123 Died in Wreck of Irish Famine Ship Off Massachusetts Coast
On Sunday, October 7, 1849, the brig St. John struck rocks at Grampus Ledge off the coast of Cohasset, Massachusetts during a violent storm. The wreck claimed the lives of more than 100 passengers, including many children who were escaping the Great Famine in their native Ireland.
According to the Clare County (Ireland) Library, many shipwreck victims were from Ennostymon, Lahinch and Kilfenora.
The St. John, a 200-ton vessel built in 1844 in St. John, New Foundland, Canada sailed out of Galway, Ireland on September 7, 1849, bound for Boston, under Captain Martin Oliver. There were 143 people onboard.
Robert Fraser writes in Savor of Salt, "The Captain realized he would miss the harbor and be wrecked on Nantasket Beach, so the St. John was turned to try for Scituate Harbor." Fraser says the St. John was "driven onto The Grampuses."
Fraser wrote, "Only nine of the crew of sixteen and a total of eleven passengers were saved. And of all of those drowned, only forty-five bodies ever washed ashore."
According to the New England Historical Society, author Henry David Thoreau, a frequent visitor to New Bedford who lived in Concord, Massachusetts heard of the wreck of St. John and took a train to Cohasset, where the bodies had washed ashore.
Noting 18 to 20 large boxes containing the remains of 27 or 28 victims on a hillside surrounded by a crowd of people, Thoreau wrote, "Some were rapidly nailing down the lids, others were carting the boxes away, and others were lifting the lids, which were yet loose, and peeping under the cloths, for each body, with such rags as still adhered to it, was covered loosely with a white sheet."
Most of the victims today lay buried in Cohasset Central Cemetery.
Books about the wreck of the brig St. John, including Coffin Ship by William Henry and Voyage of Mercy by Stephen Puleo about America's first humanitarian mission to aid the victims of the Great Famine in Ireland are good sources of information about Irish emigration to America.