Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Terrible Storm of 1856 Wrecks Dozens and Dozens of Ships Including Many on Pelham Shores

The winter of 1855-1856 was one of the coldest on record.  The terrible winter was marked by a terribly devastating storm that pounded the eastern seaboard and formed a nor'easter that ended as a great blizzard January 4-6, 1856.  

Snow began in New York City on Saturday, January 5, 1856.  The storm grew into a monster that pounded the New York region and continued overnight and well into the following day.  The Monday, January 7, 1856 issue of The New-York Daily Times reported:

"The last was one of the greatest snow storms that has visited our City for many years.  It set in from the northeast on Saturday afternoon, and continued with increasing violence until Sunday morning.  The cold, gusty wind by which it was accompanied caused the snow to drift so deeply as to render the thoroughfares nearly impassable. . . ."

Source:  THE STORM -- Great Depth of Snow-Stoppage of Trains -- Damage to Shipping, &c., The New-York Daily Times, Jan. 7, 1856, Vol. V, No. 1342, p. 1, cols. 4-5 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).

Pelham, Long Island Sound, and Long Island were particularly savaged by the massive storm.  For more than a week, reports trickled in of the terrible toll taken on human lives and shipping in Long Island Sound.  Brigs, schooners, and ships of all kinds literally littered the shores of islands within the Town of Pelham.  

By the time the storm ended, at least twelve major vessels had been wrecked on Pelham shores.  Among them was a wrecking schooner that was attending the previously wrecked Plymouth Rock that was driven ashore on City Island by a similar nor'easter only two weeks earlier.  I have written before about the wreck of the Plymouth Rock during one of the storms of the terrible winter of 1855-1856, as well as the extensive efforts to re-float and repair the massive vessel.  See Fri., May 26, 2017:  The Significance of the Wreck of the Steamer Plymouth Rock in Pelham in 1855.

Wrecks on Pelham shores included several on and near Hart Island.  The Brig Nebraska of Providence, Rhode Island, was cast high on the beach on the east side of the island.  The Schooner Cornwall, from Thomaston, was still afloat but ice-bound near the island with its foresail gone.  An unnamed but "full rigged brig" was driven ashore on the island.  The Brig Abeona of New York City, was aground at low water off the shores of Throggs Neck toward City Island and Hart Island.

On City Island, the wrecking schooner that had been attending the wreck Plymouth Rock dragged three anchors and was cast ashore "high and dry."  Five additional unnamed schooners were cast ashore and also left "high and dry."

Huckleberry Island also was the scene of shipwrecks.  Two unnamed schooners were cast ashore there.  

It is no exaggeration to say that there have been hundreds and hundreds of shipwrecks in Pelham waters in the last 360 years.  The terrible nor'easter that pounded Pelham overnight from Saturday, January 5 to Sunday, January 6, 1856. however, likely was responsible for more major shipwrecks in our little town than any other storm in the town's history.  

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News stories about the January 5-6, 1856 nor'easter that pounded Pelham and the surrounding region are legion.  Below are relevant excerpts of one such story that form the basis of today's Historic Pelham article.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source.

Another Ship, a Bark and two Schooners on Long Island.
Two Barks, one Brig, two Schooners and a Pilot Boat Ashore on Jersey Coast.

Accounts of shipwrecks continue to crowd in upon us.  Our columns were yesterday filled with the thrilling statements of the survivors of the pilot boat K. K. Collins, and the particulars of the wrecks of the Stingray, Pacific and others on the Jersey and Long Island shores.  Although we have now to chronicle the loss of fourteen more vessels, we are happy to state that they do not, probably, involve the loss of any more lives. 

It appears by our special despatches that the storm of Saturday night last was more disastrous to vessels bound to this port than that of the 5th inst.  It not only broke up and scattered those driven ashore in the first storm, but it added fourteen or fifteen more vessels to the list of wrecks, namely:  --

Ship John Stroud.
Steamship Granada.
Bark Echo.
Bark John Farnbam.
Bark D. S. Goodell.
Brig Samuel and Edward.
Brig Abeona
Brig Nebraska
Schooner Samuel P. Lord
Schooner Envoy.
Schooner Rio Grande.
Schooner John G. Roach.
Schooner Cornwall.
Pilot Boat Phantom.

Our special despatches give the latest and fullest intelligence. . . . 


One of our special reporters has obtained from Captain Hoffmire, of the steamtug Hector, the following particulars of vessels ashore on Hart Island: -- 

Brig Nebraska, from Providence, ashore east side of Hart Island, high up on the beach.  No cargo.  Vessel partly insured.  Went ashore at four o'clock yesterday morning.

Brig Abeona, of New York, touches at low water, east side of Throgs Neck, surrounded by ice.  Belongs to Jesse Foy, 105 Water street; is deep loaded.  The pilot of the steamtug walked to her on the ice.

Schooner Cornwall, from Thomaston, is [in] the ice near Hart Island, foresaile gone.

CITY ISLAND, Jan. 14, 1856.

The wrecking schooner attending on the steamer Plymouth Rock, dragged three anchors and went ashore on City Island high and dry.

At Sand Point and about Cow Bay the effects of the storm on Saturday night and Sunday morning were very severely felt.  A full rigged brig was driven ashore on Hart Island, five schooners were left high and dry on City Island, and two schooners were cast upon Huckleberry Island. . . ."

Source:  OUR SHIP NEWS REPORTS -- FOURTEEN MORE VESSELS ASHORE -- Another Ship, a Bark and two Schooners on Long Island -- TOTAL LOSS OF THE CLIPPER STINGRAY -- Two Barks, one Brig, two Schooners and a Pilot Boat Ashore on Jersey Coast -- TWO BRIGS AND A SCHOONER ON HART ISLAND, &c., &c., &c., The New York Herald, Jan. 15, 1856, No. 7078, p. 1, cols. 2-5.  

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I have written before about a number of terrible nor'easters that have pounded the Pelham region.  For a few examples, see:

Fri., May 26, 2017:  The Significance of the Wreck of the Steamer Plymouth Rock in Pelham in 1855.

Mon., Mar. 13, 2017:  Another Account of The Great Blizzard of 1888 that Raged in Pelham 129 Years Ago Yesterday and Today.

Tues., Apr. 22, 2014:  Another Story of the "Great White Hurricane" that Struck Pelham and Surrounding Regions in 1888.

Thu., Mar. 13, 2014:  The Great Blizzard of 1888 in Pelham: 126 Years Ago Yesterday and Today.

Thu., February 20, 2014:  Pelham Manor in 1883 and in its Early Years - Recollections of An Early Pelham Manor Resident.

Tue., Feb. 14, 2006:  An Account of the Blizzard of 1888 by Pelham Manor Resident Henry W. Taft

Mon., Feb. 13, 2006:  Historic Snowfall in Pelham, NY:  The Great Nor'easter of '06.

Bell, Blake A., The Blizzard of 1888: Pelham in the Midst Of the "Great White Hurricane," The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 34, Aug. 27, 2004, p. 9, col. 1.

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