The Great Storm of 1635

This was the year of the great exodus from England to America. Many colonists had come early in the season, and planted their seed and cultivated the growing crop. Hay to a considerable extent had been harvested. During the whole of the second week of August the wind blew from the south- southwest with considerable force. At midnight of the fourteenth of the month, its course suddenly changed by way of the southeast to the northeast, and before daybreak a northeast rain storm set in. The wind had greatly increased in violence, blowing with terrific force, and the rain fell in torrents, sometimes with such fury that the ill-made houses of the settlers could hardly withstand its onslaughts. After the gale had continued five or six hours the wind changed to the northwest, and the tumultuous elements subsided.

The wind caused the tide to rise to a height the settlers had never observed, and which the Indians said they could not remember; and some of the shore houses were submerged.

A great number of trees were blown over or broken down, the stronger being torn up by their roots, and the tall pines and other brittle trees broken in the middle. Slender young oaks and good sized walnuts were twisted like withes, and Indian corn, upon which the people depended for their support the coming winter, was beaten down, and much of it destroyed, while it was hardly in the milk.

Among the many anecdotes told of the storm is that of an old man in Ipswich, who was accustomed to go to sea in a small boat, his only companion being a dog that he had taught to steer. As the storm increased in violence, the old man hoisted his sail and prepared to go down river in his little vessel. His neighbors endeavored to dissuade him from going, but he obstinately replied, "I will go to sea, though the devil was there." He went, but neither he nor his boat were ever seen again.

As many vessels bearing passengers and goods to the New World were on our coast several of them were wrecked by the storm. The Great Hope, belonging in Ipswich, England, of four hundred tons burden, was wrecked near Charlestown. The ship James, of Bristol, England, suffered severely, scarcely escaping destruction off the mouth of the Piscataqua River; and the ship Angel Gabriel, also from Bristol, was dashed to pieces on Pemaquid Point.

At this early period, there was a boat, a pinnace in build, belonging to Isaac Allerton, sailing regularly between the Piscataqua River and Boston. On Wednesday, two days before the storm, the boat sailed from Ipswich, where it had stopped on its trip to Boston. There were sixteen passengers and four mariners. The passengers were Rev. John Avery, his wife and six children,1 and Mr. Avery's cousin Anthony Thacher, who had been in New England but a few weeks, his wife and four children,2 another member of his family, and one other passenger.

Mr. Avery had been a minister of good repute in Wiltshire, England, and had come to Newbury, Mass., with the intention of becoming the pastor of that little colony, but concluded not to remain, after being strongly urged to settle in the ministry at Marblehead, and on this Wednesday he took the boat at Ipswich with his all on board for that purpose.

"Pleasant, lay the clearings in the mellow summer morn,
With the newly planted orchards dropping their fruits first-born,
And the homesteads like green islands amid a sea of corn.

"Broad meadows reached out seaward the tided creeks between.
And hills rolled wave-like inland, with oaks and walnuts green;
A fairer home, a goodlier land, their eyes had never seen."

The ladened craft sailed down the placid river, while behind them, on entering the bay, the course was changed southerly, against the wind, which blew with such force that no advance could be made, even by tacking, which was attempted many times. On the evening of Friday, the fourteenth, after vainly striving to round Cape Ann, they found themselves in the same perilous position, the wind increasing in fury. At ten o'clock, their sails were rent, and anchors were cast. At midnight, the wind suddenly changed to the northeast, and a terrific gale and rain followed. The anchor dragged, and the boat and its cargo was driven over the dark and angry waves.

"Blotted out were all the coast lines, gone were rock, and wood and sand.
Grimly anxious stood the skipper with the rudder in his hand.
And questioned of the darkness what was sea and what was land.
"And the preacher heard his dear ones nestled round him weeping sore:
Never heed my little children! Christ is walking on before
To the pleasant land of heaven, where the sea shall be no more.'"

The boat was rushed on towards the rocky headlands, and soon struck upon a rock, being quickly dashed to pieces. This rock is off what is now Rockport, and has since been known as Crackwood's Ledge.3

When the vessel struck, Mr. Avery and his eldest son and Mr. Thacher and his daughter were thrown into the sea, and carried by a mighty wave upon a rock. They called to those in the boat to come to them, but the latter had scarcely time to discover the impotence of such an effort.

During the few moments that Mr. Avery and his three companions were upon the ledge, expecting every instant to be washed from their footing into the raging sea, he raised his eyes toward heaven, and uttered these memorable last words: "Lord; I cannot challenge a preservation of my life, but according to thy covenant I challenge Heaven." The words had scarcely left his lips, when a gigantic wave lifted the vessel on high and as with giant arms dashed it upon the rock, at the same time washing from the ledge those who had gained momentary foothold upon it. Thus passed Mr. Avery and all his household to their eternal rest. Whittier put the incident into poetry, calling it the "Swan Song of Parson Avery," from which the writer has freely quoted. Of this portion of the incident, he said:

"There was wailing in the shallop, woman's wail and man's despair,
A crash of breaking timbers on the rocks so sharp and bare.
And, through it all, the murmur of Father Avery's prayer.
"From his struggle in the darkness with the wild waves and the blast,
On a rock, where every billow broke above him as it passed.
Alone, of all his household, the man of God was cast.
"There a comrade heard him praying, in the pause of wave and wind:
All my own have gone before me, and I linger just behind;

Not for life I ask, but only, for the rest thy ransomed find!
"In this night of death, I challenge the promise of thy word!
Let me see the great salvation of which mine ears have heard
Let me pass from hence forgiven, through the grace of Christ, our Lord!
"In the baptism of these waters wash white my every sin,
And let me follow up to thee my household and my kin!
Open the sea-gate of thy heaven, and let me enter in!'
"When the Christian sings his death-song, all the listening heavens draw near.
And the angels, leaning over the walls of crystal, hear
How the notes so faint and broken swell to music in God's ear.
"The ear of God was open to his servant's last request;
As the strong wave swept him downward, the sweet hymn upward pressed,
And the soul of Father Avery went singing to its rest."

The destruction of the vessel was so complete that there were few timbers for the drowning men, women and children to cling to. After beating about in the waves and the darkness, and being repeatedly thrown against the rocks, Mr. Thacher obtained a footing, and he fought his way to the shore. He looked around for his companions, but the darkness was scarcely penetrable, and his loud voice was mocked by the raging wind or drowned in the thunder of the waters. He soon saw pieces of the frame work of the vessel coming toward him, and when they struck a woman extricated herself and reached the shore in safety. It was his wife.

Together, in the rain and the blast, the two watched for signs of their companions, but none came. Of the twenty souls, they only were saved, their quartette of little ones having passed on with the rest. Sad and dejected they sought a resting place under a sheltering bank. Some provisions and clothing came ashore, and, also, a "snapsack," in which was a steel and flint, and some dry gun-powder. They built a fire, and made themselves as comfortable as they could under the sorrowful circumstances. When morning came, the wind went down, the waves subsided, and the August sun shed its hopeful rays over the stretch of ocean. In every direction but one the sea and sky met in their limitless range, and on the west was the mainland, but separated from them by a wide expanse of water.

They were upon an island; and the mainland that could be seen was forest, inhabited only by its savage denizens. They had no means of reaching it, and signs of distress could awaken no response. The day passed, and another hopeless night reached its end. The second day of their imprisonment dawned; and before the sun again went down they were discovered by the people on board a passing vessel bound to Marblehead, taken on board, and carried thither.

On leaving the island, Mr. Thacher named it "Thacher's Woe," and the next year it was granted to him by the general court. It has since borne his name.

A cradle and an embroidered scarlet broadcloth covering, saved from the wreck, are still preserved by his descendants in Yarmouth, Mass., where he settled.'

The story of this ship-wreck was often told about the hearth-fires of the coast dwellers in the long winter evenings of the years that followed; and the fishermen, with "grave and reverend faces," recalled the ancient tale when they saw the white waves breaking over the fatal ledge.

AHGP Massachusetts

1. Winthrop and Mather say six, Hubbard five, and another writer says that there were eight children.
2. One writer says nine.
3. For two hundred years it was supposed that Avery's Rock was the scene of the disaster, but it is now disproven. Crackwood's Ledge is some three hundred feet from Thacher's Island.

Source: The Essex Antiquarian, Volume V, No. 6, May 1901

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