The Angel Gabriel and the Great Storm of 1635

Angel Gabriel leaves port
Picture courtesy of a long-defunct website... .

August of 1635 had been a fair one for the small settlements which were striving to establish themselves in New England. In the wheel of the year, haying would have just concluded, with the settlers mowing, drying, gathering and storing the hay for the upcoming winter during the hottest, most unforgiving part of summer. Crops would be nearing their peak, nearly ready for the September harvest time. However, for "...[t]he whole of the second week of August the wind had blown from the direction of south-southwest with considerable force..." [Perley] Suddenly, about midnight on 14 August, the wind changed to the dangerous direction of northeast and soon blew to hurricane strength. The winds blasted the crops in the fields and the small houses of the English settlers.

On the shoreline, the winds and storm surge took the waters to heights that none had ever seen before. Boston suffered through two high tides of twenty feet and "...[t]he Narragansett Indians were obliged to climb into the tops of trees to save themselves from the great tide in their region. Many of them failed to do so, and were swallowed up by the surging waters..." [Perley]

The storm lasted the 5 or 6 hours such hurricanes do and when the storm at last had passed, the settlers who could do so emerged to a changed world. Crops were flattened. Some houses had lost their roofs or were blown down completely. Most incredibly to the colonial senses, entire swathes of trees were snapped in two or blown down completely.

Several ships were lost off the coast of New England, but the most celebrated was the Angel Gabriel ¯ a bark of some 240 tons and 12-16 cannon (depending upon the source). From the letters of "John Aubrey, the celebrated antiquary of Wiltshire" the Angel Gabriel was originally built by Sir Charles Snell for Sir Walter Raleigh, "for the designe for Guiana, which cost him the manor of Yatton Regnell, the farm of Easton Piers, Thornhill, and the Church-lease of Bp. Cannins, which ship upon Sir Walter Raleigh's attander was forfeited." [Aubrey's Letters; Vol. 2, p. 514; Mss.; Bodleian Library; Oxford, England]

A wonderful account of the voyage of the Angel Gabriel & the James (and the storm which befell them) comes in excerpts from the Journal of The Reverend Richard Mather, who was traveling on the James. The two ships sailed together for a great deal of the voyage. Based upon the several different sources for excerpts for this journal, the journey unfolded as written below. The voyage itself took 12 weeks and 2 days, from the time they left King's Road in Bristol on 23 May 1635 until the James landed in Boston, MA on 17 August 1635. [Mather]

23 May 1635: The Angel Gabriel, Captain Andrews, Master; the James (220 tons), Captain Taylor, Master; the Mary (80 tons), the Bess (or Elizabeth) and the Diligence (150 tons) left King's Road, Bristol, England en route for New England and Newfoundland. [MaryJohn]

24 May to 2 June 1635: They then lay at anchor for these 11 days before departing. [Mather]

27 May 1635: "...While at anchor, Captain Taylor, Mr. Maud, Nathaniel Wale, Barnabas Fower, Thomas Armitage, and myself, Richard Mather went aboard the Angel Gabriel. When we came there we found diverse passengers, and among them some loving and godly Christians that were glad to see us. The next day the visit was returned..." [Mather]

Thursday, 4 June 1635: "...the wind serving us, wee set sayle and began our sea voyage with glad hearts, yt God had loosed us from our long stay wherein we had been holden, and with hope & trust that Hee would graciously guide us to the end of our journey..." Meanwhile, the Angel Gabriel had an omen of things to come: "...And even at our setting out we yt were in the James had experience of God's gracious providence over us, in yt the Angel Gabriel haling home one of her ancres, had like, being carried by the force of the tide, to have fallen foule upon ye forept of our ship, w'ch made all the mariners as well as passengers greatly afraid, yet by guidance of God and his care over us, she passed by without touching so much as a cable or a cord, and so we escaped yt danger..."[Mather]

4 to 6 June 1635: The ships spent three full days tacking between King's Road and Lundy Island [Mather], which lies only 10 miles out in the Bristol Channel [LonelyPlanet].

6 to 9 June 1635: The ships lay at anchor at Lundy Island for three more days, stuck there by "adverse seas and wind". [Mather]

9 June 1635: It only took this one day to sail from Lundy Island to Milford Haven, Pembroke co., Wales. [Mather]

10 to 22 June 1635: However, once at Milford Haven, they lay at anchor there for another 12 days ¯ due first to rough seas and then to a lack of wind. While Mather and the other passengers chafed at the constant delays, "...the day was more comfortable to us all in regard to ye company of many godly Christians from ye Angel Gabriel, and from other vessels lyin in the haven with us, who, wanting means and home, were glad to come to us, and we were also glad of their company, and had all of us a very comfortable day, and were much refreshed in the Lord..." [Mather]

Sunday, 14 June 1635: "...Still lying at Milford Haven. Mr. Maud, Mathews Michael of the James and many of the passengers of the Angel Gabriel went to church on shore at a place called Nangle, where they heard two comportable sermons made by an ancient grave minister living at Pembroke, whose name is Mr. Jessop. Ps XCI-11 For He shall give his angels charge over Thee to keep Thee in all thy ways..."[Mather]

Monday, 22 June 1635: The small fleet finally sets sail from the English coast, bound for America. This was the last sight of land for many weeks and the last sight of home forever for nearly all the emigrants.

23 June 1635: The Master of the James decided to stay with the Angel Gabriel, since both ships were bound for New England and not Newfoundland. They quickly lost sight of the smaller, faster Mary, Bess and Diligence on the evening of the 23rd. Mather's thoughts on the Angel Gabriel were: "...The Angel Gabriel is a strong ship & well furnished with fourteene or sixteene pieces of ordnance, and therfore oure seamen rather desired her company; but yet she is slow in sailing, and therefore wee went sometimes with trhee sayles less than wee might have done, yt , so we might not overgoe her..." [Mather]

Wednesday, 24 June 1635: "...We saw abundance of porpuyses leaping & playing about our ship. And wee spent some time that day in pursuing with the Angel Gabriel what wee supposed was a Turkish pirate, but could not overtake her..." [Mather]

Monday, 29 June 1635: The seamen decided to kill one of the porpoises for sport. They had originally planned upon killing it on 28 June, but that day was the Sabbath and out of respect for the passengers' faith (or perhaps under their stern influence), they waited until the following day. Mather's description of this follows: "...The seeing him haled into the ship like a swyne from ye stye to the tressele, and opened upon ye decke in viewe of all our company, was wonderful to us all, and marvellous merry sport and delightful to our women & children. So good was our God unto us in affordin us the day before, spiritual refreshing to our soules, and ye day morning also delightful recreation to our bodyes, at ye taking and opening of ye huge and strange fish..." [Mather]

That afternoon, Captain Taylor, The Reverend Mather and Matthew Mitchell went aboard the Angel Gabriel. "...They found much sickness aboard and two cases of small pox, but the latter were recovered. They had supper with the ship's master and had good cheese, boiled mutton, roasted turkey and good sack..." [MaryJohn]

Saturday, 4 July 1635: "...This day ye sea was very rough...Some were very seasicke, but none could stand or go upon ye decke because of the tossing & tumbling of the shipŠThis day (July 4) we lost sight of the Angel sayling slowly behind us, and we never saw her again any more..." [Mather]

Sunday, 2 August 1635: "...And ye wind blew with a coole & comfortable gale at south all day, which carried us away with great speed towards or journeyes end..." [Mather]

3 August 1635: "...But lest wee should grow secure and neglect ye Lord through abundance of prosperity, or wise & loving God was pleased on Monday morning about three of ye clock, when wee were upon the coast of land, to exercise us with a sore storme & tempest of wind & rain, so yt many of us passengers with wind & rain were raised out of our beds, and our seamen were forced to let down all ye sayles, and ye ship was so tossed with fearfull mountains and valleys of water, as if wee should have beene overwhelmed & swallowed up. But ye lasted not long, for at or poore prayers, ye Lord was please to magnify his mercy in assuaging ye winds & seas againe about sun rising..." [Mather]

8 August 1635: The James makes land at Menhiggin [possibly Monhegan, ME?] [Mather]

14 August 1635: At 10 o'clock at night they dropped anchor at the Isle of Shoales and there "...slept sweetly the night until daybreak...". [Mather]

15 August 1635: The Great Storm hits. The James is anchored off the Isles of Shoals, the Angel Gabriel off Pemaquid, ME. Mather's description of the storm: " Lord sent Forth a most terrible Storme of rain, and ye Angel Gabriel lying in at anchor at Pemaquid, was burst in pieces, and cast away in ye Storme and most of ye cattle and other goodes with one seaman and three or four passengers did also perish therein, besides two of ye passengers died by ye way. Ye rest having lives given ym. The Angel Gabriel was the only vessel which miscarried with passengers from Old England to New, so signally did the Lord in his Providence watch over the Plantation of New England..."

Perley gives an excellent account of how the James survived the hurricane: "...The ship James...was near the Isles of Shoals when the gale came on. The vessel was tun into a strait among the islands, the master thinking probably that he had secured a harbor; but when well in he found that it was an unprotected passage. The anchors were lowered, and all three of them were lost, the violent and almost irresistible wind snapping the cables and leaving the anchors at the bottom of the deep. The Bessel was then placed under sail and run before the northeast gale, but neither canvas nor ropes held, and she dashed through the foaming crests on toward the rocky shore of Piscataqua. Instant destruction seemed inevitable. But, lo! As if a mighty overruling hand controlled the angry elements, when within a cable's length of the ledges, the wind suddenly veered to the northwest, and the ship was blown away from the deadly rocks back toward the islands againŠthey were plowing along toward rocks as dangerous as those they had just escaped. When about the strike in a last fatal plunge a part of the mainsail was let out, which caused the vessel to veer a little, and she weathered the rocks, almost touching them as she plunged past. The desired harbor was finally reached in safety..." [Perley]

Mather records that the reaction of the passengers to this stroke of fortune was thus: "...When news was brought to us in the gun room that the danger was past, oh how our hearts did then relent and melt within us! And how we burst into tears of joy amongst ourselves, in love onto our gracious God, and admiration of his kindness in granting to his poor servants such an extraordinary and miraculous deliverance. His holy name be blessed forever..." [Mather]

At Pemaquid, there was no such miracle for the Angel Gabriel. She broke up on the rocks. Luckily, only 3-5 of the passengers & crew lost their lives but all who survived lost virtually everything they owned. A bark commanded by Captain Gallop made several trips, eventually conveying all the survivors to Boston, Suffolk co., MA.

16 August 1635: "...This day we went directly before the wind, and had a delight all along the coast as we went, in viewing Cape Anne, the bay of Saugust, the bay of Salem, Marblehead and other places and came to anchor at low tide at Nantasket, in a most pleasant harbor, like to such I had never seen, amongst a great many lands on everyside. After the evening exercise, when it was flowing tide again, we set sail and came the night to anchor again before Boston and so rested that night with glad and thankful hearts that God had put an end to our long journey, being 1,000 leagues, that is 3,000 English miles, over one of the greatest seas of the world. First of all it was very safe and healthful to us, for though we were in a ship with 100 passengers, besides 23 seamen, 23 cows and heifers, 3 suckling calves and 8 mareas, yet not one these died by the way, neither person nor cattell, but came all alive to land, and many of the cattell in better condition than when they first entered the ship. And most of the passengers are in as good health as every and none better than my own family, and my weak wife and little Joseph as well as any other. They had seasickness but were spared the fever, small pox and other diseases. Richard Beacon lost his right hand in the storm and one woman and her small child had scurvy, we all conceived to be for want of walking and stirring of her body upon her bed. We had a comfortable variety of food, seeing we were not tied to the ships diet, but did victual ourselveds, w had no want of good and wholesome beer and bread, and as our land stomachs grew wearly of ship diet of salt fish and salt beef and the like, we had liberty to change for other food which might sort better with our health and stomachs and therefore sometimes we used bacon and buttered peas, sometimes buttered bag-pudding made curraynes and raisings, and sometimes drink pottage of beer and oatmeal and sometimes water pottage well buttered..." [Mather]

17 August 1635: The James manages to make it to Boston Harbor proper with "...her sails rent in sunder, and split in pieces, as if they had been rotten ragges..." [Mather]

Mather summed up his trip with "On June 2 we lost sight of our old English coast, until August 8 where we made land again at Menhiggin, it was but six weeks and five days yet from our first entering the ship in King road on May 23 to our landing in Boston on August 17, it was 12 weeks and 2 days. For we lay at anchor in King Roade 11 days before we even set sail and 3 days at Lundy and 12 days at Milford and spent 3 days tacking between Kind Roade and Lundy, one day between Lundy and Milford and 8 days between Menhiggin and Boston. Again, let our gracious God be blessed forever. Amen..." [Mather]

Thomas, Bryn; Tom Smallman & Pat Yale. Lonely Planet: Britain, (Melbourne/Oakland/London/Paris: Lonely Planet Publications; 3rd edition, 1999), 395.

Mary & John, vol 1+ (Toledo, OH: Mary & John Clearinghouse), Volume 20: West Country Ships And Passengers, 1620-1643, 93-94

The Journal of The Reverend Richard Mather.

Perley, Sidney, Historic Storms of New England: Its Gales, Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Showers with Thunder and Lightning, Great Snow Storms, Rains, Freshets, Floods, Droughts, Cold Winters, Hot Summers, Avalanches,Earthquakes, Dark Days, Comets, Aurora Borealis, Phenomena in the Heavens, Wrecks Along the Coast, with Incidents and Anecdotes, Amusing and Pathetic, (Salem, Mass.: the Salem Press Publishing and Printing Company; rpt. 2001 Beverley, MA: Commonwealth Editions, Memoirs Unlimited, Inc.), 1-4.

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