52 Ancestors: The Yankee Gale #16

This week’s theme (really last week’s theme) was “Storms.” I don’t have any family stories of storms at this time, though if I were to sit down with my ancestor Benjamin Morse Melcher’s ship log on microfilm, I’d probably find some mentioned. Instead, I’m going to write about a storm that came up in my research on the Hughes family on Prince Edward Island, Canada.

By October of 1851, James Hughes and his wife Jane (Irwin/Irving) had immigrated to Prince Edward Island and settled on St. Mary’s Road in Lot 61. They had at least three children by then: John, Mary Ann and Ellen (my 2nd great-grandmother). On the night of October 3rd, a major storm began in the Gulf of St. Laurence near the island that lasted two days. A number of New England fishing boats were out at that time, giving the storm its historic name “The Yankee Gale.” 150 crew were killed and an estimated 74 ships were destroyed.

The website The Island Register has posted transcriptions of news postings from the time of the storm and immediately afterwards. They put them in calendar order so you can read the accounts as they happened. There are reports of ships lost and crews saved, of bereft widows and bodies washed ashore. Located a little over halfway down the page is an article from the THE MASSACHUSETTS GLOUCESTER NEWS thanking the people of PEI for their help rescuing sailors and salvaging property, and their kindness and hospitality to those stranded.

I do not know if any of my family were one of those Islanders helping. The storm was confined to off-shore, so no damage was done to the coasts or inner island. I was struck by all the names of where the American ships were from: Newburyport, MA; Castile, ME; Portland, ME; Deer Island, ME among others. Did I have any connection to these ships from my American relatives? Only further research will tell.

Finally, like all sea-faring tales, the story of the storm is wrapped up with this song: “The Yankee Gale.”

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