The Ship Angel Gabriel

The book Angel Gabriel by Warren C. Riess contains information of interest to the descendants of the three Burnham boys, John, Thomas, and Robert, who traveled from England to the New World on the ship Angel Gabriel.

On August 15, 1635 the Bristol Merchantman Angel Gabriel, conveying settlers and supplies to the New World, wrecked near the Pemaquid settlement in present-day Bristol, Maine. Settlements like this one were founded, supplied, and protected with early seventeenth-century armed merchant ships. Most of the ships were three-masted, high-sided vessels, today referred to as ship-rigged English galleons. One such ship was the Angel Gabriel that wrecked during the devastating hurricane of 1635 at the Pemaquid settlement in Maine.

Three distinct ships named Angel Gabriel were noted in English records from the 1600s. The first definite reference to the Angel Gabriel that wrecked at Pemaquid is found in the Bristol Port Records of 1619. But evidence indicates that she was originally named Starre, renamed Jason by Sir Walter Raleigh, and finally purchased by two merchants from Bristol, England, who subsequently changed her name to Angel Gabriel.

As the ship named Jason sailed with Raleigh’s second expedition to Guiana, in 1617 she was described as a ship of 240 tons. Sources describe the Angel Gabriel as a 240 ton ship which was particularly large in the early 1600s. In 1629 the age of Angel Gabriel was given as fourteen years, which leads to a construction date of approximately 1615. Accumulation of circumstantial evidence implies that these three ships were one and the same. No located information contradicts this theory.

In the early 1600s, Sir Ferdinando Gorges was convinced by John Smith’s arguments, that colonization of New England would be a successful venture. The settlements could be financed by a fishing and timber industry that would fill returning emigrant and supply ships with valuable cargoes of dried cod and great timbers. From the Council for New England, Gorges secured a patent from King James in 1620 for the land between the St. Lawrence River and present day Philadelphia. In turn, Robert Aldworth and Giles Elbridge received a patent in 1632 from Gorges’s Council (which administered the New England Company) for 1,200 acres around their trading settlement at Pemaquid, in what is now Bristol, Maine.

With the arrival in Massachusetts Bay of more than 1,000 settlers, the Great Migration began in earnest. It was a decade of ship after ship of English families leaving overcrowded, socially rigid England for the land and relative freedoms of New England. Most of them emigrated to what is now Massachusetts, but others settled in towns farther south and north.

During the summer of 1635 Elbridge sent Angel Gabriel to Pemaquid with settlers and supplies. Unfortunately, the merchants’ records and the Bristol port records cannot be located for this time period, but Richard Mather’s journal and genealogical records of immigrants give many details of the voyage and aftermath. Richard Mather, was a devout Puritan minister who suffered religious persecution in Anglican England. In 1635 he planned to emigrate from Bristol to Massachusetts on the smaller merchant ship James. Richard Mather became the minister of Dorchester in the Colony of Massachusetts, his son the Reverend Increase Mather, D. D., the future President of Harvard College, and the grandfather of Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather, minister of Boston. On May 26, 1635, while waiting on board James at Kings Road, just down the Avon River from Bristol, he wrote, “The Tuesday morning… another ship, also bound for New-England, came unto us; which other ship was called the Angel Gabriel.”

Three other ships joined Angel Gabriel and James at Kings Road for the Atlantic crossing. They set sail on June 4, but a contrary wind forced them to anchor in the lee of Lundy Island, at the entrance to the Bristol Channel, for four days. They then proceeded to Milford Haven, an excellent harbor in Wales, to await favorable winds, which finally came on June 22. The five ships sailed together from Milford Haven on that Monday morning before a strong east wind, keeping close together for the first day in fear of “Turkish” pirates who were raiding Bristol shipping at the time.

Quoting from Richard Mather’s journal:

This day, at evening, we lost sight of the three ships bound for Newfoundland, which had been in company with us from Kings Road: and our master thought it best for us to stay for the Angel Gabriel, being bound for New England, as we were, rather than leave her and go with the other three. The Angel Gabriel is a strong ship, and well furnished with fourteen and sixteen pieces of ordnance, and therefore our seamen rather desired her company, but yet she is slow in sailing, and therefore we went sometimes with three sails less than we might have done, so that we might not over go her.

Passengers to the New World paid a hefty sum for the crossing, but most had no better quarters than the crew. The voyage typically cost five or six pounds per adult, which included very basic food. This was a large amount of money, possibly representing years of saving for an average Englishman. There were no special cabins built for them, so to sleep they would find room between decks where they could between the guns, cargo, and other passengers. If there were only a few passengers, they might be berthed in the great cabin or one deck below near the tiller (therefore the term in steerage).

In the 1630s several books were in print to advise settlers what clothes, food, tools, and weapons to bring for their voyage and their farms in America. Writers suggested that emigrants bring extra, better food for the voyage, including live animals when possible (and provisions for the same) to eat on the trip and to start their farms in America. For the latter, live animals were available in the established American settlements, but at a steep price. They advised bringing a year’s supply of such staples as flour, peas, oil, vinegar, oatmeal, gun powder, and musket shot. All manner of farming tools and kitchen utensils were necessary and upper body armor was suggested. Together, these might cost between ten and fifteen pounds, plus shipping charges of between one and two pounds.

Soon after June 29, those on James decided that it was safe enough to leave the slower Angel Gabriel behind and, taking advantage of a strong wind, parted company. However, once they reached America, contrary winds along “the main” cost them a week of hard sailing to proceed a hundred miles. On Friday, August 14 James sailed into the harbor at the Isles of Shoals, a group of small islands off Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Kittery, Maine. Approximately eighty miles to the northeast, on the same day, Angel Gabriel sailed north into John’s Bay between Pemaquid Point on the east and Thrumcap Island on the west. The Passengers would have seen the Pemaquid Peninsula mostly covered with tall trees and lined by a steep, rocky shore for two miles. Then they would have seen a small Pemaquid Indian encampment near a sandy beach. Just beyond that, at the northeast corner of John’s Bay, was Pemaquid Harbor, protected by small islands and ledges. Elbridge’s small settlement lay at the shores of the harbor. In 1635 Pemaquid was the northeastern-most English settlement in America.

Along the northern New England coast that evening everything seemed normal; but as the crews of the two ships anchored for the night, to their southwest a deadly storm was moving up the coast. This was not a typical summer storm, but a powerful early-season hurricane, possibly the most powerful hurricane to hit New England in recorded time. It struck southern New England in the evening, causing a storm surge in Narragansett Bay fourteen feet above the normal high tide line.

In Plymouth, William Bradford later recorded:

This year, the 14th or 15th of August was such a mighty storm of wind and rain as none living in these parts, either English or Indians, ever saw. It began in the morning a little before day, and grew not by degrees but came with violence in the beginning, to the great amazement of many. It blew down sundry houses and uncovered others. Divers vessels were lost at sea and many more in extreme danger. It blew down many hundred thousands of trees, turning up the stronger by the roots and breaking the higher pine trees off in the middle.

The crew and terrified passengers on James were helpless in the face of the storm, except to go below deck and pray for deliverance, which they did. After being tossed and beaten by the storm for hours, they survived and eventually made it to shore with their extra sails. Things were worse at the next settlement, Pemaquid. There the storm probably hit just after sunrise taking the inhabitants and new arrivals, as everywhere else, entirely by surprise. Mather wrote:

And the Angel Gabriel, being then at anchor at Pemaquid, was burst in pieces and cast away in this storm, and most of the cattle and other goods, with one seaman and three or four passengers, did also perish therein.

Some local lore maintains that most of the passengers and crew came ashore over rocks in the eye of the storm, when Angel Gabriel wrecked on either Fish Point or on the rocks by the remains of Fort William Henry. Mather and Trelawny reported the ship at anchor at the Pemaquid settlement when the hurricane struck. Being Elbridge’s ship she was most likely bringing supplies to their trading settlement. This could mean at least a few days of unloading, and many passengers and most of the crew may therefore have been ashore for the night when the storm struck early in the morning of August 15, 1635.

A list of crew or passengers aboard Angel Gabriel has not been located, but a combination of archival records and recorded family lore indicate twenty-six of those aboard – twenty-five passengers and the captain. While Mather mentions a hundred passengers aboard the James, the assumption should not be made that the 240 ton Angel Gabriel had a similar number of passengers. Elbridge had a growing trade settlement to supply at Pemaquid, and may have found transporting his own goods more profitable than shipping settlers’ belongings and supplies. In addition, the space required for fourteen or sixteen guns and their equipment would have been a major consideration on the main deck, where passengers normally were berthed. Elbridge may have transported only a few passengers with their belongings as space permitted. Today, primary archival records support only the presence of the Cogswell family, William Furber, and Samuel Haines.

Others listed are derived from material in family genealogies.

Andrews, possibly Robert Andrews

John Bailey

John Jr.

Joanna

Ralph Blaesdell (42)

Elizabeth (wife)

Henry (3)

Thomas Bradbury

John Burnham

Thomas Burnham (16)

Robert Burnham (11)

John Cogswell

Elizabeth Cogswell (wife)

William (16)

John Jr. (12)

Edward (6)

Mary (16)

Abigail

Hannah

Sarah

Elizabeth

William Furber (21)

Samuel Haines (33)

Henry Simpson

John Tuttle (17)

Brief Information about Some of the Passengers

Andrews

I could not find archival material about the ship’s master (captain), but a secondary source claims that Robert Andrews, uncle of John and Thomas Burnham was master of the ship when she was lost. Robert Andrews was born in Norwich, England and was married to an Elizabeth. However, the same Robert Andrews already was living at Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1635, was granted freeman status (one who could vote and hold office) in May 1635, and was given a license to run an inn on his farm in September 1635. It is possible, that this Andrews was Angel Gabriel’s master. He may have been living in Ipswich and made a round trip to England, returning as the ship’s master.

Bailey

Family genealogies, but no primary archival records, relate that John Bailey, a weaver from Chippenham, left his wife Elizabeth and three children in England and took passage aboard Angel Gabriel with his son John Jr. and daughter Joanna. They lived in what became Newbury, Massachusetts for two years after the wreck. In 1637 they settled on a fifty-acre plot on the banks of the Merrimac River in Salisbury where John fished and farmed. John Jr. And Joanna eventually left Salisbury and moved back across the river to Newbury. John Jr. married Eleanor Emery and Joanna married William Harrington or Huntington. Elizabeth, John Sr.’s wife who had stayed in England, never came to America. Family lore relates that the family was so terrified by the hurricane experience that neither group would cross the Atlantic to be with the other. Patricia Bailey, a present-day member of the family and singer, has composed a touching ballad of the family’s terrible ordeal.

Cogswell

Information from the Cogswell’s account of their journey provides some interesting insights. Mr. Cogswell took with him besides his wife and eight sons and daughters, several farm and household servants, an amount of valuable furniture, farming implements, housekeeping utensils, and a considerable sum of money. He noted in his writings, “the Angel Gabriel became a total wreck, passengers, cattle, and goods were all cast upon the angry waves.” Mr. Cogswell and his family reached the shore with their lives, but well drenched by the sea and despoiled of valuables to the amount of five thousand pounds sterling. They were more fortunate than some who sailed with them, whom the angry waves gathered to a watery grave. On leaving England Mr. Cogswell had taken along with him a large tent, which now came into good service. This they pitched, and into it they gathered themselves and such stores as they could rescue from the waves. The darkness of that first night of the Cogswells in America found them housed beneath a tent on the beach. The next day they picked up what more of their goods they could, which had come ashore during the night or lay floating about upon the water. As soon as possible Mr. Cogswell, leaving his family, took passage for Boston. He there made a contract with a certain Capt. Gallup, who commanded a small barque, to sail for Pemaquid and transport his family to Ipswich, Massachusetts.

It is hard for us to imagine the scene of the storm. It was not unusual for people on the shore to watch a ship break into many pieces and crew and passengers thrown into the wild sea as they were helpless to offer any form of rescue. Traces of this storm remained for years. In wondering how Robert Andrews and his three nephews reached Ipswich, one descendant living presently in Essex stated that they walked all the way. What an introduction to America and their new adventure for these three English boys!

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