New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The Wreck of the Martha

leave a comment »


 The Wreck of the Martha

The fall fleet of transports from New York City to the mouth of the Saint John River in 1783 consisted of twelve ships, including the Martha, all loaded with refugees. Aboard the Martha were members of the Maryland Loyalist Regiment, an offshoot of the 3rd Battalion of DeLancy’s Brigade, plus women and children; 181 souls in all.

The Martha left Sandy Hook on September 15th with Captain Willis in command. Willis spotted land on the 22d and was expected to lay to that evening and to await daylight before proceeding. However, his old sails were well past needing to be replaced, and the small and inexperienced crew were busy replacing one of them which been torn to pieces in the wind. He therefore decided to continue through the night. At four in the morning on the 23d, the ship struck rocks near the Seal Islands off southwest Nova Scotia. She was taking on water and the soldiers on board told the Captain to launch the boats, but the Captain delayed, saying that he could free the ship from the rocks. Finally, the main mast broke and fell across the deck. The Martha remained intact but was heavily damaged. The hull was full of water and waves were rolling over her.

The captain finally launched the larger of two available boats into the water and ordered it to move off and keep out of the way until the second, smaller, boat was launched. He then launched the second boat, jumped in, and rowed out to the larger boat. He climbed into the larger boat, set the smaller one adrift, and commenced to row for shore abandoning the passengers of the Martha to their fate. Upon arriving at land, he told the local people that the ship was lost and that any rescue attempt would be futile.

The ship broke up later that day and surviving passengers scrambled to catch hold of pieces of floating debris. One group floated for about 36 hours and several of them drowned before they were finally discovered and rescued by fishermen. This group was taken to a place called Cape Pursue. Elizabeth Woodward was one of the survivors and, upon reaching land, gave birth to three sons: triplets!

Another group floated for two days and two nights up to their waists in water and were taken by the currents and by chance to an island, minus two men who had drowned along the way. They survived on whatever shell fish and berries that they could find for another four or five days. The only water was what they could collect from a leaking rock – not a very vigorous spring. They were then discovered and taken, also, to Cape Pursue. It was late September, they had arrived soaked and had no access to fire. They had survived by their wits – but just barely. One hundred and thirteen people had drowned including ten slaves and twenty eight women and children.

The Maryland Loyalists were eventually settled at the mouth of the Nashwaak River. No one, unfortunately, has been successful in compiling a comprehensive list of whose who were aboard the Martha, nor of the names of those who did not survive. Only a few of the names are known.


  1. Bell, D.G., Early Loyalist Saint John, New Ireland Press, Fredericton, N.B., 1983, p. 29.
  2. Maxwell, L.M.B., The History of Central New Brunswick, (Reprint published by) The York-Sunbury Historical Society, Fredericton, N.B., 1984, p. 66.
  3. Raymond, W.O. (editor), The Winslow Papers, New Brunswick Historical Society, Saint John, N.B., 1901, p. 137, 138.
  4. Raymond, W.O., The River St. John, John A. Bowes, Saint John, N.B., 1910, p. 541, 543, 550.

Written by johnwood1946

August 29, 2012 at 9:26 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: