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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Woful Shipwreck of Master Anthony Thacher

By Anthony Thacher (d. 1668)

[Died at Yarmouth, Mass., 1668. Aged about 80. His own Narrative.]

I MUST turn my drowned pen and shaking hand to indite the story of such sad news as never before this happened in New England.

There was a league of perpetual friendship between my cousin Avery and myself, never to forsake each other to the death, but to be partakers of each other’s misery or welfare, as also of habitation, in the same place. Now upon our arrival in New-England, there was an offer made unto us. My cousin Avery was invited to Marblehead, to be their pastor in due time; there being no church planted there as yet, but a town appointed to set up the trade of fishing. Because many there (the most being fishermen,) were something loose and remiss in their behavior, my cousin Avery was unwilling to go thither; and so refusing, we went to Newberry, intending there to sit down. But being solicited so often both by the men of the place, and by the magistrates, and by Mr. Cotton, and most of the ministers, who alleged what a benefit we might be to the people there, and also to the country and commonwealth, at length we embraced it, and thither consented to go. They of Marblehead forthwith sent a pinnace for us and our goods.

We embarked at Ipswich, August 11, 1635, with our families and substance, bound for Marblehead, we being in all twenty-three souls, viz., eleven in my cousin’s family, seven in mine, and one Mr. William Eliot, some time of New Sarum, and four mariners. The next morning, having commended ourselves to God, with cheerful hearts, we hoisted sail. But the Lord suddenly turned our cheerfulness into mourning and lamentations; for on the 14th of this August, 1635, about ten at night, having a fresh gale of wind, our sails being old and done, were split. The mariners, because it was night, would not put to new sails, but resolved to cast anchor till the morning. But before daylight, it pleased the Lord to send so mighty a storm, as the like was never known in New-England since the English came, nor in the memory of any of the Indians. It was so furious, that our anchor came home; whereupon the mariners let out more cable, which at last slipped away. Then our sailors knew not what to do; but we were driven before the wind and waves.

My cousin and I perceived our danger, [and] solemnly recommended ourselves to God, the Lord both of earth and seas, expecting with every wave to be swallowed up and drenched in the deeps. And as my cousin, his wife, and my tender babes, sat comforting and cheering one the other in the Lord against ghastly death, which every moment stared us in the face and sat triumphing upon each one’s forehead, we were by the violence of the waves and fury of the winds, (by the Lord’s permission,) lifted up upon a rock between two high rocks, yet all was one rock. But it raged with the stroke, which came into the pinnace, so as we were presently up to our middles in water, as we sat. The waves came furiously and violently over us, and against us, but, by reason of the rock’s proportion, could not lift us off, but beat her all to pieces. Now look with me upon our distress, and consider of my misery, who beheld the ship broken, the water in her, and violently overwhelming us, my goods and provisions swimming in the seas, my friends almost drowned, and mine own poor children so untimely (if I may so term it without offence) before mine eyes drowned, and ready to be swallowed up and dashed to pieces against the rocks by the merciless waves, and myself ready to accompany them. But I must go on to an end of this woful relation.

In the same room whereas he sat, the master of the pinnace, not knowing what to do, our foremast was cut down, our mainmast broken in three pieces, the fore part of the pinnace beat away, our goods swimming about the seas, my children bewailing me, as not pitying themselves, and myself bemoaning them, poor souls, whom I had occasioned to such an end in their tender years, whenas they could scarce be sensible of death. And so likewise my cousin, his wife, and his children; and both of us bewailing each other in our Lord and only Saviour Jesus Christ, in whom only we had comfort and cheerfulness; insomuch that, from the greatest to the least of us, there was not one screech or outcry made; but all, as silent sheep, were contentedly resolved to die together lovingly, as since our acquaintance we had lived together friendly.

Now as I was sitting in the cabin room door, with my body in the room, when lo! one of the sailors, by a wave being washed out of the pinnace, was gotten in again, and coming into the cabin room over my back, cried out: “We are all cast away. The Lord have mercy upon us! I have been washed overboard into the sea, and am gotten in again.” His speeches made me look forth. And looking towards the sea, and seeing how we were, I turned myself to my cousin, and the rest, and spake these words: “O cousin, it hath pleased God to cast us here between two rocks, the shore not far from us, for I saw the tops of trees when I looked forth.” Whereupon the master of the pinnace, looking up at the scuttle-hole of the quarter-deck, went out at it; but I never saw him afterwards. Then he that had been in the sea, went out again by me, and leaped overboard towards the rocks, whom afterwards also I could not see.

Now none were left in the bark, that I knew or saw, but my cousin, his wife and children, myself and mine, and his maid-servant. But my cousin thought I would have fled from him, and said unto me, “O cousin, leave us not, let us die together;” and reached forth his hand unto me. Then I, letting go my son Peter’s hand, took him by the hand, and said, “Cousin, I purpose it not. Whither shall I go? I am willing and ready here to die with you and my poor children. God be merciful to us, and receive us to himself;” adding these words: “The Lord is able to help and deliver us.” He replied, saying, “Truth, cousin; but what his pleasure is, we know not. I fear we have been too unthankful for former deliverances. But he hath promised to deliver us from sin and condemnation, and to bring us safe to heaven through the all-sufficient satisfaction of Jesus Christ. This therefore we may challenge of Him.” To which I replying, said, “That is all the deliverance I now desire and expect.”

Which words I had no sooner spoken, but by a mighty wave I was, with the piece of the bark, washed out upon part of the rock, where the wave left me almost drowned. But recovering my feet, I saw above me, on the rock, my daughter Mary. To whom I had no sooner gotten, but my cousin Avery and his eldest son came to us; being all four of us washed out by one and the same wave. We went all into a small hole on the top of the rock, whence we called to those in the pinnace to come unto us, supposing we had been in more safety than they were in. My wife, seeing us there, was crept up into the scuttle of the quarter-deck, to come unto us. But presently came another wave, and dashing the pinnace all to pieces, carried my wife away in the scuttle, as she was, with the greater part of the quarter-deck, unto the shore; where she was cast safely, but her legs were something bruised. And much timber of the vessel being there also cast, she was some time before she could get away, being washed by the waves. All the rest that were in the bark were drowned in the merciless seas. We four by that wave were clean swept away from off the rock also into the sea; the Lord, in one instant of time, disposing of fifteen souls of us according to his good pleasure and will.

His pleasure and wonderful great mercy to me was thus: Standing on the rock, as before you heard, with my eldest daughter, my cousin, and his eldest son, looking upon and talking to them in the bark, whenas we were by that merciless wave washed off the rock, as before you heard, God, in his mercy, caused me to fall, by the stroke of the wave, flat on my face; for my face was toward the sea. Insomuch, that as I was sliding off the rock into the sea, the Lord directed my toes into a joint in the rock’s side, as also the tops of some of my fingers, with my right hand, by means whereof, the wave leaving me, I remained so, hanging on the rock, only my head above the water; when on the left hand I espied a board or plank of the pinnace. And as I was reaching out my left hand to lay hold on it, by another coming over the top of the rock I was washed away from the rock, and by the violence of the waves was driven hither and thither in the seas a great while, and had many dashes against the rocks. At length, past hopes of life, and wearied in body and spirits, I even gave over to nature; and being ready to receive in the waters of death, I lifted up both my heart and hands to the God of heaven. For note, I had my senses remaining perfect with me all the time that I was under and in water, who at that instant lifted my head above the top of the water, that so I might breathe without any hindrance by the waters. I stood bolt upright, as if I had stood upon my feet; but I felt no bottom, nor had any footing for to stand upon but the waters.

While I was thus above the water, I saw by me a piece of the mast, as I suppose, about three foot long, which I labored to catch into my arms. But suddenly I was overwhelmed with water, and driven to and fro again, and at last I felt the ground with my right foot. When immediately, whilst I was thus grovelling on my face, I presently recovering my feet, was in the water up to my breast, and through God’s great mercy had my face unto the shore, and not to the sea. I made haste to get out; but was thrown down on my hands with the waves, and so with safety crept to the dry shore. Where, blessing God, I turned about to look for my children and friends, but saw neither, nor any part of the pinnace, where I left them, as I supposed. But I saw my wife about a butt length from me, getting herself forth from amongst the timber of the broken bark; but before I could get unto her, she was gotten to the shore. I was in the water, after I was washed from the rock, before I came to the shore, a quarter of an hour at least.

When we were come each to other, we went and sat under the bank. But fear of the seas roaring, and our coldness, would not suffer us there to remain. But we went up into the land, and sat us down under a cedar tree, which the wind had thrown down, where we sat about an hour, almost dead with cold. But now the storm was broken up, and the wind was calm; but the sea remained rough and fearful to us. My legs were much bruised, and so was my head. Other hurt had I none, neither had I taken in much quantity of water. But my heart would not let me sit still any longer; but I would go to see if any more were gotten to the land in safety, especially hoping to have met with some of my own poor children; but I could find none, neither dead, nor yet living.

You condole with me my miseries, who now began to consider of my losses. Now came to my remembrance the time and manner how and when I last saw and left my children and friends. One was severed from me sitting on the rock at my feet, the other three in the pinnace; my little babe (ah, poor Peter!) sitting in his sister Edith’s arms, who to the uttermost of her power sheltered him from the waters; my poor William standing close unto them, all three of them looking ruefully on me on the rock, their very countenances calling unto me to help them; whom I could not go unto, neither could they come at me, neither would the merciless waves afford me space or time to use any means at all, either to help them or myself. Oh, I yet see their cheeks, poor silent lambs, pleading pity and help at my hands. Then, on the other side, to consider the loss of my dear friends, with the spoiling and loss of all our goods and provisions, myself cast upon an unknown land, in a wilderness, I knew not where, nor how to get thence. Then it came to my mind how I had occasioned the death of my children, who caused them to leave their native land, who might have left them there, yea, and might have sent some of them back again, and cost me nothing. These and such like thoughts do press down my heavy heart very much.

But I must let this pass, and will proceed on in the relation of God’s goodness unto me in that desolate island, on which I was cast. I and my wife were almost naked, both of us, and wet and cold even unto death. I found a snapsack cast on the shore, in which I had a steel, and flint, and powder-horn. Going further, I found a drowned goat; then I found a hat, and my son William’s coat, both which I put on. My wife found one of her petticoats, which she put on. I found also two cheeses and some butter, driven ashore. Thus the Lord sent us some clothes to put on, and food to sustain our new lives, which we had lately given unto us, and means also to make fire; for in a horn I had some gunpowder, which, to mine own, and since to other men’s admiration, was dry. So taking a piece of my wife’s neckcloth, which I dried in the sun, I struck fire, and so dried and warmed our wet bodies; and then skinned the goat, and having found a small brass pot, we boiled some of her. Our drink was brackish water. Bread we had none.

There we remained until the Monday following; when, about three of the clock in the afternoon, in a boat that came that way, we went off that desolate island, which I named after my name, Thacher’s Woe, and the rock, Avery his Fall, to the end that their fall and loss, and mine own, might be had in perpetual remembrance. In the isle lieth buried the body of my cousin’s eldest daughter, whom I found dead on the shore. On the Tuesday following, in the afternoon, we arrived at Marblehead.