As I write, the tail-end of Hurricane Irene is battering the New England states.
I wonder how many people know of the first known hurricane which affected people emigrating from the Halifax area? Known in America today as The Great Colonial Hurricane, it was an unusually powerful early-season storm, one of the worst ever to affect New England, and took place in August 1635. How were our local emigrants affected?
With a few other ships, the James set sail for America from Kings Roads, off Bristol, on June 4, 1635, carrying “one hundred passengers, honest people of Yorkshire,” as Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts recorded in his journal. Many of the families were emigrating from Halifax parish. Principally their emigration was to escape the increasing influence of Laudian practices in the Church of England. Like the Pilgrim Fathers of 1620, the Halifax families sought freedom to worship in their own way.
The tail-end of the 1635 hurricane affected both the James and her larger sister-ship, the Angel Gabriel.
They were forced to ride out the storm on August 13 off the coast of modern-day Maine. The Angel Gabriel, lying in at anchor at Pemaquid, was “burst in pieces, and cast away in ye Storme and most of ye cattle and other goodes with one seaman and three or four passengers did also perish therein.” The James was more fortunate, as later records tell us:
“At this moment... their lives were given up for lost; but then, in an instant of time, God turned the wind about, which carried them from the rocks of death before their eyes. ...her (the James) sails rent in sunder, and split in pieces, as if they had been rotten ragges…”
We can only imagine the terror the early emigrants went through. But all was not lost; having lost all three anchors, the James managed to make it safely into Massachusetts Bay, arriving at Boston Harbour two days later. Fifty years later, Cotton Mather, whose father had been on board the James, wrote “So signally did the Lord in his Providence watch over the Plantation of New England…”
The leader of the Halifax families on the James was Matthew Mitchell “a pious and wealthy person” of Quarry House, Northowram, who married the widowed Susan Butterfield at Halifax Parish Church in 1616. Matthew went on to be a prominent early settler in Stamford, Connecticut; he died in 1645. His son Jonathan was one of the first batch of Harvard graduates; he became a distinguished Nonconformist minister, and was dubbed “Matchless Mitchell.” (The site of Quarry House is today covered by part of the cul-de-sac known as Chelsea Mansions.)
Also on board the James was Daniel Maude, baptised at Halifax in 1586, son of local schoolmaster, Edward Maude. He lived mostly at Wakefield, and was twice married, both his weddings taking place at St Mary’s, Elland. Soon after landing in Massachusetts, Daniel became schoolmaster of Boston Latin School, founded in 1635; today this is the oldest existing school in America. He later moved to New Hampshire, where he died in 1655.