Daily Event for January 11, 2012

On January 11, 1886 the three-masted schooner T. B. Witherspoon came ashore on the south side of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. A terrible gale, sub-zero temperatures and snow greeted the poor souls in the ship, ashore the members of the local lifesaving station were doing all they could to save the frozen and suffering crew. The heavy seas and wind hampered the efforts to save the crew, one lifeboat was launched from the lifesaving station, but after one man was washed overboard seabourn attempts were called off. Fortunately the man, Benjamin Beckman, was quickly recovered.

Several attempts were made to shoot a line to the stricken ship to secure a breeches chair, the first attempt ended in disaster when the line parted one of the crewmen on the Witherspoon was pulled into the sea trying to retain the hawser. While he struggled for his life in the freezing water the only thing the people on shore could do was watch in horror as he succumbed to the cold and drowned. The line was attached on the forth attempt and two men were saved, these were the only survivors of the episode.

Everyone could see men in the rigging facing the great pains of the wind, cold and sea, two of them finally could take no more and fell to their deaths, one was reportedly the master, Alfred H. Anderson of Rockland, Maine. What was not seen by the gathered crowd was a sad and tragic drama that played out before anyone but the crew were their to see it.

The first mate, Burdick Berry had with him his wife and young son, as the ship was being taken apart by the sea and sinking lower and lower into the water his son looked to him and asked "Pa, won't God save us?". I can not imagine how this must have made him feel, but it could have been nothing like the feeling he must have had when he put the bodies of his wife and son overboard after they had passed. Add to this the fact that he was one of the two survivors and the torment he must have suffered must have been tremendous.

The remaining crewmen all perished in the cold on that January day and the ship was completely destroyed by the sea. Several other ships were also damaged and grounded due to the storm. I don't have many details about the T. B. Witherspoon, she first appeared in the Merchant Ship Register in 1878 and showed to be 290 tons homeported in Camden, Maine. She was at the end of a voyage from Suriname to Boston carrying sugar, cocoa, molasses, spices and other commodities.
© 2012 Michael W. Pocock

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