John Bailey and the Angel Gabriel

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 andPemaquid 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.The Honour of Bristol - Angel Gabriel

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.Raleigh's ship Jason for trip to Guinea 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.The ship James unloading on diff voyage

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 Shipwreck300 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?

21 thoughts on “John Bailey and the Angel Gabriel

  1. I love they way you write. God has gifted you with words that draw me into you story each time and I feel as though I am one of those passengers on the Angel trying to hold on to my life and my few possessions. Congratulations on putting this story from your pen to our eyes and hearts.

    • Eleanor, you express yourself pretty well, too. And I’m still looking for you on our Blue Ridge Genealogy Facebook page!!

  2. Always nice to read stories of the Angel Gabriel. The Ship at that time was owned by my 12th Great Grandfather Humphrey Hooke in partnership with the Merchant Venturers of Bristol. There was an additional ship that Humphrey own outright called the St. James that accompanied the AG. He sent his second son William Hooke and wife to Pemaquid on the AG for his part of the 12000 acre Pemaquid Patent. William was one of the signers of the Patent. He was also Governor of the Maine territory for a time. Unfortunately nothing survived in my family regarding that voyage or anything else, just the documented research I have found tracing my roots, but so fun to discover.

    • OMG!! I didn’t know this, I only knew my great grandfather was on this ship. I didn’t know his father was one of the owners. Looks like we’re related Jeffery! 🙂

      • Hopefully i’m not to late at responding to this post. Possibly you two could help me? My name is Lance and I am a trying to learn more about the Angel Gabriel and it’s crew members. I just returned from Pemiquid and did some excavation work with the state Dept. of Agriculture at the old Fort William Henry. The wreck of Angel Gabriel Has never been located and we are discussing possible dive operations…any information you could provide that you think may be helpful would be great.. I am one of the Master Divers that will be working with the state in order to locate the wreck and recover its history for the museum ..

        • Hi Jeanetta. I really don’t have anything on the Angel Gabriel other than what I found on the internet. There is a book called “Ten Years at Pemaquid: Sketches of its History and its Ruins” by J. Henry Cartland that you can probably find on There is also some information in the “Journal and Life of Richard Mather 1596-1669” that you should be able to find there as well. I also found a timeline called “The Angel Gabriel and the Storm of 1635.” Just google that title. Other than those sources, I have nothing else. Good luck!

  3. Found your site while looking for more information on John Bailey, my 9th Great Grandfather. Lots of information out there on the Angel Gabriel, but none written as dramatically! Most other stories give the impression that the ship was wrecked with all passengers aboard and all but three made it to shore. Yours puts a different spin on it – with apparently a handful (maybe the three that perished?) that went down with the ship, while all others were ashore. Interesting……

  4. Thank you so much for doing the research and writing this story. My 11th great grandfather was on this ship (the Angel Gabriel). His name was William Hooks. I love reading what his first day to this great country must have been like.

  5. John Bailey is my 10th great grandfather on my mother’s side. But the spelling changes back and forth through the generations. Your writing is terrific! One tragic part is that Joh’s wife and the rest of his children were supposed to come over on a later boat after he got settled. But after that horrific trip, she was too afraid and he was to afraid to go back. Also there are different tales as to his daughter, Johanna. The one I’ve heard the most and I believe is that she was also a passenger on the Angel Gabriel. Some say she came on a later boat. I have copies of several years of Bayley/Bailey Family Reunion Minutes and Stories. All very interesting. I’ve also traced our family tree quite a ways back to when King Baliol was King of Scotland. We have a very strong and interesting history. I didn’t mean to drag on. I really just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your writing. Thank you.

    • Thanks for your comment, Debbie. Yes, I think I remember the story of John Bailey’s wife being afraid. The family history really is quite interesting. I came across quite a bit of information about John in my research.

      • Debbie, Cynthia,

        I would love it if you could provide some references for the Bailey genealogy. My research suggests I am a descendent of another son of John and Elizabeth, Richard Bailey, who was born in England and died in Mass. suggesting he must have also come over at some time. I have been trying to figure out if he was on the Angel Gabriel and not listed, or if he came over later. Thanks, Tim

      • I think his wife’s name was Elizabeth Knight, and she did refuse to make the crossing. I think I read a daughter did cross the pond some five years later. Could John have been Godfrey (sp)?

  6. I think his wife’s name was Elizabeth Knight, and she did refuse to make the crossing. I think I read a daughter did cross the pond some five years later. Could John have been Godfrey (sp)?

  7. I would love to know more about John Bayley, in case he is one of mine. Can anyone help me ? I loved your story on the Angel Gabriel, & agree with everyone else you have a way with words. Hoping someone out there can help me. cheer Val

  8. Thank you for this detailed account of what happened! I am linking this information to my tree. John Bailey is my 10th great grandfather. Thank you for bring him alive in your writing!

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