Tragedy of the Brig Pocahontas

The Brig Pocahontas set sail in the late fall of 1839 from Cadiz, Spain on a return trip to Newburyport, MA. Carrying mostly domestic goods, the 12-13 man crew (the manifest was never found) sailed in good time until being engulfed in the second of three tempests to hit the coast of Massachusetts around that Christmas.

Thinking it better to drop anchor and wait out the storm, Capt. James G. Cook ordered the anchors dropped until daybreak, until the crests had eased themselves and passage to harbor was again possible. But Cook's judgment was not as it should have been, and so close to shore, too much slack was to be had in the shallow waters. The anchors dragged inland in the big waves and the brig was marooned on a sandbar. And there she stayed, beaten for what must have seemed like an eternity until all crew and the ship herself were lost.

By early morning, the news from Plum Island had reached town and citizens had lined the beach to see what, if anything, could be done. But the scene was hopeless. One by one the remaining sailors dropped into the sea and disappeared. "And all that remained were the faces and the names of the wives and the sons and the daughters."

What following account of the tragedy is excerpted from Awful Calamities: The Shipwrecks of December, 1839.

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