In the Fall of 1774, most of Massachusetts was in the midst of wartime preparations against England. However, the military posturing was interrupted on November 21, 1774 when the Massachusetts coast was struck by a powerful nor’easter. The storm started off with heavy rains and an east by southeast wind. By midnight, the winds had veered to the northeast and reached gale strength. For the next five hours the storm battered the Massachusetts coastline. By the time the storm had passed, it had caused considerable damage to the colony’s shipping industry.
The November 30, 1774 edition of the Essex Journal and Merrimack Packet reported that the storm severely damaged many of the ships in Newburyport’s harbor. “We had a very heavy gale of wind, which did considerable damage to the shipping in this harbor.” A Connecticut sloop moored in Salem and loaded with grain was driven ashore and severely damaged. In Marblehead, at least four large vessels, their anchors and rigging were all beached. A sloop was also overturned and quickly sank.
In Beverly a brig was was driven onto a mussel bed located near the town ferry. In Charlestown, a schooner tied up at Blaney's Wharf was “driven with such violence against the wharf that her quarterdeck was shattered, and one of her sides greatly damaged.” Several other vessels anchored in Charlestown were driven ashore near Stage Point.
Two ships...a schooner and brig, sank in Plymouth Harbor.
Several vessels were unfortunate enough to be caught in the open ocean when the storm hit. A Newfoundland schooner off the coast of New Hampshire had its masts and rigging sheared off. Three days after the nor’easter passed the schooner limped into Salem Harbor. The brig Polly was off of Cape Cod when it encountered the storm. As the storm battered the ship, the Polly’s foresail, mainsail, main topsail and close-reefed fore topsail were all split. The ship’s stern was swept away and seawater poured into the captain’s cabin. Somehow the vessel survived. The next day the damaged ship also sailed into Salem.
Other vessels were not so fortunate. Off the coast of Cape Cod, a brig quickly sank, taking all but one of its crew to the bottom of the ocean. Three vessels off of Cape Ann tried to ride out the storm rather than seek shelter in a nearby port. The first vessels struck “The Salvages”, a rock formation off the coast of Cape Ann. As the ship started to sink, the entire crew was rescued. Another ship, a sloop from Arundel and bound for Marblehead, was quickly swamped with seawater and started to sink off of Thatcher's Island. Sailors from the nearby sloop Sally saved the crew.
A final vessel, a brig from Newfoundland, was overwhelmed by the storm and also sank. Unfortunately, the entire crew was lost at sea.