Sometimes it’s easy to think we’ve got it harder than the generations before us. We have this illusion that life was simpler and somehow easier back in the olden days.
A shipwreck off the coast of Maine in 1635 reminds me otherwise, thanks to a recent article in the Bangor Daily News. My uncle John Cogswell mailed me the clipping, the headline of which was “Trunk That Survived 1635 Shipwreck on Display at Colonial Pemaquid.”
Another John Cogswell, our long-ago ancestor and the first Cogswell in America, was the original owner of the trunk from the shipwreck. That John Cogswell, born in 1592, was from a family of textile mill owners in Wiltshire, England. In 1635, the story goes, he sold the textile mill he’d inherited in Westbury Leigh, Wiltshire and loaded his wife, eight children, servants, livestock, furniture and barrels of goods aboard the Angel Gabriel, an English galleon bound for the New World.
After a couple of months at sea, the Angel Gabriel reached the coast of New England on August 15, 1635, and anchored offshore at Pemaquid, Maine. The Cogswell family, along with other passengers, spent the night onshore. Just before dawn, they were surprised by a colossal storm that is still said to be the worst to ever hit the coast of Maine. It’s often called the Great Colonial Hurricane.
At first light, they could see that the Angel Gabriel was in splinters. Most of what the Cogswell family had brought with them for their new life now rested at the bottom of the sea, including the £5,000 proceeds from selling the textile mill.
“Well, shit,” I like to think my esteemed ancestor said. Instead of arriving in the New World with all his material goods and a nice nest egg, John Cogswell was now starting his new life with not much besides the clothes on his back – and that monogramed horsehair trunk, which floated ashore later in the day.
But what can you do? One minute you’ve got it made. Then bam! You’re staring out at a shipwreck. The good news was that they had survived the night. Those who slept onboard were not so lucky.
So John Cogswell scrounged around for whatever he could salvage from the shipwreck. He and his family camped out on the beach for a while. Eventually, he was able to get a boat to take him and his family to Ipswich, Massachusetts, where they settled and eventually managed to thrive. He died at his log house in Ipswich in 1676, at the ripe old age of 77.
His horsehair trunk is now on display, along with a ship’s model of the Angel Gabriel, in the museum of the Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site in New Harbor, Maine — just a few hundred feet away from where that trunk first washed up in the New World.