, Newburyport, MA


January 11, 2013

A look back at Plum Island's stormy history


“The hotel nearer the bridge was also surrounded with water, while sand hills twenty feet high were washed away, and others formed, the eastern shore being reduced by the action of waves, many rods.

“On the 24th, there was recurrence of the storm and during the night a brig of some three hundred tons, the Pocahontas, struck, and was discovered early in the morning, but in such a situation that nothing could be done for the relief of the wretched men who still clung to the wreck ... .

“On the 15th of April, 1851, commenced another storm which is recorded as not without interests for the future.

“On Monday, the slowly gathering, but thick easterly mist, announced the coming of a storm ... and on Wednesday morning it proved one of the most severe ever experienced in this vicinity. It was the more fearful as coming on an unusually high course of tides, which rendered every additional impetus, dangerous and destructive.

“At Wednesday noon, the tide was higher than at any other previously recorded, except perhaps one which occurred exactly a hundred years ago, in 1753, when during a violent E.N.E. storm of snow, the tide rose to an unprecedented height; so much so that in a corn-mill situated on Parker river, some six or seven miles from the sea-shore, the tide flowed in to the depth of twenty-three inches on the floor. It was twenty-two inches higher than in the gale of December 1839 ... .”

All of the above and of those other storms she referenced is not much more than a footnote of what this small island has served as a barrier between raging surf, our marshes and the properties of our uplands.

Its history is replete with cottage and bridge losses from great storms that Plum Islanders rebuffed as best they could.

There have ever been losses, and there always will be for so long as we occupy this barrier beach.

Debates relative to prevention go on, but there is not that much to be done that hasn’t been done over a very long time, and losses, while regrettable, are but part of the cost.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His e-mail address is

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