do this, you cannot possibly reach that ship, and your lives will pay the forfeit of your foolhardy attempt.” But in the face of the earnest pleadings of their friends and neighbors they pushed their boat into the gale-driven surf and headed her towards the wreck. Their last words were, “We cannot stand it longer to see those poor fellows being swept into the sea, and we are going to try to reach them.” Standing with my mother and holding by her hand on the cliffs overlooking the scene I saw the little boat, with the two men pulling bravely at the oars. They had hardly gone fifty yards from the shore when a great white cataract of foam and rushing water was hurled towards them. The next instant it buried men and boat under its sweeping torrent as it swept onward towards the beach with the overturned dory riding its crest; two human heads rose for a moment through the seething sea, only to be covered by the next on-rushing wave, and they were seen no more. Darkness soon settled over the terrible scene, the cries of the despairing sailors grew fainter and ceased, while the mad waves rushed unceasingly towards the shore. The watchers, believing that every sailor had perished, turned away and sought their homes with sad hearts. The light keeper, Mr. Hamilton, coming down from the lighthouse tower at midnight, where he had been to attend to the lamps, decided to visit the beach again, thinking possibly that some of the bodies of the lost sailors might drift to shore. What was his surprise to find upon a piece of the cabin of the ship, which had washed ashore, a helpless sailor moaning piteously, still alive but suffering terribly from the hardships he had endured; he had been scratched and torn by the broken timbers through which he had been washed and driven.

After great exertion and a long struggle the lightkeeper succeeded in getting the unfortunate sailor up the cliff and to the lighthouse, where the man was put to bed and a physician sent for. He finally recovered, but he was the only man of that ship’s company of 24 souls who escaped with life, these and the two men who attempted a rescue made a total death list in this disaster of 25.

It is a far cry from 1849 to 1872, and the broken timbers of many a lost ship, and the whitened bones of hundreds of10 dead sailors lie buried in the drifting sands of this storm beaten coast, between those dates, but as we cannot here present the details of more than a very few of them, we only select those having especial and somewhat different features and so pathetic as to stand out more prominently than those of a lesser degree of horror, though it would be hard to describe a shipwreck on this coast devoid of suffering, death and destruction.



On the afternoon of March 6th, 1872, a moderate wind was blowing from the land across the sea, the sun shone full and clear, a great fleet of sailing vessels, urged forward by the favoring breeze, made rapid progress over the smooth sea towards their destination. In the late afternoon, as the sun approached the western horizon, it settled behind a dark and ominous cloud that was rising towards the zenith and casting a dark shadow over all the sea.


The two masted schooner Clara Bell, Captain Amesbury, with a cargo of coal for Boston, had that morning sailed out of the harbor of Vineyard Haven and passed across the shoals of Vineyard Sound, moved rapidly up the coast, and by ten o’clock that night was nearly opposite Highland Light. The wind, which had been only fairly strong up to this time, rapidly increased in velocity, and snow began falling thick and fast.

The wind rapidly increased to a gale, when the vessel had reached a point two miles north of Highland Light the wind suddenly changed to north and in a short time became a howling12 gale; the fast falling snow hid all the lights and the surrounding sea from view, and the temperature dropped to zero. In trying to make an off shore tack the vessel was struck by a huge wave, forced shoreward and with an awful plunge the schooner struck a bar a fourth of a mile from shore. It was now nearly midnight; the sea, though running fierce and wild, had not at this time reached monstrous size, and Captain Amesbury, thinking that his only hope for life depended upon getting away from the schooner, decided to make an attempt to launch the ship’s boat. After great exertion upon the part of himself and crew they succeeded in getting the boat over the vessel’s side, and the crew of six men and himself jumped in and cast off the line that held them to the vessel, but not two strokes of the oars had been taken when the cockleshell, borne like a chip on the top of an onrushing wave, was thrown bottom up and her crew were struggling in the icy waters. Captain Amesbury and one of his men were carried on a towering wave rapidly towards the shore, but before they could gain a foothold the remorseless undertow had drawn them back into the swirling waters. With the next oncoming wave the sailor was thrown shoreward again and succeeded in grasping a piece of wreckage and by its aid managed to crawl away from the jaws of death; not so fortunate the captain, who with the other members of his crew were swept away in the freezing sea and seen no more. The sailor, finding himself safe beyond the reach of the mad sea on the sand-swept and desolate shore, started to find shelter. In his struggles to reach the shore one of his boots had been torn off and lost, he was coatless, without covering on his head, thoroughly drenched, his clothes freezing to his benumbed body and limbs. In the blinding snow storm which had now set in in dead earnest with a cold so intense that it nearly took his breath away, this poor fellow started out to find if possible some human habitation; he could make no progress against the freezing gale so was obliged to turn towards the south and follow the direction of the wind. Over frozen fields, through brush and brambles that tore his bare foot at every step, over the ever increasing snow drifts, through bogs and meadows and hills and hollows, he struggled until the coming of daylight; then a farmer going out to his stable in the early morning found this unfortunate, frozen and exhausted sailor standing in the highway a short distance from the Highland House, so dazed by his terrible night of torture that he could not speak or move. He was carried into the farm house and the writer was one of those who helped to revive him. We13 were finally made to understand that he had come from a shipwreck on the coast and that all of his shipmates were drowned. Leaving him to the care of the women of the household I hurried with others to the beach, believing it possible that even yet there might be some other unfortunate still alive on the wreck.

After a somewhat exhausting trip over the drifted snow and the frozen beach, we reached the stranded vessel, which had in the meantime been driven by the huge seas completely over the sand bar upon which she struck and the constant pounding of the waves had driven her high and dry upon the main beach. We walked on board dry footed and passed down the cabin stairs. There in the cabin stove burned a nice cheerful fire and all was dry and warm. The haste of Captain Amesbury and his crew to leave the strong vessel for a little frail skiff had cost them their lives, and this has been so often the case, it would seem that sailors so often exposed to the dangers of the sea would realize when brought suddenly into positions of extreme danger by the stranding of their ship, that their only chance for life lay in staying by their vessel, rather than taking the chances afforded by a small boat in the wild sea; if their large and strong vessel cannot stand the shock certainly the little boat cannot. Many men have gone down to their death in the sea because of too great a faith in the ship’s boat.

The sailor who escaped with his life from this wreck finally recovered after the amputation of three toes and a finger.

People have sometimes said, “Are there no romances connected with shipwrecks?” Fiction writers have often distorted the facts sufficiently to be able to weave about the incidents of a shipwreck some romantic story, but most of the disasters which overtake those who go down to the sea in ships to do work on the great waters, partake so much of the elements of tragedy that there is little room for the entrance of romance into the situation. In almost every instance where ships are overwhelmed by the storms and the seas the cold hard facts are so distressing that every other feature, except the one of suffering, is lost sight of and only the thought of drowning men takes possession of the senses. The following story, though bearing the color of romance, had a sad and heartbreaking ending.



Over the North Atlantic ocean and the coast of Cape Cod on the night of the 26th of December, 1873, swept a gale and storm so fierce and wild that even dwellers of the coast were surprised.

With almost hurricane force the wind-driven sea rushed in mountainous waves towards the outlying sand bar and hurled themselves with a terrific roar on the sands of the beach.

Many weeks before from the smooth waters of the harbor of Calcutta the American ship Peruvian had passed out into the deep sea and with a blue sky and favoring breeze had spread her white sails and headed for home on her long voyage.

Beneath her decks was stored a valuable cargo of sugar and block tin and Boston was her destination.

The ship was in command of Captain Charles H. Vannah. And she carried a crew of 24 men. With such a bright departure they were anticipating a quick and safe voyage. All had gone well with ship and crew until this fateful December morning. All day long the snow had fallen thick and fast, driven over the deck of the ship and through her rigging by the ever increasing gale. Riotous waves lifted the big ship to their crests only to plunge her the next moment into the depths of the deep hollows as they tore madly away in the approaching darkness.

Captain Vannah had been unable for 24 hours to obtain an observation, but he knew that his ship was approaching the coast of Cape Cod. Hoping every moment that some slight abatement in the storm might give him a chance to pick up some outlying beacon or the glimmer of some friendly lighthouse he kept the ship’s head to the north with all the sail upon the spars that they could stand without breaking. Higher and stronger ran the seas, wilder and more terrific blew the gale, often across the ship’s decks swept the huge waves, while all about them the dark skies lowered and the angry waters swirled when suddenly, just before midnight with a terrible plunge and an awful crash the ship struck the sand bars of the dreaded Peaked Hill Shoals, nearly a mile from shore; then utter confusion reigned on the ship. Up to that time only occasional seas had swept her decks; now the huge waves in torrents constantly swept her and pounded unceasingly15 her breaking decks. Boats, deck fittings and everything movable was swept away in the darkness and the turbulent sea; her crew driven to the rigging found there only a temporary place of escape; soon came a mountain-like wave, overtopping all those which had preceded it and thundered over the doomed ship, tearing away all of her masts and portions of her deck, hurling the entire ship’s crew into this mass of thrashing wreckage and churning sea, and their last sad cries were hushed in the mad seas that covered them.

With the first glimmer of approaching daylight men hurried to the outer beach, believing that some terrible disaster had occurred. They found the shore for miles covered with portions of the cargo and many broken timbers of the lost ship, but owing to the distance from shore to where the ship went down only three bodies were ever recovered and those only after many days of washing about in the surf.

Out there across yonder bar, where you see the waters curl and break into a ripple, forming a white line against the blue of the sea beyond, lies the sunken and sea-washed hull of the once stately ship; in that sparless hull and the rotting and sand covered timbers you cannot recognize the majestic vessel that only a few short years ago sat out there in all her splendor and with her strong sides seemed to defy the elements.

That blue water, so quiet now, and breaking with such gentle ripples on the shore, does not give you the impression, that in a few hours with a change of wind, it could be lashed into fury, and with towering foam capped waves dash upon the beach with the roar of a Niagara.

The storm is o’er and all along the sandy reach,
The shining wavelets ripple on the lonely beach,
Beneath the storm-washed sands and waves of blue,
There rests unclaimed, the members of the lost ship’s crew.

Captain Vannah had been a seafaring man all his life. In a pretty little town, nestling among the granite hills of New Hampshire, he had known and loved a dear young girl; for several years they had planned that when his sea voyages were ended he would come to claim his bride and would sail the seas no more. He had secured a fair competency and had promised her that this would be his last voyage. He wrote to her when his ship sailed out of that far eastern port, advising her of the probable date of his arrival at Boston. She had made all arrangements to go down to the city and meet him when his ship should be reported as approaching the harbor.


She daily scanned the ship news columns of the papers, and on this December morning she knew his ship must be nearing port, but in her sheltered home she did not realize what a terrible storm was sweeping the coast.

Only those who have been suddenly overwhelmed with a paralyzing blow can appreciate what, with ruined hopes, this young girl felt, when she opened the daily paper only to read in great black, cruel headlines these words, “Ship Peruvian goes down off Cape Cod, and all hands are lost.”





The same storm that carried the Peruvian and her whole ship’s company to destruction drove the North German Bark Francis to the same fate only three miles farther down the coast, but though sad enough in some of its features this disaster was not attended with the appalling loss of life that accompanied the loss of the Peruvian.

These two vessels sailed from the same port in Calcutta only a few days apart, and had almost been in sight of each other during the long voyage.

The Peruvian was so unfortunate as to become involved in the shallows of Peaked Hill Bars, while the Francis, in the deeper waters to the south was driven by wind and sea over the outer line of bars and finally grounded within two hundred yards of the beach; her hull was of iron and she soon settled firmly into the sand.

Every avenue of approach to the beach was blocked with snow, huge drifts covering every highway and hollow. There were no mortar guns and no life saving crews then, and no boats of any kind on the outer beach available. At the shore on the bay side of the cape was a whale boat, a boat sharp at both ends and about eighteen feet in length; this boat might afford possibly safe means of reaching the imperilled crew on the ship, but to get it to the scene of the wreck was a problem. Finally, through the united exertions of twenty strong men, the boat was drawn to the edge of the pond in the village of North Truro, then dragged over the frozen surface of the pond to the highway near the Post Office, where a pair of horses was attached to wheels, the boat mounted on them and the journey to the outer beach and possible rescue was fairly begun; when snow drifts were not too deep horses and men hurried the boat along; when great drifts were encountered shovels were brought into use and a way broken for the horses; then on again, ever in the face of the storm swept moors towards the ocean, across the gale swept hills and snow covered valleys the party struggled, until finally, at ten o’clock in the forenoon, almost exhausted, they reached a point on the beach opposite the wreck.

A volunteer crew manned the boat, willing hands helped to push the boat through the foam covered surf, the men bent to the oars and the trip to the side of the bark was made in safety.


Captain Kortling, of the bark, had been ill in his cabin for many days and it was with no little difficulty that he was finally lowered helpless into the rocking and pitching boat, which the thrashing sea threatened every moment to dash to pieces against the iron sides of the ship. Brought to the beach and landed, Captain Kortling was taken in a farm wagon and hurried to the Highland House. Weakened by disease and worn out by the terrible exposure of the wreck and the storm, he lived but four days after reaching shore, and his remains lie buried in the Old Cemetery on the hill, near the west entrance. The other members of the crew, twenty in number, were rescued without mishap.

In a few days tugs and lighters were brought to the scene of the wreck and the work of attempting to save the cargo was begun. A large part of her cargo was sugar in great straw mats; these in the process of hoisting out of the hold of the vessel frequently became broken and the sugar sifted out upon the deck; some twenty-five men were required to assist in this work of hoisting out the cargo and placing it upon the lighters. As it was not practicable for these men to go ashore at noontime they were obliged to take their dinners with them to the ship; generally a small pail or basket sufficed for carrying the noon meal. When these men left their work at night the overseer in charge of the work of unloading would tell the workmen that they might fill their lunch baskets with the loose sugar which had sifted out of the broken mats and take it home. In the beginning their pails as a rule held two or three quarts, but when it became known that the dinner pails could be filled each night on leaving the ship the size of these lunch pails and baskets increased amazingly, from a receptacle with a three quart capacity they soon rose to twenty-five and even fifty pounds capacity, so that the boat in her last trip to the shore was in danger of being swamped with the great weight of lunch baskets. This abuse of a privilege resulted in the cutting off the supply, although many workmen had already secured a year’s supply of sugar for their families when the shut off edict was issued.

This vessel seemed to offer the wreckers a good proposition as an investment and a company was formed with the purpose of making an attempt to raise and float the vessel. They purchased her of the Insurance Companies into whose hands the ship had fallen; then they spent hundreds of dollars in trying to get her from the sand bar; finally after many weeks of preparation everything seemed ready, a powerful tug was engaged to stand by and be ready to pull the ship away as soon20 as she floated, big steam pumps were installed on board and all was expectancy; then after a full day’s steady pumping by the great pumps on her deck, suddenly the big ship stirred in her bed and rose to the surface with a bound; then a great shout went up from the assembled crowd on the beach and from the interested investors on the bark’s deck when they believed their venture was about to be crowned with success, but this quickly turned to dismay when the ship, as suddenly as she had come to the surface, sank back again beneath the sea, from which place she never moved again, and the shifting sands soon covered her.

The rocking of the ship by the waves and the storms that beat over her on the sand and coarse gravel of the bed of the sea had worn holes through her iron sides where her masts were stepped into her keel, and immediately the ship rose from the bottom a great torrent of water poured in through these openings, flooded the entire ship again and carried her back into the sandy bed where she had so long reposed. For many years in the ever changing sands the jagged sides of her ever diminishing hull would be exposed only to be buried by the next great storm that swept her.



A northeast gale and furious snow storm was sweeping the coast of Cape Cod and hiding the great sea in its smother all through the day of March 4th, 1875. Late in the afternoon, during a momentary breaking away of the storm filled clouds, a great vessel was discovered fast upon the outer sand bar nearly three miles north of Highland Life Saving Station. It proved to be the Italian bark Giovanni, Captain Ferri, from Palermo for Boston, with a cargo of sumac, nuts and brimstone; her sails were blown away, her rudder broken. She was in a position to be pounded to pieces before another sunrise; her crew was almost helpless from exposure to the cold storm. The crews of Life Saving Stations 6 and 7 were promptly at the scene of the wreck, but owing to the snow bound conditions of the roads and the almost impassable state of the beach, added to the great distance from the Life Saving Stations, it was a task almost beyond the power of human endurance to get their boats and beach apparatus to the shore opposite the scene of the disaster, but as soon as the position of the vessel was clearly determined, and it was recognized what kind of gear was necessary in order to aid the men in the ship, they hurried to their stations, and after hours of almost superhuman exertions, dragging their beach carts, mortar guns and apparatus through heavy snow drifts that had to be broken out before they could proceed. Over sand hills swept bare by the driving gale, through meadow bogs and brush covered ridges, they finally reached the beach in the vicinity of the wreck. No attempt was made to launch the life boat, as such an effort, in the face of all the terrible conditions that prevailed, the awful sea and the distance of the vessel from shore, would have been foolhardy in the extreme, and would only have added to the death roll the lives of the life-savers, without accomplishing the saving of a single life.

The mortar gun, however, was made ready with all possible dispatch, though it was recognized from the first that no gun could carry a line that distance in the face of such a terrific gale. But the gun was charged, the charge exploded and out over the foam covered sea the shot line sped, only to fall spent in the wild sea more than a hundred yards short of the ship. The uselessness of further attempts along these lines was apparent, but the life savers again made ready with another22 line, hoping that the pounding sea would with the rising tide force the bark over the sand bar and nearer the shore. But it now became evident that the ship was so firmly impaled upon the treacherous shoal that there was no hope of her being moved by sea or tide, and in fact it was but a short time later that there came to the shore evidence that the vessel was beginning to break up, as portions of her upper works and even some portion of her cargo could be seen between shore and wreck and was being driven shoreward by the savage seas that broke in fury over the sand bars. Just then two men were seen to leap from the deck house on the after part of the ship, into the roaring torrent that raged about them; for a moment they were lost to sight in the suds of the churned up sea, then as they appeared upon the surface they were seen to seize upon pieces of wreckage that floated near them; to these they clung desperately, at one moment buried from sight in the salt spume, the next moment rising to the top of a foam crested wave rushing onward and almost wrenching the plank to which they clung from their grasp; when more than two-thirds of the distance from wreck to shore had been covered the wreckage which had borne one of the sailors appeared upon the top of an oncoming wave, but there was no human form clinging to it; nature had made its last long struggle and the poor fellow had released his grasp and dropped helpless into the wild sea that covered him forever.

The other man still retained his hold upon the frail support that bore him shoreward; now it was a question of only minutes, would his strength stay by him, could he hold on a moment longer, should his rapidly waning strength desert him now and his grasp relax he would be swallowed up in the sea instantly and no power could save him. Men rushed to the edge of the tide, even into the surf, grasping hands as a living rope; on came man and wreckage, as the broken water smashed down upon the sands strong hands reached out and seized the sailor before the relentless undertow could draw him back into its cruel grip. He was saved, but he was the only one of the whole ship’s company of fifteen men.

Night shut in but we kindled a huge bonfire on the beach and patrolled the shore up and down all night, hoping that some other unfortunate might be brought in with the tide. Long before daybreak the shore for miles was strewn with flotsam and jetsam from the wreck which was being constantly rended by the sea; bags of sumac, bags of nuts and even casks of wine mingled and washed together in the surf, but not a human body, alive or dead, was cast up by the sea.23 Every watcher on the beach believed that the ship had been entirely broken up, and that every person on board had perished. Still we lingered awaiting the coming of the sunlight; when it did come and objects were visible for any distance, what was our surprise to see the after deck house of the bark still in place, and a portion of her bow and the stump of her broken foremast still standing; the huge waves were still smashing over her furiously. If we had been surprised at seeing any portion of the hull still standing above the water, we were dumbfounded when we saw a man jump from the bow near the broken foremast and swim through the fiercely raging waters to the after deck house, and in the face of the pounding sea that beat upon him, climb under a sheltering piece of the cabin that had not been torn away.

That a human being could live through such a night as that, in that icy water and retain his hold upon any part of those ice covered timbers and sea swept wreck seemed incredible. But the chapter of horrors was not yet complete in this wretched disaster. Piece by piece the sea tore away what remained of the wreck until nothing but the deck house roof remained above the sea; as wave after wave hurled itself against the battered top it was seen to lift from its fastenings that held it to the submerged wreck and the next wave bore it off far into the thrashing sea. Then we saw, clinging to the few remaining pieces of the frame of the deck house, with a death grasp, four members of the ship’s company, but endurance had reached its limits and they were quickly swept from the last possible thing to which they could cling, and though they made a last heroic effort to seize some piece of wreckage, two of them did succeed in grasping some floating object and were carried for a considerable distance towards the shore, but their long and terrible exposure had so exhausted and chilled them that they could make no further exertion and the mad sea claimed them.

Some adverse criticism was directed against the men of the Life Saving corps, for their failure to rescue these sailors, but it was wholly unmerited as the Life Savers did everything in their power or that it was possible to do under the circumstances.

It was one of those terrible marine disasters, of which there are many, where man is a plaything in the grip of the sea when the storm king is abroad in his might.



Late in the afternoon of December 5th, 1893, the patrol of the coast guard of Life Savers of Nauset Beach, a few miles south of Highland Light, during a momentary break in the furious storm driven snow, saw the outlines of a great ship, not more than two miles from the beach, heading towards the Port of Boston under close reefed lower topsails, struggling with the grasp of giant waves which threatened every moment to overwhelm her. Soon again the increasing gale hid all the turbulent waters of the great sea. The winter night came on with rapid pace. All along the shore each Life Saving crew had been warned by telephone to watch with increased vigilance for a disaster which their experience had taught them was inevitable. Not a coast guardsman slept that night. All the boats and beach apparatus were made ready for instant use; the patrol watches were doubled; the men at their stations stood ready dressed, anxious, dreading but ever watchful and ready for the call which they expected to come at any moment.

At 7.15 a surfman of the Pamet River station rushed breathlessly and excitedly into the station and shouted, “She is ashore, half a mile north of this station.” All the stations were immediately notified. Then out into the storm and darkness and the blinding snow, along the gale swept beach where the flying sand cut their faces like knives, toiling through the yielding sand with their mortar guns and boats, hoping to reach the scene of the disaster ere it was too late, the Life Savers hurried. Chips and logs along the shore were gathered together and a huge bonfire kindled that those on the ship might know that every human effort was being exerted to aid them. By the glare of the light on the shore away over there in the awful night the faint outlines of the doomed ship could be seen, her great white sails being torn to shreds by the savage fury of the winter storm. Great torrents of gale driven sea swept her decks every moment. Her broken masts fell with a crash to her decks. Soon her iron hull was twisted and wrenched asunder; through her rended decks and battered sides floated portions of her cargo to the shore. The cries of her drowning sailors could be heard above the fury of the storm. The mortar gun of the Life Savers thundered again and again. The shots sped true to their mark and the25 life lines fell across the ship’s hull, but her men could not reach them, so madly rushed the waters between. Soon a surfman saw a dark object thrown up by the sea; it was a human being. He was quickly taken up by willing hands and hurried to the station, restoratives were applied and soon he was able to tell the story of the wreck:

“Our vessel was the British ship Jason, Capt. McMillan. We were on a voyage from the East Indies to Boston with jute bales. We did not know our position until we saw the land at four this afternoon. We tried, by crowding every sail upon the ship, to weather Cape Cod; we failed. There were 27 officers and men in our ship’s company. I am the only one that lives; I saw all my shipmates perish when the mizzenmast fell.”


Like many another shipwreck the irony of fate pursued this ship’s company, when her keel was driven into the sand bar by the force of the mighty waves which hurled her forward, the only spot upon the whole ship which seemed to offer a place of refuge from the boiling surf which tore across her deck was the mizzenmast. Into the rigging of this spar every man hurried except the one man who was saved. He was swept from the rail before he could gain a foothold with his26 shipmates; but what they had hoped would be their haven of safety was their doom. Scarcely had they climbed above the maelstrom of rushing waters when the mast went down with a crash into the sea, killing many of the sailors in its fall and drowning the others in the wreckage. The foremast stood unmoved by the winter’s storms for many weeks. Could this unfortunate crew have reached this portion of the ship many of them would have been rescued on the following day.

Out there today when the tide is low, protruding through the sands of the bar and the white caps that wash them, are the broken fragments of the sunken ship looking like tombstones in the village churchyard. All along the shores of this wind swept and sea washed coast those half submerged and silent sentinels remind us that up and down this sandy reach the ever moving sea has covered hundreds of those heroic men who have gone down in ships on the great sea.



Among all the terrible disasters which have made the dreaded shores of Cape Cod known to mariners the world over, probably the worst of all was the loss of the steamer Portland, which sailed from her pier in Boston, on the evening of November 26th, 1898, on one of her regular trips to Portland, Maine, and before midnight of the following day her broken timbers, cabin fittings, large quantities of cargo and dead bodies lined the outer shores of Cape Cod, from Highland Light to Chatham. Not a person of her 175 passengers and crew survived the disaster.

The awful hurricane which swept the coast of New England that fateful Saturday night and Sunday was the worst in the memory of living men; the wind attained a velocity of approximately one hundred miles an hour.

When the Portland steamed out of Boston Harbor on that eventful Saturday night her captain did not anticipate that the storm would be more severe than the ordinary winter gale. She ran quickly down the smooth waters of the harbor, out by Boston Light, the gale increasing every moment. She passed Thatcher’s Island and on towards Cape Ann; she could have made Gloucester Harbor, but her master hoped the storm had reached its worst; not so, for every moment it grew more furious; the lights along the coast, one after another, were now blotted out by the ever thickening snow, the great seas ran riot in the bay. Now it was too late to turn back; the ship plunged into the wild seas that rose like mountains before her. To have attempted to turn the ship about with her high superstructure when she would have fallen off into the trough of the sea would mean her speedy destruction. On she staggered in the inky darkness of the wretched night until the fury of the gale and sea checked her further progress; then their only hope lay in being able to keep the ship’s head towards the wind. All through the long night and far into the next day, Sunday, the ship reared and plunged in the mad sea, slowly but surely every hour being carried nearer the lee shore of Cape Cod, drifting helplessly but ever with her bow to the sea. At 4 o’clock on the afternoon of Sunday the Life Savers at Race Point Station heard two distinct blasts of a steamer’s whistle, sharp and piercing; at 10 o’clock that night the patrolmen from stations south of Race Point came28 upon great masses of broken beams, deck-houses, furniture, boxes and barrels of freight and several dead bodies.

It is believed by men on the coast familiar with storms and tides that the whistle heard by the Race Point Life Savers at 4 o’clock was the last despairing cry sent up by the doomed ship before the sea engulfed her and those on board, and that between that hour and 7 o’clock that night the ship’s total destruction was accomplished.

It is no doubt a fact that the ship was held to her course until suddenly her steering gear was torn away by some huge sea more vicious than those before, she immediately fell off into the trough of the sea, and amid the crash of broken timbers and the thunder of the awful sea the ship went down with all on board.

There has been much speculation and prolonged search by the government and others to determine if possible approximately where this ship was swallowed up in the sea; the location of this terrible disaster has never been satisfactorily determined, but there is no question in the minds of sea coast men but that this ship went down somewhere between 8 and 12 miles north of Highland Light.

Out of the entire company of passengers and crew which went down with the ship only 60 bodies were recovered. Some of those found were fully dressed with life preservers upon them, indicating that the wearers knew that their chances for life were slight indeed. Other bodies were entirely nude when recovered, showing that some of the passengers had evidently retired to their staterooms in the earlier hours of the voyage and were made so ill by the terrible pitching and rolling that they made no exertion to dress themselves before the ship went down.

It is believed that no less than 500 human lives were the sea’s death toll in this awful hurricane that swept the shores of Cape Cod and Massachusetts Bay in that frightful storm.

This disaster will pass into the annals of Cape Cod’s shipwreck history as the one which concerned the greatest loss of life from a single vessel.

The fury of such a gale can hardly be understood or appreciated by any one not having had personal experience with sea coast storms. As far as the eye could reach on that Sunday morning over the wild sea not the least bit of blue water could be seen for a distance of two miles from the shore; the whole ocean was a mass of seething foam; this driven shoreward by the gale would be caught from the beach by the wind and blown skyward high over the towering bluffs, then swept30 inland and break like bursting soap bubbles in the fields hundreds of yards away.

x(  Where wreckage first landed from S.S. Portland Sunday night.

P   Place five miles N. E. of High Head Life Saving Station, where it is thought by all coast men the Portland went down.

Such was the force of this hurricane of wind that every window pane on the ocean side of our house (the Signal Station at Highland Light) was blown in and smashed into a thousand fragments. Men exposed to the full force of the storm were blown from their feet and hurled about like blocks of wood.

Men of the Life Saving service were exhausted by their exertions in trying to cover their beats, and several of them were completely unnerved by their frequent trying experiences in dragging torn and sea-washed bodies from the surf. There were cases where some of the men of this service were made almost nervous wrecks by their almost nightly contact with the disfigured and unfortunate victims thrown up to their feet by the sea.

Destruction widespread on land and sea was the result of this fearful storm.

Never had its like been seen before.

* * * * *

My daughter for a number of years was my assistant and the following story, which originally appeared in the New York World, may be of interest in this connection:



A true tale of Cape Cod, written for the New York World by Lillian May Small, only official woman marine observer in the United States.

Fishing schooner Polly, Capt. Peter Rider, weighed anchor one spring morning in 1800 and sailed away from Provincetown. She was a staunch craft of eighty tons, bound on a fishing voyage to Chaleurs Bay.

Besides the captain there were on board Jot Rider, the captain’s son; Ben Smith, broad-shouldered and strong as an ox; the two Larkin boys, ready to furl a gafftopsail in any weather; George Barnes, Tom Olsen, the Swede; Nick Adams, Bob Atwood, the cook, and Ned, the “boy,” a bright lad of ten years, Capt. Peter’s nephew.

This was Ned’s first trip, and he thought himself quite a man until the Polly had rounded Race Point and began to roll about in the great green swell of the turbulent ocean; then he wished himself back in Granny Rider’s kitchen, where the open fireplace kept a fellow dry, where the dishes didn’t roll off the table, where things smelled good and clean, not like the nasty bilge water that washed about in the Polly’s run, but where a boy could take off his boots when he went to bed, you know.

But he couldn’t go back, so, with a quiet cry now and then, all by himself up in the bow of the Polly, where the men wouldn’t see him, he managed to brace up and help the cook down in the fo’cas’tle, and pull on the main sheet and reef an furl, anything except steer; discipline aboard a “codder” was as strict as on a man-of-war and boys were not allowed to handle the tiller. Favoring winds wafted the boat eastward along the northern coast, past jutting, rocky headlands and surf-washed spits, to an anchorage on the fishing banks. Three months the Polly swung at her anchors, at times idly upon the smooth waters, at times pitching wildly with a savage pull at the cable when the tempest beat down upon the stormy waters of that desolate coast.

But now the low-set hull told the story of a successful catch. The last basketful of salt had been “wet,” the fishing lines were snugly coiled upon the reels. It was Sunday morning. Capt. Peter was no autocrat, and it was his custom to have “all hands” down to breakfast in the cabin on Sabbath mornings.

“Well, boys,” said Capt. Peter, when all were gathered around the rough table, “we’ve got a putty good trip under32 hatches, so arter breakfuss I guess we’ll get the hook aboard and head the Polly for home.”

If there was any one in that ship’s company who felt his heart give a sudden bound of joyous anticipation it was Ned. Every day of all those long weeks Ned had scored the mental calculation, “one day nearer home.”

From his thoughts of home he was startled by a human cry.

Again he heard it coming faintly across the smooth water.

Rushing to where his uncle sat, tiller in hand, for the Captain would allow no one but himself to guide the Polly out of that “pesky hole,” Ned sang out, “Did you hear that, uncle? Somebody is crying for help out there toward that rock.”

“Oh, nonsense, boy,” replied Capt. Rider, as he gave the tiller a sharp pull to bring the Polly up a point, “guess you was asleep and had a dream.”

“No, uncle, listen; there it is again, ’tis a baby’s cry.”

“Bless my skin, boy, I b’lieve yer right; my hearin’ ain’t extra good, but I do hear su’thin off thar to wind’ard. But what in the world could a baby be doin’ out thar? I don’t see no vessel nor no boat. But we won’t leave no mortal round in this hole to drown.”

“Here, George,” he shouted, “you and Nick get the boat over and see if ye can find whar that distressed creeter is. And Ned, you kin go along to help. I’ll put the Polly’s sheets to wind and jog around so you won’t lose us.”

The tide-ruffled waters splashed and sparkled as the oars, in the hands of the hardy fishermen, rose and fell in unison.

“There, I hear it again,” exclaimed Ned from his seat at the stern of the boat; “it comes right from that rock.”

The oars sent the boat straight toward the huge rock, on whose sides the tide lapped with a soft rhythmic “swish, swish,” gaining slowly, surely. Only a few feet of its slippery top remained exposed, and the water was creeping up inch by inch until soon only a swirl and a fleck of foam would mark the place of the hidden reef.

There on the shelving side of the rock, with the tide lapping her tiny feet, chilled from long exposure and crying bitterly, sat a little girl.

Rough but willing hands soon had the little waif safely in the boat. When they reached the side of the Polly Uncle Peter stood ready to receive the strange charge.

“Well, by hooky, boys,” he exclaimed as he received from Ned’s arms the little dripping form. “How could she ’ve got on to that rock?”


“There’s only one way I can ’count for it,” said George Barnes. “Some devil wanted to get rid of her, and left her thar to drown.”

“Well, I’d like to catch the chap that did it; either he or I’d go overboard,” said Ben Smith.

Ned gazed wonderingly into the face of the little child, who now, somewhat reassured, lay smiling in the bunk where the crew had placed her after removing the water-soaked clothing.

“Well, boys,” said Capt. Peter after all that was possible had been done for the little charge, “we don’t know whar this baby girl came from, and we ain’t goin’ to try hard to find out; we ain’t very handy or well fixed for girl babies aboard the Polly, but, by hooky, we’re a nuff site more human than the critters that left that tot out dar on the rock to be killed piecemeal.”

The summer winds blew gently on the Polly; homeward she sped. One bright morning the anchor dropped and the codder was home again in the smooth waters of Provincetown Harbor.

Little Ruth (so the crew of the Polly had named her) had fared well on the voyage, and when the boat had been rowed ashore and the fisher wives and maidens had come down to welcome home their loved ones, great was their astonishment at what had come home with the Polly’s fishermen.

Granny Rider, with her motherly face against little Ruth’s cheek, as she received the charge from Capt. Peter, almost forgot to kiss Ned, so interested was she in the wondrous tale. Over and over the story was told, and soon everybody knew of the baby girl that had come in the Polly.

Ruth was the joy of Capt. Peter and Granny Rider’s home. Ned was never so happy as when playing with the little sea waif in Granny’s kitchen. No one ever learned her history; no one apparently ever cared to do so. Those who go down to the sea in ships learn to leave many mysteries unsolved.

Summer passed into winter, winter into spring, and again the Polly sailed. Ned kissed his little playmate good-by and turned to the duties of the voyage. Years passed, the boy became a man, Capt. Peter turned the command of the Polly to Ned. Little Ruth had grown to womanhood. They no longer played together as children, but looked forward more eagerly to the homecoming as the years went by. One day in Granny’s cozy home two happy hearts were joined, and on the sea of life their little bark sailed out on the summer sea of years.



The great sea is ever full of unsolved mysteries, ships sail out into the wide ocean and are seen and heard from no more. And the many human lives on board are blotted out as completely as though they had never been.

* * * * *

We have space for but few instances, and most of the following ships when starting out on their last voyages passed out by Cape Cod.

* * * * *

The full rigged ship Brynhilda, with a full cargo and deck load of lumber, sailed away on September 27, 1914. After many adventures in Russian waters, neither ship nor crew were seen again.

* * * * *

Then the ship Avon pushed out on the deep blue sea and was never seen or heard from again.

* * * * *

In 1914 the Balmaha faded away in the ocean’s mist.

* * * * *

In the following year the Pass of Balmaha, carrying a cargo of cotton valued at a million dollars, joined the fleet of mystery ships.

* * * * *

In 1917 the great Navy Collier Cyclops, with a complement of 300 officers and men, disappeared in the mists and the darkness of the ever restless sea and another strange mystery was added to the long and ever increasing list of unsolved tragedies.



On September 14th, 1896, the Italian Bark Monte Taber struck on Peaked Hill Bars during a furious northeast gale. The disaster was attended by loss of five men, whose deaths were attended by circumstances of mysterious and almost romantic interest. It was learned that there had been three suicides on board the vessel, and the fate of the other members of the crew could not be definitely determined; they disappeared in the storm and in the breaking up of the doomed craft.


The bark hailed from Genoa, and carried a crew of twelve men, including the officers and two boys. She had a cargo of salt from Trapan, Island of Sicily, for Boston.

The craft had been struck by a hurricane on September 9th, and when off Cape Cod on the night of the 13th, in endeavoring to make Provincetown Harbor, struck the dreaded Peaked Hill Bars. She was discovered by patrolman Silvey, of the Peaked Hill Station. The night was dark as ink and the sea was running high, and smashing over the bars with36 terrific force, and the bark soon gave evidence of speedy destruction.

Owing to the darkness and the storm the coast guard crew could not locate the wreck; there was nothing that could be seen to shoot at and nothing to pull to, even if a boat could have been launched, which was impossible. It is believed that the Captain was so humiliated by the loss of his vessel, that he fell into a frenzy of despair and took his own life, and some of the officers and crew followed his example.

Six of the crew managed to reach the shore on top of the cabin which had broken away from the ship and were pulled from the surf by the Life Savers. One of the boys said he swam ashore. An investigation conducted by the Italian government, disclosed that the Captain did commit suicide.

It has been said, whether true or not, that it is a tradition among Italians that when a master of a vessel is so unfortunate as to lose the craft he is in duty bound to do away with himself, as he could never again expect to command a vessel.



One of those sudden storms which so often develop and sweep down along the Cape Cod Coast without warning in the fall of the year, broke over the Cape on the night of the 12th of October, 1913. The tug Paoli, towing three coal laden barges, which left Vineyard Haven the day before, was caught in the rush of the gale between Wellfleet and Highland Light. Hoping to pull through and round Race Point for an anchorage, the tug struggled on through the ever increasing gale; when opposite Highland Light, with the monstrous seas sweeping over the barges every moment, the strain on the towing hawser proved too great and it snapped away from the tug when the tow was two miles from shore. The barges became separated and were drifting helplessly towards the outlying sand bars, over which a wild sea was breaking. Two of the barges were able to get up some sail, drove before the gale down the coast and escaped; not so with the Oakland, which was the third barge in the tow. Those on board finding that the barge was being forced rapidly towards the sand bars, and those on the barge hoping that the gale might moderate, dropped both anchors and brought the vessel to a stop one mile from shore and just clear of the bar.

The tug was then able to get near enough to the barge to take off the three members of her crew, but the Captain and mate refused to leave the craft. As the day of the 13th advanced the gale and the sea steadily increased and the barge strained heavily at her anchors. All through the day until late in the afternoon we watched the barge pitching and rolling in the great seas that swept her, expecting every moment to see her drag to the bar and be pounded to pieces. We knew that a leak must sooner or later pour water into her hold. Soon we saw smoke rising from her pumping engine which indicated that water was coming in, and those on board were making an effort to prevent the flooding of the hold, but we could see that they would be unable to overcome the leak and the water was slowly but surely sinking the craft.

This barge carried a small dory on the deck house. Pretty soon we saw the captain and mate unlash the boat and take it down on deck; then they went into the cabin and came out each with a suit case; these they placed in the dory; then they lowered the boat into the water and we realized that they were38 preparing to take to this frail skiff and abandon the barge. Heavens, we knew that they might as well jump into the sea at once rather than prolong the agony, that boat had no more chance to reach the shore than the men had to swim there. Soon they cut the rope that held the boat to the sinking craft, seized the oars and pulled around the stern of the barge; for about fifteen minutes they were able to keep the boat heading the sea, then came a great overpowering wave that swept the boat to its crest and sent it a hundred feet away, hurling the men into the rushing waves and turning the boat bottom up, for a brief moment the heads of the men appeared above the wild sea, then dropped from sight. Their bodies were recovered next day far down the beach from where the sea swallowed them up.


When the sun rose next morning all that was visible protruding above the still raging sea was one lone mast above the sunken hull, mute evidence of another tragedy of the sea.

In a few days the broken hull was washed up on the beach and the cargo was scattered along the shore.



For a day or two previous to February 17th, 1914, the weather had been extremely bad along the New England coast with very cold northeast and northwest winds with snow squalls. On the afternoon of the 16th a deeply laden bark was seen by the Cahoons Hollow Coast Station acting very strangely. She would first sail up the coast for quite a distance and then tack and sail down the coast. This was repeated several times, and it seemed to the Life Savers that the officers of the bark had completely lost their bearings. The vessel finally drove away in the mists of the night under short sail. At daylight next morning the Coast Guard patrol discovered the vessel hard and fast on the outlying sand bar.

It was bitterly cold and the tattered sail of the vessel slatted against the broken spars; ice covered her decks and hung in great bunches to her broken ropes. Her crew had been driven to the rigging by the raging seas which constantly swept over her, and the Coast Guard could see a number of human figures clinging desperately to the rigging.

Then the Coast Guard apparatus was placed in position and a shot sent over the vessel; three times the shot and line sped over the craft, but the men in the rigging made no effort to secure the line; then Capt. Tobin decided that an effort must be made to launch the life boat.

But under the terrible conditions which prevailed it was an undertaking fraught with much danger.

But the boat was launched and the Life Savers pulled away. Soon they reached the side of the ship and called to the men in the rigging to come down. Eight of them after much effort and assisted by the Coast Guard crew were finally gotten into the boat. Capt. Tobin of the Coast Guard crew said to one of the rescued sailors, “Why don’t those other men come down?” “They cannot,” was the reply. “They are dead, frozen to death.” The boat returning to shore was pretty well overloaded with crew and rescued, and as the bow touched the beach was overturned, but all of the men were thrown clear of the boat except Capt. Tobin, who was caught between the steering oar and the stern of the boat and considerably injured. The Coast Guard station was more than two miles away from the scene of the disaster but the Marconi Wireless station was only a mile away and to this40 house the half frozen sailors were hurried as fast as their almost helpless condition would permit. A physician was summoned from Wellfleet and the condition of the men made as comfortable as possible, then hurried by the next train to Boston hospitals. All of them lost fingers or toes.

The three dead sailors, from necessity, were left lashed to the rigging where they had died, until the next day, when the bodies were brought to shore and buried in the town cemetery. In a few days the hull of the ship lay a battered wreck on the shore.


The author’s home from which the passing ships are sighted and reported by telegraph or telephone to Boston and the Newspapers



An interesting vessel of this class was the seven masted schooner, Thomas W. Lawson, built in 1902 by the Fore River Ship and Engine Company of Quincy, Mass. She was of steel, 368 feet long, 50 feet beam, 34½ feet depth of hold and of 10,000 tons displacement, thus being the largest vessel of this class ever constructed for sailing only.

She was built for the Coastwise Transportation Company, at a cost of about $150,000.

Mr. Lawson was a considerable contributor in the cost of her construction and the vessel was named for him.

She sailed from Delaware Breakwater on the 2nd of December, 1907, with a cargo of coal for some port in France. She carried a complement of a crew of 19 officers and men. And in a bad storm was driven on the rocks a short distance from France on Friday, December 13, 1907. There 17 men of the ship’s company perished. The vessel was a total wreck. No other attempt was ever made to construct a vessel of this type. She was too large to operate in the coastwise trade. She was a bad sea boat and not satisfactory as an ocean going proposition. The loss of her crew was not on our coast but unusual conditions surrounding the craft make it of moment to note her loss in this connection.



This was one of the worst wrecks that had occurred on the New England coast in many years.

This ship was on a voyage from Manila for Boston with a cargo of East India goods. Approaching the Cape Cod coast she encountered a terrific storm and struck one of the outlying shoals off Nantucket.

The furious sea which drove over her decks in torrents soon began the work of destruction. When she struck the shoal on Sunday morning there was a furious northeast gale tearing the sea into a fearful condition. The next day the ship gave every indication that she must soon be a broken and dismantled wreck.

Besides the crew of twenty-three men, Capt. Dakin’s wife and little daughter were on board.

When the ship began to pound to pieces the mate and such members of the crew as had not already been swept overboard did all in their power to assist Capt. Dakin in shielding his wife and daughter from being swept away by the seas which broke in fury over the vessel. Before the ship broke up the mate lashed the captain’s daughter and himself to a large piece of wreckage, hoping in that way to reach the shore.

Capt. Dakin and his wife were swept away before they could fasten themselves to any part of the wreckage. Of the whole number on board the ill-fated craft but three were saved. These were sailors who clung to a piece of the ship, and after drifting about in Vineyard Sound for several days were finally picked up, and placed on the lightship, more dead than alive.

The bodies of the mate with his arms locked about the captain’s daughter, and both securely lashed to a piece of wreckage, were picked up a few days later far down the coast. Both had been frozen to death. The bodies of the captain and his wife were never recovered, and only a few bodies of the crew were ever found.



On March 17th, 1902, after some very bad weather, two coal carrying barges lay stranded on the shoals off Monomoy Point, and the terrible disaster which followed was the worst in some ways that ever happened on this wreck strewn shore. Seven members of the Monomoy Coast Guard and five men whom they went to rescue perished in the awful sea that swept over the shoals and rips.

Following is the story by Captain Ellis of the Monomoy Station, the only surviving member of the crew that started to the rescue.

On Tuesday, March 17th, about 1 o’clock in the morning, the schooner rigged barges Wadena and Fitzpatrick, which had broken away from tug Peter Smith, lay stranded on the southern point of Monomoy. The barges remained on the shoals without lightening their cargoes. On the night of the 16th the weather became threatening, and all except five of the persons on the Wadena, who had been engaged in handling the cargo, were taken ashore by the tug.

Shortly before 8 o’clock on the morning of the 17th one of the patrolmen from our station reported that the Wadena appeared to be all right, but later Capt. Eldredge, then keeper of the station, received word from Hyannis asking if there was anything wrong on the barge. Up to this time no one at the station had any knowledge of there being any person on the barge, supposing that the tug had taken all off the night before.

Then Capt. Eldredge walked down to the end of the point where he could better see the situation. Arriving there he found that the barge was flying signals for help. He at once telephoned me, as I was No. 1, at the station, telling me to launch the surf boat from the inside of the point, and with the crew pull down to the end, about two and a half miles from the station. There we took on Capt. Eldredge and I gave him the steering oar.

The wind was fresh from the southeast and a heavy sea running. None of us were of the opinion that the barge was in any danger, as she was lying easy, but Capt. Eldredge decided that it was better to pull around the Point and try to reach the barge. At certain places on the shoals the sea44 was especially rough, and some water was shipped on the way out to the vessel, but without much trouble we succeeded in bringing the surf boat under the lee of the barge just abaft the fore rigging, the only place where it was practical to go alongside.

As soon as we got up to the barge a line was quickly thrown aboard and made fast by those on the craft. The persons on board were much excited and wanted to be taken right off. Capt. Eldredge immediately directed them to come down into the boat.

The sea was breaking heavily around the stern of the barge, and there was little room for operations in the smooth water, and the rail of the barge was 12 or 14 feet above the surf boat. Four of the five men on board lowered themselves over the side of the barge one at a time into the surf boat without mishap by means of the rope, but the fifth man, who was a heavy person, when half way down lost his grip on the rope and dropped with a crash onto the middle thwart of the boat. All five being finally landed in the boat, the captain placed two of them in the bow, two aft and one in the middle, and told them to sit still and keep close down to the bottom of the boat. In order to get away from the barge quickly the painter was cut and the surf boat was shoved off. In order to clear the line of breakers that extended from the stern of the barge so that we could lay a good course for the shore, a part of the surfmen were backing hard on the port oars, while the others gave way with full powers on the starboard side. Before we could get the boat turned around a big wave struck us with fearful force and quite a lot of water poured in over the rail of the surfboat. Capt. Eldredge stood in the stern of the boat with the steering oar giving his orders and the surfmen stuck to their posts.

As soon as the water came into the boat, the rescued men from the barge became panic stricken, threw their arms about the necks of the surf men so that none of us could use our oars; the seas, one after another, struck us, and the boat, filling with water, turned bottom up, throwing all of us into the raging sea. The seas kept striking us after the boat upset and we were soon in among the heaviest breakers. Twice we righted the boat, but before it could be gotten into position it was again capsized.

After righting the boat twice our strength was fast leaving us and we all knew that we could not survive long without assistance.

The five men that we had taken off the barge were the first45 to be swept off the overturned boat and perish before our eyes; they did not regain hold of the boat after the first capsize.

All of us clung to the boat, giving each other all the encouragement we could. Surfman Chase was the first one of our crew to go, then Nickerson and Small were swept to their death. Capt. Eldredge, surfmen Kendrick, Foye, Rogers and myself still managed to hold onto the boat; every sea that struck the boat nearly smothered us. Kendrick was the next to drop into the sea, and Foye soon followed. Capt. Eldredge, Rogers and myself expected that we too would share their fate. Rogers was clinging to the boat amidships, while Capt. Eldredge and myself were holding near the stern. The captain called to me to help him get a better hold and I managed to pull him up on the bottom of the boat, when a sea struck us and washed us both off. I managed to regain my hold on the bottom of the boat; looking around I saw the captain clinging to the mast and sail which had washed out of the boat. When I last saw our brave captain he was drifting away holding on to the spar and sail.

My strength was fast going and when poor Rogers asked me to help him get farther up on the boat the only thing I could do was to tell him to try to hold on as we were drifting nearer shore. But he had lost his strength, however, and failing to get a better hold he dropped beneath the waves.

I was now alone on the bottom of the boat, and seeing that the center board had slipped part way out, I managed to get hold of it, and holding on with one hand managed with the other to get off my oil clothes, under coat, vest and boots. By that time the overturned boat had drifted down over the shoals near the barge Fitzpatrick, and when I sighted the craft I waved my hand as a signal for help. I soon saw the man on the barge fling a dory over the side, but could see nothing more after that of the dory owing to the mist and spray arising from the water. Finally it came in sight with a man rowing towards me, and it was brave Capt. Elmer Mayo. He pulled me into the boat. I was so used up I could not speak.

To land in that small boat through that surf was a perilous undertaking, but Mayo was a skillful boatman and we landed safely.

If those five men taken off the barge had kept their heads and done as we told them all hands would have landed in safety.



Between Highland and Race Point Lighthouses, on Cape Cod, stretches a long line of treacherous, dangerous sand bars. Situated midway between these points on the shore is the Coast Guard Building known as the Peaked Hill Bars Station. From this station the surfmen have rescued many lives and have seen many sailors go down to death in the raging sea.

On November 30th, 1880, a cold northerly gale was sweeping down the coast from Massachusetts Bay and lashing into fury the waters that pounded over the sand bars from Race Point to Wellfleet.

On the afternoon of the previous day one of those ungainly stone carrying sloops, with a deck load of granite bound from Rockport for New York, sailed out of Rockport Harbor. She carried besides her captain a crew of four men.

When daylight broke on the morning of the 30th the patrol from Peaked Hill Bars Station discovered this sloop hard and fast on the outlying sand bar, a half mile south of the station. Capt. David H. Atkins of the Peaked Hill Station decided that the sea was not so severe but that the surf boat might be launched. This was done and the following members of the Coast Guard Station, Elisha Taylor, Stephen Mayo, Isaiah Young, Chas. P. Kelley, Samuel O. Fisher, with Capt. Atkins at the steering oar, pushed the boat through the surf and pulled away through the angry sea for the rescue. Surfman John Cole was left on the beach to assist the boat’s crew on its return. They reached the vicinity of the stranded vessel but the sea was so rough and the vessel rolled so in the troubled waters that a near approach to the craft was unsafe and in fact almost impossible.

The men on the sloop were told to jump and the Coast Guardsmen stood ready to pick them up. Three of the men did as requested and were pulled into the life boat, but the captain and mate refused to take the chance, thus making it necessary for Capt. Atkins and his men to return to the shore. This they did and landed the three sailors.

Capt. Atkins, fearing that the sloop would be destroyed and the two men drowned, again went out to try and induce them to leave the vessel. As the surf boat neared the vessel the rush of the tide and sea carried the boat towards the long projecting boom and the loosened main sheet carried over and47 back with every roll of the craft caught under the bow of the boat and turned it completely over, throwing the entire crew into the mad waters. The surfmen, finding it impossible to right the boat, clung desperately to her bottom. Soon Capt. Atkins, who was not a strong swimmer, dropped exhausted into the sea. He was soon followed by Elisha Taylor and Stephen Mayo. Young, Kelley and Fisher, who were good swimmers, seeing that if they clung much longer to the boat must soon go as had their mates before them, so kicking off rubber boots and as much clothing as they could, struck out boldly for the shore, which they reached exhausted and chilled, and were pulled from the surf by Cole who had been standing by.

The bodies of Capt. Atkins and surfmen Taylor and Mayo were recovered the same day many miles down the coast from where the disaster occurred.

One of the crew of the Highland Station who helped to recover Capt. Atkins’ body from the surf was his own son.

With the incoming tide and moderating wind the Trumbull floated away from the sand bar and sailed down the coast with the captain and mate on board.

This tragedy could have been averted had not the requirements of the service and the sense of duty urged the Coast Guardsmen to attempt the rescue.

tailpiece: sailing ships



So far back as November 2nd, 1778, the British warship Somerset was wrecked on Peaked Hill Bars, two miles east of Race Point Lighthouse.

The Somerset was one of a fleet of British warships which had been throwing shot and shell at Bunker Hill Monument and terrorizing Boston and the surrounding coast towns for many weeks.


She often anchored in Provincetown Harbor, and a few days before this November day on which she was lost, left the harbor for the purpose of intercepting some French merchant ships which were due in Boston. On the second day of the cruise, and while attempting to re-enter the harbor, she encountered thick weather and a fierce northeast gale. Losing her bearings she stranded on Peaked Hill Bars and everything movable was speedily swept from her decks. She carried a list of nearly 500 officers and men, more than 200 of whom49 were swept from her decks and drowned when the ship stranded.

Next day the ship was beaten over the bars by the rough sea which continued, and she was forced near enough to the beach to allow of the rescue of the remainder of the ship’s company.

Capt. Hallet of Yarmouth and Col. Doane of Wellfleet with a detachment of the Militia came down the Cape to the wreck, put Capt. Aurey of the frigate under arrest and marched them all up the Cape to Boston, where they were imprisoned.

For more than a hundred years the old ship lay buried in the sands of the beach; then the ever moving sands and the currents of the ocean tore away the sand bars and exposed the timbers and rust covered cannon of the once proud ship, but it was not for long that the remains of the hull lay exposed. Relic hunters carried away many of the old timbers as souvenirs; then the relentless sea drove back the ever shifting sands and completely covered ship and guns. That was more than fifty years ago and since that day no part of the old Man of War has shown on the surface.

She was supposed to have carried sixty guns, most of them 24-pounders; that is, they shot a solid ball that weighed twenty-four pounds.

tailpiece: lion on crown



The possible solution of the fifty year old mystery of the Mary Celeste, which has baffled the investigators the world over, is herein explained.

The story is told by Capt. Lucy of the British Reserves. Capt. Lucy is 70 years old and lives in India, but was recently on a visit to England.

The history of the abandoning of the Mary Celeste was told to him by a man who was boatswain on the Celeste, but only on Capt. Lucy’s solemn oath not to divulge it until his informant was dead.

For more than forty years Capt. Lucy has kept the secret but now considers himself free to speak.

The Mary Celeste, a brig rigged vessel, sailed from Baltimore for Genoa, on the 7th of November, 1872, with a cargo of alcohol. She was captained by a man named Briggs, whose wife and daughter accompanied him. The crew consisted of 17 Americans, Danes and Norwegians. On December 13th the brig was found with all sails set and was towed into Bermuda. There was not a soul on board, and no sign of a struggle, but all of her boats were missing. Meals were found spread on the table in the cabin.

According to Capt. Lucy’s informant, who called himself Triggs, probably an assumed name, told the story to Capt. Lucy in Melbourne.

The voyage of the Celeste was uneventful until nearing the coast of Bermuda, when a derelict, an abandoned steamer, was sighted.

Triggs and four others launched a boat and rowed to the derelict but were unable to identify the craft because the salt water had washed away the name. London as hailing port was legible. In the purser’s cabin they found a safe. The captain of the Celeste and a carpenter were sent for.

The safe was broken open and about 3500 pounds of gold and silver were found inside. After opening the water cocks, so the derelict would sink, because it was a menace to navigation, the boarding party returned to the Celeste with the booty and there split it up, the captain taking 1200 pounds, the mate 600, the second mate 400, Triggs 400 and the crew the rest among them. The captain’s wife and daughter had no share.


Then the officers and men of the Celeste began to fear they had committed an illegal act. No one was very well posted in marine law, and the officers became seriously worried.

So the captain called the other officers to his cabin and it was decided to sink the Celeste and make for the nearest land.

But in the meantime a passing vessel had spoken with the Mary Celeste and they, on board the Celeste, felt there had been a suspicion, on board the hailing vessel, of possible foul play if they sank the vessel. So instead they abandoned the brig, making off in the boats which they had. They left meals on the cabin table to make the affair as mysterious as possible so as to throw off investigation.

They painted on the boats they rowed away in, the name of a schooner that had been recently lost, and arriving at Bermuda reported the loss of the schooner whose name they had painted on the boats.

Triggs declared that he never again saw any member of the Celeste’s crew.

From private enquiries Capt. Lucy was inclined to credit Triggs’ story, because he seemed to be well supplied with money and had money in the banks at Melbourne.

A very interesting story, but quite improbable.

A more reasonable explanation of this mystery lies in the fact that a slight fire developed in the galley, and those on board knowing what an inflammable and dangerous cargo was beneath them hurriedly launched the boats and all of the crew scrambled in and pulled away from the vessel but probably lay by for a while to see if an explosion would follow, then a breeze sprang up and the Celeste, with all sails set, sailed rapidly away and they could not overtake her.

Very likely before those in the boat could reach land a gale came on, swamped the boat and all were drowned.



Late in the afternoon of October 23, 1854, a great storm was sweeping the New England coast. Watchers on the cliffs sighted through the thick and driving mists a brig rigged vessel over which the sea was constantly breaking, heading directly towards the shore. Soon, wind and sea driven, she drove through the onsweeping waves over the outlying line of sand bars. Suddenly, when directly between the outer and inner line of bars, she swung broadside to the sea and headed straight up the coast, when it was seen that her crew had been forced to mount and cling to the main rigging, where they were clinging desperately above the raging sea which was pouring in torrents across the vessel’s deck, making any attempt to regain the use of the wheel impossible. Before being driven to the rigging the crew had lashed the wheel. Then up the coast, under short sail, the vessel drove onward without guiding hand clear to the end of the Cape and around Race Point into Massachusetts Bay; across this tumbling sea of mad waters she rushed on until she piled up on the rocks at Scituate, and there in a few hours she was ground to pieces, where the entire crew of seven men were swallowed up in the sea.

As she drove along the surf opposite Highland Station a great brown pig was swept from her deck and came rolling up in the surf on the shore. He was a good swimmer and had made the distance, somewhat out of breath but intact. A spectator took him home and he grew to be a big and lusty porker. If he could have talked we would have known the name of his ship.



The death of Lester H. Monks, early in 1927, recalls one of the most mysterious crime cases in the history of the country. It was that of the murders committed on the barkentine Herbert Fuller, which in 1896 sent a chill of horror down the spine of everyone who read the details of these wicked murders.

Somewhere between the port of Halifax and Delaware Breakwater, on a starlit night in early June of that year, the captain and second mate and the captain’s wife were brutally murdered with an axe, in the cabin of the Fuller. This vessel was carrying a cargo of lumber to Cuba.

The arrival of the barkentine off the port of Halifax with the three bodies of the murdered victims in a canvas covered boat towed behind the Fuller, unfolded a tale of horror to shock humanity and unequalled in criminal history.

The ship was in charge of Monks, a young Harvard student who was taking this trip on the Fuller for his health, while the first mate, Thomas Bram, a colored man, and a seaman named Charles Brown, were in irons.

The Halifax authorities locked up Monks and the entire crew. Monks was the son of fine people, respected and well-to-do ship owners, and he was quickly given his liberty on parole, but the other members of the crew were held until an investigation could be made.

It appeared that upon the night of the murders only six persons were aft. On deck were Bram, the first mate, in charge of the ship, and Brown, the helmsman. The other four were below, only half a level lower than the after deck. They were Captain Charles I. Nash, asleep in the chart room; Augustus Blandburg, second mate, in his bunk in the room adjoining the chart room; Mrs. Nash, in her stateroom leading from the main cabin; and Monks, whose room was between the chart room and the captain’s cabin.

In the middle of the night, Monks testified that he was awakened by a woman’s scream, loud and piercing. Dressing as quick as possible, he seized his revolver from the table—and it was discovered later it was the only one on board—and rushed up the companionway stairs to the deck. In doing so he had to run through the chart room, and on the floor he saw the body of the captain. As he reached the deck he said54 he saw Bram at the head of the stairs holding in his hand a heavy piece of board which he threw at Monks. Bram said afterwards that seeing the passenger rushing up the stairs with a pistol, he became frightened and threw the board as a matter of protection.

The entire crew was then aroused and the cabin inspected. The second mate’s body was found on his bunk and Mrs. Nash’s body in bed in her cabin.

Monks’ escape was considered miraculous in view of the fact that he alone of the four persons below decks at the time escaped the slaughter. All of the rooms here practically opened into the main cabin.

In the panic which followed the finding of the bodies, Monks and the cook, Jonathan Spencer, took charge. Every man, particularly Bram and Brown, were watched. On the morning of the fourth day Spencer became suspicious of Bram and had him put in irons.

After being ironed, Bram declared that on the night of the murders, he had, through a window of the chart room, seen Brown murder the captain. Brown in turn accused Bram of the killing. There was considerable doubt whether Brown could have left the wheel, committed the murders and returned to the wheel without the course of the ship being very evident to the others of the crew.

For a few days after the murders the bodies were lying in the cabin where they fell. Then they were sewed up in canvas, placed in the ship’s jollyboat and towed astern.

About this time some member of the crew found the blood-stained axe, with which the murders were committed, hid away in the lumber of the vessel’s deckload, and it was thrown overboard, fearing that some person on board might get it and use it as a weapon for further killing.

Bram and Brown were accused of the murders. It developed that Brown’s real name was Leopold Westerburg, and that he once shot a man in Wurtenburg, in Germany, but had escaped by pleading insanity. Later the charge was dropped and he was accused of only having concealed the crime which another had committed.

Bram went to trial in Boston, October 29th, 1896. After a sensational and hard fought battle by some of the most prominent lawyers in the state, he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, but his counsel got a new trial on a writ of error. Meanwhile the United States had passed a law permitting a jury to return a verdict of murder in first degree, but with a recommend of life imprisonment instead, and though again55 Bram was found guilty, life imprisonment was given him and he was committed to Charlestown State Prison for life.

In November, 1906, Bram was removed to the Federal Prison at Atlanta. He always protested his innocence of the crime, and this coupled with good behavior, secured his pardon, August 27, 1913.

On receiving his pardon he asked the citizens of Atlanta for a chance to vindicate himself. He opened a restaurant there and became a highly respected citizen and business man.

Monks got his degree from Harvard in 1898, and he became a prominent figure in the business world.

Though this story was not closely connected with the coast of Cape Cod, the writer had seen the Herbert Fuller many times in her voyaging up and down the coast.

Later reports of Bram find that after he had sold his restaurant business in Atlanta he purchased a four masted schooner and engaged in the transportation of lumber on the coast and made many successful voyages.

tailpiece: large sailing ship



On the 5th day of January, 1895, the big coal laden schooner Job H. Jackson, in a howling northeast gale, went ashore on the outer bar between Peaked Hill Bar and Race Point Coast Guard Station, and was torn to pieces in the terrific gale that drove the great waves constantly over her.

Eight of her crew of nine men were rescued after much difficulty by the life savers of the two stations. She was deeply laden with coal and was so far from shore that no mortar lines could be shot over her.

The first attempt of the Coast Guard to launch a boat resulted in a capsize. On the second try the boat was successfully launched through the towering seas, but could not approach nearer than two hundred feet of the wreck.

In the meantime the entire crew of the vessel had climbed into the rigging, to prevent being swept overboard by the deluge of water that swept the decks of the fast breaking up craft.

Then the men one by one jumped from the rigging into the wild surf and were pulled into the surf boat; all but one man of the crew made it. Then the somewhat overloaded boat was headed through the breakers for the shore.

Just as the boat rode the last wave at the shore it was again overturned, but twenty men on the shore stood ready and the crew of the schooner and the Coast Guardsmen were snatched from the surf. By noon of the following day all that remained of the Jackson were broken spars and deck houses scattered along the sands of the beach.



On the morning of February 18th, 1927, a northeast storm was developing on the North Atlantic coast and white-capped waves were driving towards the shore all the way from Chatham to Race Point.

The Coast Guard cruiser No. 238, one of the smaller boats of this fleet engaged in patrolling the coast for the purpose of intercepting rum runners, was several miles off Nantucket Lightship. This boat had rendezvous at Provincetown and those on board, recognizing that a gale of unusual violence was rapidly approaching the coast, the return of the boat to port should be immediate. So the officers of the cruiser felt that as a matter of safety all possible speed should be made for Provincetown Harbor.

The boat made good time up the coast in the ever increasing gale which drove water in torrents over her decks. When she had reached a position one mile east of the Peaked Hills Buoy, suddenly her engines went dead and she became a helpless, drifting craft. Every possible effort was made to repair the engine without avail.

On board the stricken craft they signalled to the Highland Coast Guard Station and asked that help be sent to them. Conditions of wind and sea grew constantly worse. Soon the darkness of night came on and from the disabled boat signal lights flashed every little while telling of the seriousness of their condition. These signals were seen and understood by the Highland Coast Guard crew. It was seen that the boat was being driven nearer and nearer the sea-swept sand bars.

Over the dark and rushing sea came to those on shore by the flashing signals this message: “We are helpless; both anchors are down but they do not hold us and we are slowly but surely going to our destruction; unless you can send help we must surely perish.”

Telephone and telegraph messages were hurriedly sent to the authorities in Boston, and a large ship was dispatched from the Navy Yard at Charlestown, but she had not proceeded two miles beyond Boston Light, when, from the fury of the storm, she, too, broke down and had a struggle to get back to shelter, coming dangerously near to foundering herself.


All night long until midnight frequently from the distressed boat came frantic cries across the surging waters, but no earthly power could reach them.

Miss Olive Williams, manager of the Western Union Telegraph and Marine Reporting Station on the cliffs at Highland Light, remained on duty all the night long to keep in touch with the boat and the stations on shore.

At midnight the last signals from the doomed 238 flashed across the angry sea—the end had come.

With daylight next morning, out there, two hundred yards from the shore, lay a mass of broken timbers and twisted iron, all that remained of the little cruiser, and the bodies of her crew of eight officers and men were being washed about in the cruel waters that thundered to the shore.

This was the worst disaster in this immediate vicinity since the terrible storm of November 27th, 1898, when the Portland foundered, carrying to death 165 persons.

Only two bodies of the cruiser’s crew were ever recovered from the sea.

tailpiece: porthole view of steamship



About the beginning of the Civil War and for several years thereafter, there were many four and five masted schooners built and operated in the coal carrying trade along the North Atlantic coast.

Capt. Wm. H. Palmer and Associates built and managed a fleet of this class of schooners, which were known as the “Palmer Fleet.” Each vessel when built took on the name of some member of the Palmer family. Capt. Palmer became the managing owner. These were great, beautiful vessels, and when with a favoring breeze they sailed gaily up and down the coast, presented a picture worth going many miles to see.

About that time and for some fifteen years thereafter, the coal carrying business from Philadelphia and Baltimore to Boston and ports beyond was very good, and much money was made in the business, and these large schooners were built especially to handle this trade along the Atlantic seaboard.

The Palmer fleet did not by any means include all the four and five masters engaged in this transportation business. There were other firms that, in addition to handling four and five masters, were building and operating six masters.

Of all the six masters, I do not know of a single one afloat on the New England coast today, and the four and five masters are very few indeed. Following are the names of the schooners of the Palmer Fleet, and so far as I know there is not one of them afloat today, December 15th, 1927.

The first of this fleet, the Jane Palmer, was built at Harbor View, East Boston, and she had a carrying capacity of 4400 tons of coal. Her draft was 29 feet, that is, she required more than 29 feet of water in which to float when loaded.

The others were Paul Palmer, Baker Palmer, Dorothy Palmer, Singleton Palmer, Davis Palmer, Fuller Palmer, Elizabeth Palmer, Prescott Palmer, and Harwood Palmer, these were the ten five masters, and the Maud Palmer and Marie Palmer were the two four masters.

The Davis Palmer was the largest of the fleet and had a carrying capacity of 5000 tons. The four masters carried only 2800 tons each.


There were two schooners named Paul Palmer. The first one was stranded on the Jersey Coast, later was floated and re-named George P. Hudson. The second Paul Palmer was totally destroyed by fire five miles east of Race Point Light.

The Davis Palmer was lost in the terrible Christmas blizzard of 1909, and with her entire crew of nine officers and men went to the bottom in Broad Sound, in Boston Harbor.




The sea, powerful, wonderful and ever full of mystery, ever restless and uncontrolled by human efforts, destructive in its might when sea and wind and tide combine, calm and beautiful when the summer sun shines across its blue surface, over which the ships move grandly and safely; but when the flying snow sweeps over the frozen surface of the gale-swept ocean with seas that scatter destruction as it is hurled upon craft or shore, it is a different story.

This is a book primarily of shipwrecks, where there is loss of human lives that drop to untimely graves in the wild seas.

But there are many strange events on the sea coasts, though not directly concerned in the sacrifice of human lives, but are so strange and unusual that they appeal to our wonder and interest.

We want to tell you a little about what the wind and the sea did in and around Provincetown Harbor one night in December, 1926.

At this time and for some time previously the waters in the immediate vicinity of the harbor had been used for the testing grounds of the submarines of the United States Navy, and this made it necessary for some large vessel to be stationed here for the purpose of carrying the supplies and parts that might be needed on the submarine boats, and the ship selected for this purpose was the large Government cutter Morrill. This ship, on the afternoon of a day in December, returning from a short cruise in the bay, tied up at her anchorage in the harbor.

All day the wind had been coming strong from the southeast and blowing directly into the harbor. As darkness came on the gale steadily increased, and before midnight had reached hurricane force. It was a time in the month when the tides were very high. All around the harbor little power fishing boats were straining at their anchors as the rising seas swept constantly over them.

Soon the force of the gale, as it drove the rising seas against the high sides of the Morrill, slowly but surely forced her constantly nearer the shore of the harbor, dragging her anchors with her as wave after wave beat against her bow and sides. Suddenly the anchor chains snapped and the ship began her wild course of destruction across the harbor.62 Swinging to the right she crashed into a fishing boat and sent it to the bottom, then sharply to the left she sent another fishing boat to destruction, continuing her swinging, zigzag course until she had passed over or through three more boats. Then, as a big wave drove with great force at her quarter, she swung around towards the west and plunged into the centre of a long pier which extended into the harbor. This offered no appreciable check to her onward course; tearing through this, scattering timbers and wharf logs in every direction; then on to a short pier on the shore she smashed into a good sized building on the head of this wharf which had been used during the summer as a playhouse and restaurant. Her further progress was then checked but not until she had landed within a hundred yards of the main street in Provincetown.

For miles along the shore front at Provincetown the beach was littered with wharf logs and debris by the ton. Cottages were undermined, boats were wrecked and driven ashore, buildings damaged, cellars flooded, and the whole harbor front presented a scene of desolation. The loss to property ran into thousands and thousands of dollars.

In the Congress of the December Session of 1927, a bill was introduced to obtain money to reimburse the fishermen for the loss of their boats in the mad voyage of the Morrill.

From 1845 to about 1870 was the period of the highest efficiency in this type of sailing craft and the full rigged ship sailed upon every sea and navigated every ocean of the civilized world, and with their great white sails spread in the sunlight, were pictures of delight upon every sea.

Shortly after the Civil War steam propelled vessels began to assume a place in the passenger and freight carrying business of the sea somewhat to the exclusion of the sailing ship. Slowly but surely they were forced back and driven from the sea, growing less and less in numbers until this year of 1928 it is doubtful if there is one vessel of this type on the Atlantic coast of this country today, and very few on any ocean of the world. Steam and electric power have driven them into the discard.



The beginning of 1927 was a season which resulted in many disasters along the North Atlantic coast, and especially on the outer coast of Cape Cod. It is a matter of record that not since the terrible disaster of the loss of the steamship Portland in 1898, had so many people gone to their deaths in the cold waters of the gale-swept sea from Nantucket to Boston.

On the second day of February the three masted schooner Montclair of New Jersey, from Bangor for New York, with a cargo of lumber, after battling a fierce gale for forty-eight hours, drove ashore one-fourth of a mile from the Orleans Coast Guard Station.

She struck the bar at low water and instead of driving over she held fast and the waves poured in awful force over the doomed craft’s decks from stem to stern, tearing away her deck load of laths which were piled high above her rails and scattering them into the wild sea that ran racing towards the shore.

Soon her deck houses yielded to the terrific pounding of the storm-borne waves. The strings that held the laths in bundles were soon broken and these little strips of wood a quarter of an inch thick, an inch and a half wide and four feet long, were being smashed into kindlings, thrown about in the surf until they formed a great stack of broken stuff, and a short distance away looked like a huge hay stack.

Her crew consisted of a captain and six seamen. Into this mass of broken and jumbled sticks the vessel’s crew were hurled by the never ending rush of the driving sea.

Two of the crew were fortunate enough to get hold of a bit of floating wreckage and were swept clear of the tangled mass of laths and thrown to the shore where rescuers succeeded in pulling them from the surf. Not so with the other five members of the crew. The onrushing current swept them from the deck of the fast breaking up craft and threw them directly into the surging mass of broken and piled up laths, practically cutting off nearly every possible chance of escape. Had the lumber been of boards and timbers the chance for the sailors to reach shore would have been much better.

The Coast Guard from Nauset and Chatham reached the64 scene as promptly as they could, but they were a long distance from the wreck, and the nature of the cargo made it practically impossible to send a line over the vessel, and the distance from the shore where the craft lay still further operated against the rescue of the unfortunate crew.

Sometimes the Government has fits of economy, but the Coast Guard service is a poor place to begin the practice of it. Some time before the Coast Guard Station at Orleans had been abandoned, that is, the crews had been withdrawn and the station locked up.

Another case of the irony of fate that under these conditions this schooner should be thrown at the very doors of the station that had been abandoned.

Had this station been manned it is quite probable that every man of the crew of this craft would have been saved.

After this experience the Government made haste to reopen the Orleans station and a full crew went on duty December 1st, 1927. This seems to be another case of locking the stable door after the horse has been stolen.

tailpiece: 3-masted sailingship



A short time previous to the seventh day of December, 1926, a storm of considerable violence had prevailed all over the North Atlantic and in and around the waters of Massachusetts Bay and along the shores of Cape Cod.

The temperature had been low for several days, and high easterly winds with frequent flurries of snow and sleet, and the sea was running riot all over the ocean from Maine to Nantucket Shoals. Under these conditions, late in the afternoon of the 7th, the three masted schooner W. H. Reinhart, Capt. Barton, from Bangor for Philadelphia, with a load of lumber, was driven hard and fast upon the outlying sand bars at Race Point, about half way between Race Point Coast Guard Station and the Light.

Several of the crew were more or less frost bitten and exhausted by the trying conditions with which their vessel had been beaten about in the storms. The Coast Guard men were promptly on the scene and after a hard struggle succeeded in taking off from the vessel Capt. Barton and the seven members of his crew and rushed them to the Coast Guard Station.

The storm continued and before daylight next morning the schooner showed unmistakable signs of going to pieces, and later the mizzen mast smashed off and fell into the sea. The ever rising gale swept the big waves in torrents over the deck of the stranded craft and after a while tearing much of her cargo of lumber from her decks and scattered it along the shore, men on the shore were able to secure a considerable portion of the deck load which had come driving in with the sea.

The owner of the cargo then contracted with E. Hayes Small to salvage the lumber and deliver it in Provincetown or some nearby point from which it could be sent to destination.

Mr. Small, manager of the Highland Hotel, ten miles away, kept on his farm there eight strong horses which had been accustomed to work on the beaches and sands. The contract provided that he should use whatever lumber was needed for the construction of a suitable shed or stable in which his66 horses could be kept near the wreck. The horses were, with grain and hay, removed to the beach and three men left there to watch and care for them. This stable was necessary because of the distance from the hotel which barred going back and forth every day.

Rapid progress was made in recovering the cargo. Then the stripping from the vessel of all material of any value began. Rigging, sails, anchors and material of various kinds were brought ashore at every favorable opportunity.


In the meantime the vessel was being pounded to pieces. The next storm tore away the mainmast and the hull became more and more battered until finally the foremast toppled into the sea and only the smashed up hulk lay scattered on the storm-swept shore.

Mr. Small’s contract also provided that he should have the lumber with which the temporary stable was built; then it was carted to the Highlands in North Truro and went into the construction of a fine cottage which bears the name of “Mayflower.”

This was begun in January, 1927, and completed in June. Fortunately no lives were lost in this disaster, but it caused many hours of suffering for those men who comprised the crew of the wreck.



Tragedy stalks abroad on the great sea and land always, not only on the wide stretches of the great ocean but all along the bordering coasts and inlets.

A big ship sails away into the mists and fogs of the pulsing deep and never comes back, a fisherman pulls out in his little boat to draw his nets and drops as completely out of sight as though he had never been.

This little book tells of shipwrecks and disasters and in the same line we may note the passing of human life on the sea wherever it may be.

Mystery goes hand and hand with passing events on the ever restless waters.

The following little story is but one of many like it.

Mr. Eugene W. Haines was a much respected, active citizen of the town of Sandwich, Cape Cod. He had held many important offices in the town and was a member of the Board of Selectmen and engaged in several lines of business.

During the summer season he set a string of lobster pots in the bay. He owned a small power boat which he used in going to and from his lobster traps.

On the 19th of November, 1927, an hour or more before daylight, as was his custom, he sailed away in his boat to draw his lobster pots, and from that hour he was never seen again by those on shore who awaited his return.

For many days the waters of the bay were unruffled by any strong wind and the waters were smooth. When he did not return by mid-afternoon searching parties started out from many points and men patrolled the coast beaches from Provincetown to Plymouth, and boats dragged the nearby waters of the bay for many hours. Every foot of the coast beaches were covered but not a single trace was found of the missing man or his boat.

There was but one possible clue to this strange situation. A gang of rum runners had been operating in and about the bay for some time and some of them had been caught, and Mr. Haines had been instrumental in bringing some of them to trial and punishment.

The theory has been advanced and quite generally accepted that these law-breakers, holding a feeling of enmity against68 Haines, watched his daily going out in his boat until there came a time in which to get him.

It is generally believed that they overtook his boat, made him a prisoner, and took the boat in tow and then proceeded out in the sea miles from land, where they murdered their victim, weighted his body and dropped it to the bottom of the sea, then weighted and sank the boat and left no trace.

During the last week in November a man patrolling the shore came upon two oars and a few things such as are carried in fishing boats which were identified as having belonged to Haines’ boat. But this does not clear up the mystery of the lost fishing boat, and the how and where of the tragedy will ever remain, like many others, unsolved.

On the 20th of December portions of Haines power dory drifted ashore at Sandwich.

tailpiece: steamer with sails



On the afternoon of April 3rd, 1915, the steam tug Mars, belonging to the Reading Railroad Company, left the harbor of Bangor, Maine, with three light barges bound to Philadelphia. The barges were the Tunnel Ridge, Coleraine and Manheim.


Wrecked on Cape Cod. Now Highland Golf Club House

Soon after clearing the outer roadstead at Bangor, the weather, which had been fine, became overcast and threatening, but the wind, though strong, was fair, so that sail was made on the barges and the tow made good progress. The captain of the tug hoped to pick up the Highland Light in a70 short time, but on the morning of the 4th snow began falling, the wind swung out to the northeast and soon increased to a gale, and the tow was soon wallowing in a rapidly rising sea. At six o’clock on the afternoon of the 4th suddenly, right under the bow of the tug, came great rolling waves, breaking white capped over the sand bars, only a hundred yards from the tug. The captain immediately realized that unless his boat could get away from this danger the tug would be smashed to pieces on the sands of the bar. The only safe thing to do was to cut away from the barges. This was done; then by all the power in the tug’s engines he was able to pull away, round Race Point and anchor in Provincetown Harbor. Hardly had this been accomplished when the propeller of the tug dropped off. Had this happened when the tug was attached to the barges or was battling the sea outside of Cape Cod, it is quite probable the tug would have foundered and her entire crew lost.

The barges left to the fury of the storm drove rapidly towards the sand bars and on towards the beach. In this encounter with the sea the Tunnel Ridge and the Coleraine were so badly smashed that they were not worth any attempt to float them, and it was only by the prompt action of the Highland Coast Guard crew that those on the barges were brought safely to shore.

Capt. George Israel of the Manheim, a man of many experiences in shipwrecks, believing he could save his vessel, dropped both anchors off the bow of the barge. This only checked for a short time the onward drive of the barge. Capt. Israel had mistaken the force of the sea on the outside of Cape Cod in a storm, and his barge dragging her anchors was forced nearer and nearer the shore, until he and his crew of four men had to be brought ashore in the breeches buoy by the Coast Guard men.

The fury of the gale and the high and rising tide soon forced the barges well up on the beach, so that on the following morning one might walk dry footed entirely around them. The Manheim escaped serious injury. Then began an effort to float her. Soon it was found that the action of the sea and tide was building up a great breakwater of sand around the Tunnel Ridge and Coleraine which were stranded one on each side of the Manheim. There could be no hope of floating the latter until these hulks were removed. Kerosene was liberally poured over them and on a dark night a torch was applied, and the burning hulls lit up the sea and shore for many miles around. When it was decided to burn the barges, Capt.71 Israel told E. Hayes Small if he would send a gang of men on board and remove the deckhouses from the Coleraine he could have them; he did so, and a few days work landed the houses on the sands of the beach, where they were cut into three pieces. Some planks were laid on the slope of the 100 feet high cliff, and with four horses the three parts were skidded to the top of the cliffs; then on trucks the parts were drawn to a point on the south side of the town road leading to Highland Light, there put together and converted to a three-room cottage. Later on, with a small addition on the south side, made the club house of the Highland House golf links.

Capt. Israel, with two of his men, lived on the Manheim all winter, and on the 4th day of April, 1916, just a year to a day from the time the Manheim stranded, she was floated off and entered the coal transportation business again.

tailpiece: 3-masted sailingship



On the 9th day of January, 1927, the big 2000 ton freighter John Tracy of the M. & J. Tracy Transportation Line, with some 2500 tons of coal for Boston, steamed out of the harbor of Philadelphia, but she never reached her destination, and from that day to this no word has come to land to tell what befell her. Every effort by search in every port on the coast, by telephone, by wireless, and the hunt through every possible avenue for information, failed to obtain the slightest clue to the missing boat. Another tragedy of the sea had been added to the long and ever increasing list of sea tragedies of lost ships that have dropped beneath the sea.

Knowing the usual speed with which these ships move along the coast and knowing the conditions which prevailed, it is estimated that this ship would have been in the immediate vicinity of Highland Light on the night of January 11th, when conditions on the sea were dark and stormy, with a gale-driven fog over all the sea.

In the early morning of the 10th, the three masted schooner Charles Whittemore, with a high deck load of piling (logs), bound from Portland to New York, encountered a strong gale and rough sea when a few miles east of Highland Light and her entire deck load of these big logs was swept from her decks. It has been quite generally believed that the Tracy, steaming up the coast in the darkness and storm, ran directly into this mass of floating logs, and the fury of the sea drove one of them through the steamer’s side and sent her to the bottom in a very few minutes.

On the ship were thirty-one officers and men. No man or message ever came back to tell how, why and where it happened. No wreckage came to the surface or the shore, but this is readily explained because of the fact that this was an iron ship, with very little material that could be washed from her decks, so the ship carried everything with her when she went to the bottom of the sea.



On the first day of January, 1927, one of those fierce easterly gales which frequently sweep the North Atlantic coast and the outside of Cape Cod from Chatham to Boston Light, caught the fishing schooner Roger Dicky in a dense fog and drove her hard and fast on the outside beach a short distance beyond the Cahoon’s Hollow Coast Guard Station, within the boundaries of Wellfleet.


Wrecked on Cape Cod, January 1st, 1927

She was coming in from the fishing grounds bound to Boston with 20,000 pounds of cod and haddock. The Coast Guardsmen from Cahoon’s Hollow Station were promptly on hand and brought the entire ship’s crew of fifteen men safely to shore.

The Dicky was a staunch craft, only a year old, but the terrific seas soon made a complete wreck of her. She was a very modern boat and quite up to date in equipment of electric lights, hot and cold water, and the most valuable piece of her expensive furnishings was a $12,000 electric engine.


When it was seen that the vessel must speedily break up, preparations were made to strip from the hull everything of value that could be moved.

This craft stranded directly in front of a hundred feet high cliff, and the nearest place at which teams could approach the wreck was more than two miles at Pamet River Coast Guard Station.

The rigging and sails were quickly taken off, but the great problem which confronted them was how to land that engine.

At that time Mr. Hayes Small, of the Highland House Hotel, owned eight powerful horses, and Capt. Pine, of Boston, who had been sent down by the owners of the craft to take charge, made a contract with Mr. Small to truck the engine along the beach up through the Pamet River valley and on to Provincetown.

By lively work on the part of a gang of men the engine was removed from the vessel to the waiting trucks and four horses pulled it quickly up the beach and on to destination.

Three days later the Roger Dicky was only a mass of broken timbers and twisted chains.

Fortunately no lives were lost in this disaster.



On the 21st day of June, 1927, the ocean-going tug Gettysburg, of the Reading Coal Company, towing four empty barges from Portland for Port Reading, Pennsylvania, was proceeding down the coast outside of Cape Cod. When the tow had reached a point east of Race Point Light, the wind, which had been strong from the northwest, began shifting to the northeast and increasing in violence, but as it was fair and favorable for running down the coast, the tow kept on instead of pulling up for Provincetown.

Every moment the wind increased in force, and when the tow was four miles east of Highland Light the wind had increased to a strong gale and the sea had become very rough. Suddenly at noon the hawser holding the tug to the first barge snapped and the four empty barges comprising the tow were adrift in the raging sea.

Then the tug made strenuous efforts to recover the barges, but the gale and the sea made this impossible.

All the while the storm and the sea were driving the helpless barges nearer and nearer to the sea-swept sand bars where they might be torn to pieces if their keels once touched the bottom. The crews on the barges, realizing that there was no hope of the tug being able to recover them, dropped all the anchors with which they were equipped. This held them, but it was by no means certain that they would be able to do so if the sea and gale further increased.

Capt. Andrews, of the Highland Coast Guard Station, assembled his entire crew and they took their life-saving apparatus up to a point directly opposite the Signal Station of the Weather Bureau on the Highland Cliffs. The tide was running high and sweeping the entire foot of the cliffs and it might be a question whether it would be possible to use the gun and shot line from the shore. So Capt. Andrews placed part of his crew on the cliffs and the others on the beach, and there from this point they watched the situation through the night.

Fortunately the gale did not further increase and by mid-forenoon of the following day the storm had so far moderated that it became possible for the tug to return to pick up her barges and proceed to destination.

The moderating of the gale made it possible to avert what might have been another death-dealing disaster.





The fishing schooner Elsia G. Silva of Gloucester, coming in from a fishing trip to the South Shoals, off Nantucket, on the afternoon of February 14th, 1927, encountered a strong wind with fog when nearing Chatham Bars. This condition grew constantly worse and the storm increased until it reached gale force, driving a high sea over the outlying bars, and the thick mist obscured the shore of the entire coast. The dense fog enveloped everything except the wildly rushing sea, and before daylight the following morning the little schooner was borne high upon the crest of the great white-capped waves, only the next moment to be dashed into the deep hollows of the gale-swept sea as it rushed onward towards the beach.

Her crew of sixteen men, with much difficulty and danger, clung to the rigging of the tossing vessel.

The Coast Guardsmen from Cahoons Hollow Station promptly reached the vicinity of the wave-swept boat, which soon stranded on the beach one mile north of the station. They could render no help to the crew of the Silva by means of boats or gear, and could only stand by to pull the men from the surf as they were washed from her decks. One by one the fishermen’s crew were pulled from the surf until the entire sixteen were safely brought out of the surf that tore across the doomed craft’s deck.

Soon the fury of the sea tore the vessel to pieces, carrying away her deckhouses and all movable things from her deck. Soon the masts fell with a crash into the sea, and sails, rigging and spars mixed in a jumble of wreckage, and then was scattered along the sands of the beach. The boat was carrying a fair catch of fish, all of which was mixed with the wreckage and scattered in the sea.

Soon the men from the village came to the beach and gathered up such material as had not already been swept far down the coast, and a few days later only a protruding bit of broken spar or a bit of rope dangling from some buried anchor marked the spot where the Elsia stranded.

This again was another fortunate escape of the crew from the deck of a wrecked vessel; only a little difference in the conditions might have sent sixteen men to untimely deaths.



For several years the Pacific Mail Steamship Company has been operating a fleet of several large ocean liners, each bearing the name of a President of the United States. These ships had been making around the world trips, and in 1927 one of these ships, the Presidente Wilson, was under charter to the Cosulich Line, an Italian company.

In the autumn of 1927, the Presidente Wilson was returning from an all around the world trip, with a large passenger list and tons of freight from Europe and the Far East, to Boston. She had left Seattle quite a number of days before, passed through the Panama Canal, touched at New York and on to Boston, which would end the trip.

The weather held good until she had reached the vicinity of Nantucket Shoals, where she ran into a dense fog, making it necessary to slow down and pick her way through the fog that enveloped her and covered all the coast.

She left New York on the morning of October 28th, and on the morning of the 29th, at four o’clock in the morning, she had reached a point four miles directly east of Highland Light. Out of the thick mist not a hundred yards away, directly in the ship’s path, loomed the masts and faint outlines of a fishing schooner, which later proved to be the Avalon, a vessel of about a hundred tons, with home port at Gloucester, bound on a fishing trip to the banks. She had left Boston the afternoon before and was jogging along under short sail waiting for the fog to lift. She was under such small amount of sail that she could not have moved had she made the attempt.

The oncoming great ship, towering many feet above her, had no chance to swing clear of the fishing craft and amid the clanging of bells, the blast of steam whistles, and the shouts and screams of those both on the big ship and on the fishing boat, they came together with a crash. The momentum of the huge craft carried her right on over the Avalon and sent her, broken and wrecked, to the bottom of the sea, carrying with her nearly all of her crew, who were imprisoned in her cabin. From the time of the crash until she had disappeared beneath the sea, there had been no time for the crew to escape.

The Avalon had a crew of sixteen men and only three of them escaped with their lives, these three being the deck79 watch at the time. The other thirteen were in their bunks and had no chance to get to the surface before death overtook them.

Boats from the ship were promptly put over and with those of other vessels which happened to be nearby cruised about the waters for several hours, but no other man of the fishing boat crew was recovered.

An hour after the disaster, the fog which had been responsible for this tragedy cleared all away, the sun shone brightly and the blue waters of the sea rolled smoothly on. The big liner steamed away on her course and thirteen unfortunate sailors lay dead on the bottom of the sea.

Those who go down to the sea in ships do not know what may be in store for them.

tailpiece: sailingship



A certain section of the waters in and around Provincetown Harbor have for several years been used as the testing ground for new or reconditioned submarines of the U. S. Navy.

Early in December of 1927, the submarine S-4 was at this testing ground, standardizing her engines following some changes which had been completed at the Charlestown Navy Yard. Her complement of forty officers and men were on board, and two civilian visitors.

In the early afternoon of December 17th this submarine went under to test some part of her machinery and a little workout, and steamed submerged out of the harbor; when about half a mile south of the Wood End Lighthouse, and directly in the channel for vessels leaving or entering the harbor, started to come to the surface. Just at this moment, coming in from a patrol cruise along the coast, came the Coast Guard cutter Paulding, steaming for an anchorage in the harbor at a sixteen miles an hour speed, and crashed with great force into the side of the submarine, just breaking the surface water. The sharp iron stem of the Paulding tore a great ragged hole in the side of the S-4, just forward of the conning tower, and passed completely over her. The torrent of water which poured through this hole sent the under-sea boat to the bottom of the sea in five minutes, with her crew of forty-two imprisoned in her iron hull, with walls that barred their escape from certain death. Caught like rats in a trap without the possibility or hope of escape, they were sealed up in their coffin more than one hundred feet beneath the sea.

When this disaster became known, and it was within five minutes of the crash, radio and wireless messages sent it to every section of the country. It sent a thrill of horror to every point the news had reached; the awful tidings were broadcast to the whole country and even to points in Europe.

Every available means of possible rescue were hurried to the scene. A dozen deep sea divers were rushed by train and auto from New London. Provincetown was the nearest point of approach to the location of the disaster. Big ships and tugs carrying chains and appliances were rushed forward by every81 available means, hoping to accomplish something towards raising the sunken boat before all her officers and men had perished by drowning or suffocation.

There was hope that at least some of the men might have been able to close the watertight compartments before they were overcome by the inrushing current.

Many kinds of appliances were hurried to the locality by fast ships; many tugs and steamers gathered over the place where the S-4 lay at the bottom of the sea off Long Point. Over the sunken boat white-capped waves were breaking, forced over the surging waters of the bay by a thirty-mile northwest gale.

As soon as the divers reached the locality a man was sent down and succeeded in placing a chain over the bow of the submarine; they had hoped to raise the bow enough to tip the bow towards the surface, but failed to offer any help.

Again a man was sent down with a hammer, and instructed to pound along the iron sides of the sunken boat; if he got any response from the inside it would indicate that there was life there.

The diver when a short distance forward of the locality of the conning tower and the great hole which had been torn open by the Paulding when she overwhelmed the under-sea boat, heard a responsive tapping from the inside. Then the diver tapped out in the telegraph code, “Are you alive.” The answer quickly came back, “Yes, six of us are alive here.” Again the diver tapped, “Everything possible is being done to help you.” Again from the inside, “The air is very bad in here, please hurry.” This was Sunday afternoon, twenty-four hours after the disaster.

When it was found that six men were still alive renewed and strenuous efforts were made to reach the men. All day Sunday and all Sunday night a hundred men with such appliances as it was possible to get, labored to bring the bow of the boat to the surface.

Late in the afternoon of Sunday a diver went down and in response to his tapping found that the six men were still alive, but they signalled, “We are still alive but growing weaker. We cannot stand it much longer. Please hurry.”

The diver’s tapping along all other parts of the ship obtained no other response.

The other men on the boat had been imprisoned either in the engine room or the after compartments and were all probably drowned when the ship went to the bottom.

Monday morning brought no change or any hope of relief.82 The northwest gale had become bitterly cold, and it was more and more certain that not a man on the boat was alive, as these men had been entombed more than forty-eight hours, so the probability or even possibility of any man being alive down there a hundred feet under the sea was remote indeed.

What still further added to the horror of the situation, the increasing cold and freezing winds drove the rescuers from their work, because it was impossible to send divers down. By this time the imprisoned men had been so long in their iron coffin, it was not possible that human life could endure for that time or withstand the terrible conditions.

Sunday night two monstrous pontoons were brought to the scene, hoping by their use the bow of the boat might be brought to the surface. These pontoons were brought from New London by four powerful tugs, through the Cape Cod Canal, but this was unavoidably slow on account of the unwieldy shape of the tow and there was no hope that these pontoons could reach the spot until it was too late.

Eight skilled divers were already on the scene. Diver Thomas Eadie went over the side earlier in the day and it was he who was able to communicate with the entombed men by means of the hammer tapping signals.

The last signals tapped from the inside of the ship were, “How long will you be now, hurry.”

Late Sunday P. M. diver Michaels heard from the dying men, “We cannot live beyond six o’clock.”

In some way this diver’s life line became entangled in a part of the ragged hole in the hull, and though he struggled frantically to clear himself, after he had been down more than half an hour it became evident that something was wrong. Then diver Eadie, with a hack saw, went down and found Michaels badly tangled in projecting bits of broken iron of the hull, and it required another half hour for Eadie to saw off the piece of iron that held Michaels. He had been held there more than two and a half hours and another half hour would have resulted in his death. He was hurried to a hospital in Boston and was ill for some time.

Up to this time every effort to raise the boat or rescue any one of her crew had utterly failed and some of the boats and gear departed for other duties.

The attempts to rescue these imprisoned men encountered awfully adverse conditions.

This disaster happened on Sunday, on that afternoon, and on Monday, the next day, had there been adequate saving appliances at hand it is believed some of the men might have83 been saved, but it required so much time to get them on the ground that all attempts were futile.

Another case where men have gone down in the deep sea in a vessel that was the meanest type of craft ever conceived by man.

Forty good men sent to untimely graves because someone failed to observe proper care.

“Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do or die,
Somebody blundered.”

What a miscarriage of justice this building of this type of vessel is. If these vessels are built for fighting purposes, it is an uncivilized method of warfare and every nation on the earth should be barred from building another submarine. Already we have sent the battleships to the scrapheap. By all means send the submarine to join them.

In regard to the wretched lack of proper appliances for handling such a terrible disaster, we see one more tragedy. Men familiar with submarines, their building and handling, declare that it was a case of criminal carelessness on the part of the Government and the Navy Department in particular.

Secretary Wilbur, of the United States Navy, visited the locality of the disaster and ordered that the work of salvaging the submarine and bringing out the bodies must proceed until every one is brought to shore.

On the 4th day of January three bodies were recovered from the engine room of the under-sea boat and in time the others in the after compartments will be brought to the surface.

Representative Gifford came on from Washington to learn from personal observation if everything possible had been done to save the men from their coffin.

Among the crew of the S-4 when she went down was a seaman by the name of Walter Bishop. He had previously been on a submarine when an accident happened, and among his effects, left with relatives, was found a poem of thirteen verses, in which he described the situation and conditions on these ships in full detail. We have room for only the first verse, which certainly hits the mark.



The time having long passed when it was possible for any human being to be alive, the only thing to do was to some day raise the boat to the surface.

Submarines have figured in some of the most awful tragedies of modern times. Only a partial record is available, but a recent statement of the story discloses that no less than 295 human beings have gone to death in submarines in the last decade.

In 1923 a Japanese boat carried down to death eighty-five persons. In 1925 the No. 51 with thirty-three men, and now the S-4 with forty.




On the afternoon of March 9th, 1928, a northeast wind pushed in from the sea and by five P. M. it had developed into a howling gale with blinding snow. Out from her home dock at India Wharf in Boston the big passenger and freight boat Robert E. Lee pulled out for her trip to New York, via the Cape Cod Canal. The storm instead of diminishing grew constantly worse, but she ploughed her way through the wildly rushing sea, and though only two miles from the beach along the Manomet and Sandwich shores not a glimpse could be had of the land through the snow filled air, and navigation became a matter of dead reckoning and a hope to pick up the lighthouse at the Cape Cod Bay entrance of the Canal.

When the ship had reached a point about two miles from the Canal entrance she crashed with terrific force upon the rocks of a projecting ledge and was there held fast on the “Mary Ann Rocks,” a short distance south of the Manomet Coast Guard station. This found the Robert Lee in a most dangerous position, where the great seas driving straight across Cape Cod Bay swept the ship from stem to stern. The ship carried 150 passengers and a crew of 110.

S. O. S. calls were quickly sent out and Coast Guard and Naval boats hurried to the scene.

The Coast Guard boats from Gurnet, Manomet, Sandwich and Provincetown were promptly brought into service, but as the conditions of wind and sea were so dangerous it was not deemed advisable to attempt the transfer of the passengers from the stranded ship just then.

Towards morning the fury of the gale having subsided the work of taking off the passengers began, and was successfully accomplished a few hours later with no serious mishap to the passengers and the ship’s crew remained on board. But the affair was not to escape without the tragedy of the loss of human lives.

The Coast Guard boat of the Manomet Station in trying to make connection with the stranded steamer, was caught under the bow by a huge sea that swept fiercely around the counter of the Lee, turned the boat completely over and sent her crew of eight men helplessly into the sea, four of them clung desperately to the overturned boat, the other four struck out86 in an attempt to reach the shore, but those clinging to the boat and those fighting for the shore were finally rescued. But those from the overturned boat were so thoroughly chilled and exhausted that they were immediately hurried to Chelsea Hospital where three of them died.

If there are people who think that the men who man the stations along our storm swept coasts have a sinecure, would they like to have been in the Manomet surf boat that day?

Many names of heroes are emblazoned upon the scroll of human endeavor the world over but there are deeds equally as deserving of record that pass unnoticed and unsung.

The recent disaster on the rocks at Manomet brought prominently before us several instances of unselfish heroism, not on bloody fields of battle, but in the freezing waters of the cruel sea.

Not detracting in the least from the brave efforts of the Coast Guardsmen, three of whom gave up their lives in the struggle, or the men and boy who pushed out in small and leaking boats to help, there was one case of glorious heroism that stands out preeminently, and whose name should stand high up on the roll of honor, and that is Ernest Douglas, a man unskilled in the use of boats, but he stripped from his clothing his money and watch, handed them to a friend, and as he sprang into the surf boat to take the place of an absent member of the Surf Boat crew, called back to his friend on shore, “If I do not come back give them to my wife.”

We are glad to record that he did come back safely.

tailpiece: 3-masted sailingship
logo on back cover

Transcriber’s Notes

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a predominant preference was found in the original book; otherwise they were not changed.

Dialect spellings were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; unbalanced quotation marks were remedied when the change was obvious, and otherwise left unbalanced.

Illustrations in this eBook have been positioned between paragraphs and outside quotations. In versions of this eBook that support hyperlinks, the page references in the List of Illustrations lead to the corresponding illustrations.