No sailor approaching Pemaquid Point, Maine, can look upon that black coast with anything but dread. Monolithic rock walls jut from the ocean floor like fists, waves crashing and wind howling the names of all those lost at this ocean graveyard. Here the sea churns with tide and wind, fast ocean currents snag on rock outcrops and swirl the water into fearful chaos.
For eons nature’s forces have battered the shore, but those rocks are some of the hardest on earth, and if they can withstand thousands of years of such violence, they can withstand the hull of any boat or bone of sailor’s skull.
It was toward this point that the ship Angel Gabriel sailed on the night of August 14, 1635. She was a 240-ton barque and armed with 16 cannon, uncommon for a ship called to passenger duty, but this was no common ship.
She was originally commissioned into service and outfitted for combat by Sir Walter Raleigh for his voyages to South America. The mighty barque had seen battle at Cadiz, and at great odds fought three Spanish galleons simultaneously that repeatedly stormed the English ship and were beaten back each time, the Angel Gabriel losing three men to the Spanish ships’ five hundred.
For that deed a ballad was written, to be oft repeated by English seaman in search of courage on windy, moonless nights.
Now the galleon was in more peaceful service, transporting passengers from her home port at Bristol, England, to the New World, this time to land at Pemaquid, Maine.
Upon the Angel Gabriel was John Bailey, my eighth great grandfather, whose blood courses through seven generations before entering my Eggleston line. John and his eldest son had secured the required approvals from their parish priest, invoked the oath of allegiance, and once on board, obtained their licenses and the proper seal from England’s official emigration agents. Now they had only to endure the 12 weeks of rough seas it would take to sail from Bristol to Pemaquid.
On the last day of May in the year 1635, five ships left Bristol together. After dropping their river pilots at the mouth of the Severn on June 9, three ships sailed off on their own, confident they could outrun any pirate ship that pursued, for pirates prowled those waters in search of whatever treasure they could capture. The James chose to stay near the heavily armed but slow Angel Gabriel for protection.
The passing was not easy. With winds strong and waves high, the ship swayed violently. Not just for hours, but for weeks. Many if not most passengers were seasick, dizzy, light headed, vomiting, barely able to stand or walk without falling. A passenger, the Reverend Richard Mather, grandfather of the minister and scholar Cotton Mather, wrote in his diary that none could go on deck because of “the tossing and tumbling of the ship.”
Yet I’m sure some, maybe John Bailey walked the decks, drinking in the invigorating sea air, entertaining themselves watching the occasional pod of curious dolphins that sailed alongside the ship for long distances, and enjoying the fresh seafood the crew sometimes hauled on board.
More weeks went by. The going was slow, so slow that the James sometimes furled only three sails just to stay beside the Angel Gabriel.
Twenty days out to sea the Angel Gabriel and the James pursued a Turkish pirate ship that had taken one of the ships that left Bristol with them, the Mary. They could not catch it and so regretfully turned back to their course.
On July 4, the James decided not to wait for the slower galleon any longer. Mather wrote that, “we lost sight of the Angel sayling slowly behind us, and we never saw her again any more.”
After twelve weeks at sea the Angel Gabriel sighted land. Under cloudy skies, she sailed into a small cove on the coast of Maine and dropped anchor. There was a small settlement at the place, called Pemaquid. John Bailey and the other ship’s passengers were ferried to shore on small boats, and there gave thanks for the voyage and now having solid earth under their feet.
They immediately began the arduous task of unloading their belongings, but were taken by surprise by a violent storm.
They worked as long as they could, filling the dinghies with trunks, barrels, and livestock, rowing them to shore through the tumbling surf, dragging what they could across the rock and sand and away from the rising seas.
They had to watch in horror, helplessly, as the surf grew too dangerous to risk further trips to the Angel Gabriel. As night fell and the storm grew in power, most took refuge in the homes of the townspeople, though some of the crew stayed aboard the Angel Gabriel.
Thus commenced the most ungodly hurricane ever to hit New England, then or now, as evidenced in recent analysis by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.
A storm surge of twenty two feet, the highest in history, sent wave after wave crashing into shore, wiping out all before it. Unknown numbers of Native Americans lost their lives. On its route from Ipswich to Marblehead the coastal barque, Watch and Wait, owned by another of my ancestors, Isaac Allerton, foundered off of Cape Ann with twenty three aboard. All but two were lost.
Homes in the town of Plymouth were blown down like matchsticks, and mile-wide swaths of forest were leveled by winds well over 130 miles per hour. Farther down-coast the James sought safe harbor from the storm at the Isles of Shoals, but the cables could not hold their anchors and all snapped, the wind and surf now pushing the ship ever closer to the rocks. But they were saved when the hurricane winds reversed to the northeast and pushed the ship away from the islands. The James sailed into Boston the next day, its sails in tatters.
In outer Pemaquid Harbor the Angel Gabriel began to slip her anchors, her cables strung taught as more than 300 tons fought to rip away from their hold. But the cables could not hold, and gave way in snaps like mighty whips, lashing through sails already shredded by the winds.
The ship then drifted at the mercy of wind and waves, bowing and rising like a colossal monster from the sea, keel pointed skyward, only to slam back into the troughs, waves crashing over her decks, bowsprit dipping as though straight to the bottom of the sea. Thus she was reduced to splinters, her crew lost.
When they left England each of the Angel Gabriel’s passengers had to sacrifice what they could not transport on the ship, leaving behind treasured bureaus, beds, pianos, wardrobes; the poorer ones choosing only a few articles of clothing, maybe a few utensils and cooking vessels. Now once more their earthly belongings were being culled. This time the sea would take everything they had left in the world, and there was nothing they could do about it.
When John Bailey awoke the next morning and left his shelter, he beheld such destruction as he had never seen. What was this new land he had come to that could wreak such hell?