The Great Colonial Hurricane and the wreck of the Angel Gabriel

Angel Gabriel plaque for Cogswell family
Pemaquid Point plaque commemorating the wreck of the Angel Gabriel

On the last Wednesday of May, 1635, the Angel Gabriel, a 240 ton ship set out from England, bound for New England. The ship had been commissioned as the Starre for Sir Walter Raleigh’s last expedition to America in 1617. It was stout and built for combat armed with 16 guns, but on this final journey, it would cross paths in August with the most intense hurricane in New England history.

Track of the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635
Most likely track of the Great Colonial Hurricane of August 26, 1635, with hourly positions and central pressure in millibars. Source: Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory

Alan Dunham of the National Weather Service office in Taunton reviewed accounts from mariners and settlers of New England and pieced together an estimated storm track and surge pattern for the Great Colonial Hurricane of Aug. 25-26, 1635, which reportedly “caused ye sea to swell about 20 foote,” and had the highest storm surge in recorded U.S. history. Many ships and lives were lost, including 21 passengers who had set out from Ipswich on August 21, 1635 on a small bark named “Watch and Wait.”

The Angel Gabriel was captained by Robert Andrews of Norwich, Norfolk County, England and was joined on the journey by the James, the Elizabeth (Bess), the Mary and the Diligence. As they approached the North American coastline, the unusually powerful early season hurricane struck. The Category 3 hurricane was moving faster than 30 mph with maximum winds of 130 mph. The three smaller ships were bound for Newfoundland and outran the storm, safely reaching their destination.

The larger and heavier James and the Angel Gabriel were on a course for New England. The James anchored off the Isle of Shoals but all three anchors were lost. It managed to limp into Boston two days later, its sails ripped apart, with all one hundred-plus passengers surviving. The Angel Gabriel took refuge in Pemaquid Bay and most of its passengers managed to disembark before the ship broke apart and sank with the loss of several lives. A bark commanded by Captain Gallop made several trips to Boston transporting the survivors, many of whom made their way to Ipswich and became prominent founding members of the community. A new commemorative plaque was installed at Pemaquid in 2010.

Cogswell, Burnham and Andrews

The principal passenger was John Cogswell from Westbury Leigh, Wiltshire, born in 1592. He was a man of wealth and standing, married to Elizabeth Thompson, a daughter of the Vicar of Westbury parish. They embarked with eight of their nine children on the Angel Gabriel accompanied by his servants and many of their belongings for the new settlement at Ipswich. Cogswell and his family were swept from the deck and washed ashore, and more than £5000 worth of property, including cattle, furniture, and money were lost to the sea. Cogswell and his family were eventually transported to Ipswich, where he acquired a sizable estate in an area called Chebacco, which is now Essex. A house on that property, Cogswell’s Grant in Essex, is owned by Historic New England and is open to the public. Cogswell’s reputation and his comparative wealth gave him a leading position in the town.

Giddings-burnham house
The Burnham-Giddings house on Argilla Road was built by Thomas Burnham, descendant of the Thomas Burnham who survived the wreck of the Angel Gabriel.

Also among the survivors of the Angel Gabriel who managed to eventually reach Ipswich were Deacon John Burnham, Robert Burnham, and Lt. Thomas Burnham, who was made Selectman in 1647 and was Deputy to the General Court from 1683 to 1685. In 1667 he was granted the right to erect a sawmill on the Chebacco River near the falls. He owned land both in Chebacco and in Ipswich, which was divided between his sons Thomas and James upon his death. Read more in “The Cogswells in America” and the Cogswell Family Association.

John Burnham was the eldest of the three brothers who came in 1635, and was one of the first two deacons of the first church. He was an uncle of the John Burnham who owned a saw mill at the Falls and father of John Burnham Jr. who as late as 1693 was granted liberty to set a Grist mill on Chebacco river at the launching place.

One of the many historic properties associated with this family is the Burnham-Patch House at 1 Turkey Shore Road in Ipswich. Although it dates to the 1730s, it appears to have been built on the floor plan of an earlier house from the 1670s. Heavy quarter-round chamfered framing timbers in the cellar provide evidence of the earlier structure. The large ell on Poplar Street was added in the early nineteenth-century. The Burnham Patch house and the Heard-Lakeman dwelling across the street have two of the original covenants established with the Ipswich Historical Commission, featured in the book “Something to Preserve.”

The David Burnham House on Pond Street in Essex is said to have been built c. 1684 by David Burnham, son of Thomas Burnham, and remained in the Burnham family for almost 150 years. It was the subject of restoration work in the early 20th century by the Essex Institute under the auspices of George Francis Dow. The kitchen fireplace was the largest known to have been uncovered in Essex County at that time.

The White Horse Inn
The oldest part of the White Horse Inn on High Street is said to have been built by Corporal John Andrews, son of the captain of the Angel Gabriel.

Captain Robert Andrews and his three nephews who had accompanied him also settled in Chebacco. Land records from 1635 show that his house lot adjoined the properties of Thomas Firman, John Perkins Jr, John Cross, Richard Hoffield and Thomas Hardy. Andrews apparently decided he was through with the maritime industry, and was allowed to sell wine by retail, “if he do not wittingly sell to such as abuse it by drunkenness.” His son Corporal John Andrews built the large house on High street, where he operated the White Horse Inn.

Also among the survivors was John Tuttle, age 17 who settled in what is now Dover, New Hampshire, where he became known to locals as “Shipwreck John Tuttle.” There is a local tradition that he walked there from Pemaquid after the shipwreck. It is unknown if he was related to John Tuttle who arrived on the ship Planter in 1638 and settled in Ipswich. His son Simon Tuttle built a portion of the Tuttle-Lord-Shatswell house which still stands on High Street.

Further reading

4 thoughts on “The Great Colonial Hurricane and the wreck of the Angel Gabriel”

  1. My maternal grandfather, David Randall Burnham (1894-1964) was born in Essex, Massachusetts. He was a direct descendant of Thomas Burnham, who arrived on the Angel Gabriel. There are still Burnhams in the area, my first cousin, who lives in Magnolia, being one of them. Although I have lived more than half my life in California, I’m still a proud New Englander!

    1. Looks like I’m not the only descendant of Thomas Burnham out here in California my great grandmother on my fathers side was Rosanna Burnham Locke. Good to see another proud New Englander with deep roots!

  2. My Grandfather Samuel Haines was on the ship. He has a history of being apart of many political decisions setting up towns.
    I would love his history to also be considered in your history of living family members.

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