Author Archives: Marty Luster

Leonardo Says. . .

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The beginnings and ends of shadow lie between the light and darkness and may be infinitely diminished and infinitely increased. Shadow is the means by which bodies display their form. The forms of bodies could not be understood in detail but for shadow.

Leonardo da Vinci

Brace Cove Shipwreck, February 28, 1807

Once again, many thanks to Jude Seminara for this piece of local history.

 

The Loss of the Ship Howard February 28, 1807


The recent nor’easter of March 2nd reminds us of the power of a storm-fueled sea.  Two hundred and eleven years ago, almost to the day, a powerful gale lashed coastal Massachusetts.  Among the many vessels wrecked in the storm was the homeward-bound Salem East Indiaman Howard, which went ashore and broke up at Braces Cove.


In his entry for March 1st, 1807, Reverend Dr. William Bentley of Salem wrote of the “severe rain storm at S.E.” and the “total loss of an India Ship…in sight of our lights & off Cape Ann.”  The next day’s entry identified the ship as the Howard, commanded by Captain Benjamin Bray of Marblehead.  Captain Bray and three of his crew perished in the breakers, but the rest of the people on board were “washed ashore upon the quarterdeck.”  Captain Bray was thirty-two years old, and left a wife and two children, according to the Marblehead Vital Records.


More details of the wreck were found in the March 7th edition of the Portsmouth (NH) Oracle.  The drowned crew were identified as second mate Isaiah Leeds, seaman Alexander Sylvester (an Italian), and seaman Charles Wilson (a Swede).  Bound for Salem from Calcutta, the Howard has on board a cargo of two hundred bales of cotton and a quantity of sugar, of the total value of one hundred thousand dollars.  


Eastern Point, in those days, wasn’t marked by a beacon.  Sailors used the stand of ancient oaks for their bearings.  But, in the darkness of night and blinded by the storm, the lookout would not have seen them.  The Howard smashed into the rocks of Braces Cove and went to pieces in the pounding surf.


As the ship broke up, wreckage and cargo were strewn about the seashore.  At daybreak, the residents discovered the signs of a shipwreck. Crews were sent from Salem to recover the cargo; they reported back that the residents of Eastern Point had taken to the beach and plundered the wreck.  


The Reverend Dr. Bentley’s remarks about the demeanor of the Eastern Pointers were unfavorable: “The Shipwreck at Cape Ann has not given higher opinion of Cape Ann than we have been taught to hold of Cape Cod.  The disposition to pilfer was not easily restrained even by guards.”


However, a week later, acting on the assurance of one “Dr. Phelps of Cape Ann Harbour” [probably Henry Phelps, the first postmaster of Gloucester], Reverend Bentley recanted his accusation of the Eastern Pointers.  As it turned out, the men sent to secure the cargo, rather, had hidden it, with the intent to sell it for a profit. These “truckmen” as they were known were, according to Bentley, “the lowest class of our citizens, generally foreigners…& nothing is regarded in the choice of them but their strength.”


Among those that survived the shipwreck was one Mr. Charles Thatcher of Boston.  Historian John Babson, writing in his Notes and Additions that Mr. Thatcher was taken in on the night that the Howard wrecked and cared for by a poor old woman who lived nearby.  To repay his gratitude, every year until she died, Mr. Thatcher sent her a barrel of flour.  

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