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“Shipwrecks Affecting Wrentham”

Written by William H. Jones



The December Storm of 1786

For many years the New England coast has recorded a significant number of ship freak events and terrible disasters. Many of these have very different results, mostly loss of lives, some survivor stories and many eye witness accounts of rescues from other ships. It was one such event that in Plum Island Sound where two men floated for hours on a haystack before being rescued. Thirteen persons in Boston Harbor were frozen to death, while near Plymouth; a shipwrecked party on the Gurnet Beach walked five miles before reaching safety.

Early version of a New England Sloop

It was during the very same storm that a sloop from Damariscotta, Maine crashed on the beach at Lovell’s Island, Boston Harbor. All the passengers and crew, thirteen in number, reached the safety of the island, but looked in vain for any shelter that they could use to protect them from the blizzard that was raging. All of the survivors had wet clothing and the temperature was well below zero. One by one, the freezing cold claimed its victims.

At dawn the following day, a fisherman from a neighboring island came to the island and found that the entire party had apparently frozen to death. Among those who perished were five residents of the Town of Wrentham; Theodore Kingsbury, John Cowell, Joseph Cowell (brothers), Captain Oliver Rouse, and Joseph Robichaux. The remains of all five were taken to Wrentham, where their graves can still be seen.

Theodore Kingsbury

Theodore Kingsbury was born in Wrentham on the 20 day of February in the year 1752. He was the son of Daniel Kingsbury (1715-1783) and Beriah Mann Kingsbury (1719-1755). He had two siblings; Daniel Kingsbury (1742-1825) and John Kingsbury (1745-1745). He lived for almost two weeks after the shipwreck before succumbing and died on December 21, 1786 and is buried in the Wrentham Center Cemetery.

Theodore’s obituary was written as follows:

“Died last Thursday morning, Mr. Theodore Kingsbury, of Wrentham, age 35 – he was one of two persons saved from the company vessel cast away on Lovell’s Island in the last snowstorm, when 13 persons perished. In Mr. Kingsbury, his country has lost a zealous friend, eight years of his whole life had been spent in the discharge of an honourable trust in its service, and his relations and acquaintance a kind and endearing connexion. The same day his remains were conveyed to Wrentham, Massachusetts. Centinel Saturday, December 23, 1786”

John Cowell

John Cowell was born in Wrentham in May, 1765, the third child of nine born to Samuel Cowell (1737-1824) and Jemima Metcalf Cowell (1745-1793). He died on December 10, 1786 at the age of 21 years, along side of his brother Joseph. It was the return home portion of their hunting trip to Maine. His remains were interred into the Wrentham Center Cemetery.

Joseph Cowell

Joseph was born on the 31st day of August, 1762, the second child of nine children born to Samuel Cowell (1737-1824) and Jemima Metcalf Cowell (1745-1793). He died on December 10, 1786 at the age of 24 years and as mentioned above, he died beside his brother John on the return of a Maine hunting trip. His remains were interred next to his brother in the Wrentham Center Cemetery.

Capt. Oliver Rouse

Research of Oliver Rouse has been difficult as so far there has been no true record of his birth. One source states that he was born on August 18, 1746 in Swansea, Massachusetts, the son of Oliver and Penelope White Rouse. He married Deliverance Delia Rouse and moved to Wrentham in the early 1770’s. They had two children, a son, Oliver Maclean, born on the 25th of September 1782 and a daughter, Polly, born on the 15th of September, 1780.

Capt. Oliver Rouse was an active member of the Massachusetts Minutemen and his record of serving is a follows in the “Massachusetts, U. S. Soldiers and Sailors in the Revolutionary War”:

Sources state that his remains were returned to Wrentham with the others, for burial, however, there is no record of his burial in our town records, nor is there a memorial marker at a grave. His wife, Deliverance (1759-1782) is in fact, buried in the Wrentham Center Cemetery.

Joseph Robichaux

Joseph Robichaux was born in May, 1757, the son of Pierre Peter Robichaux (1725-?) and Marguerite Robichaux (1728-?). He married Mary Ware on June 11, 1779. He died on December 10, 1786 as noted in the following memorial:

Joseph is buried in the Wrentham Center Cemetery. Above is the inscription on his headstone.

The SS Lexington Disaster 1840

Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1834 commissioned a paddlewheel steamboat called the SS “Lexington”, to be the fastest and most luxurious in operation. She turned out to be the most lethal.

The “Lexington” served the commuter route between New York City and Providence, Rhode Island, generally stopping at Stonington, Connecticut on the way through the Long Island Sound. Other ships, also carrying passengers along much the same route, would often compete in the actually times of their trips. One notable rival was the John W. Richmond, another Steamer. The “Lexington” recorded the title of fastest, when in June of 1835 she made the trip from N.Y.C. to Stonington in 12 hours and 14 minutes.

The “Lexington” wasn’t racing on the cold night of January 13, 1840, it was steaming fast to meet a train in the terminus at Stonington.

The “Lexington” had recently converted from burning wood, to coal. Steamships burning coal had a tendency to burn much hotter and would often catch fire. This night, because of the cold conditions and a very heavy load of cotton bales on board, the crew shoveled extra fast and heavy and as a result, the smokestack ignited and the fire soon spread to the cotton bales.

With the fire growing larger and more dangerous, the Captain ordered the lifeboats to begin loading passengers. Some 20 passengers were loaded on the first lifeboat and it was sucked into the paddlewheel, killing all aboard. Two more lifeboats were loaded, only to be swamped immediately. Passengers and crew started tossing cotton bales overboard and many jumped on to them and soon died of hypothermia or drowned.

Out of the 143 passengers aboard, only four survived. Among those that perished was Robert Blake of Wrentham, an outstanding citizen in this community.

Robert Blake was born in Wrentham in November of 1780, the son of Robert Blake (1739-1800) and Martha Hancock Blake (1745-1781). Robert was their youngest of seven children, the others being; Otis, Polly, Melatiah, Olive, Elias and Otis, 2nd.

Robert married Sally Day (1785-1859) on April 16, 1807 and they had seven children; Mary Ann, Sarah, Anson, Gardner, Mary E., Mary Jane and Harriet Rachel.

Robert died in the “Lexington” disaster at the age of 59 and his remains were returned to Wrentham and buried in the Wrentham Center Cemetery.


- Storms and Shipwrecks of New England, 2005, by Edward Rowe Snow

- Research by William H. Jones


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