Loyalist Ships: The Martha

In “Loyalists evacuated from New York to New Brunswick” (PDF), David Graham Bell indicates the following:

Departed: New York
Date: 1783, fall
Landed: New Brunswick
Date: 1783, Sept. 27
Passengers: 72

Bell says it was carrying Maryland Loyalists as a militia or military unit. Later, in same Fall fleet, the Martha is listed a second time by Bell (the last ship — a SECOND Martha?). He notes that the ship had “Unattributed passengers”.

Source: Edward W. Pitcher & D. Sean Hartigan, Sensationalist Literature and Popular Culture in the Early American Republic (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2001), pp. 251-265.

(The account of the sinking of the MARTHA was reprinted in the UELAC Loyalist Gazette, Spring 2002, Vol. XL, No. 1, pp. 26-34).

Many details in the eye-witness account contradict the data that Bell collected.

September 15th is given as the date of departure for the MARTHA given in the eye-witness account of the shipwreck. Since the ship was clearly destroyed (it was shattered on rocks and survivors clung to bits of timber or made rafts), it couldn’t have sailed a second time, and it certainly didn’t arrive in Saint John on the 27th of September.

The survivors of the shipwreck (there were 68 or 69) stayed in Nova Scotia for two weeks after being rescued by fishermen and then hired some fishing boats to take them to Saint John. It seems they arrived in early October, but that particular date is not given in the eye witness account — I am just adding the weeks together.



Return of troops embarked at New York, on board the transport ship Martha, for St. Johns in the Bay of Fundy:

Regiment of Maryland Loyalists: 2 captains, 2 lieutenants, 2 ensigns, 1 surgeon, 11 serjeants, 7 corporals, 2 drummers, 56 privates, 12 women, 10 children, 5 servants (110 in all)

Ludlow’s New York Regiment: 1 captain, 2 lieutenants, 1 ensign, 1 surgeon, 6 serjeants, 6 corporals, 21 drummers, 30 privates, 9 women, 8 children, 5 servants (71 in all)

Total Embarked:
3 captains,
4 lieutenants,
3 ensigns,
2 surgeons,
17 serjeants,
13 corporals,
4 drummers,
86 privates,
21 women,
18 children,
10 servants, (181 in all)

Return of the men, saved and perished:

Of the Regiment of Maryland: Loyalists: 1 captain, 1 lieutenant, 1 ensign, 1 surgeon, 5 serjeants, 5 corporals, 2 drummers, 21 privates, 5 women, 1 child. Total 43

Of Ludlow’s New York Regiment: 1 captain, 1 lieutenants, 4 serjeants, 2 corporals, 12 privates, 1 woman, 4 children. Total 25

Regiment of Maryland Loyalists:
1 captain, 1 died
1 lieutenant, 1 died
1 ensign, 1 died
1 surgeon, 0 died
5 serjeants, 6 died
5 corporals, 2 died
2 drummers, 0 died
21 privates, 35 died
5 women, 7 died
1 child, 9 died
0 servants, 5 died
43 saved, 67 died – final totals – 110 had boarded the Martha in New York

Ludlow’s New-York Regiment:
1 captain, 0 died
1 lieutenants, 1 died
0 ensigns 1 died
0 surgeon 1 died
4 serjeants, 2 died
2 corporals, 4 died
0 drummers, 2 died
12 privates, 18 died
1 woman, 8 died
4 children, 4 died
0 servants, 5 died
25 saved, 46 died – final totals – 71 boarded the Martha in New York

In all, 181 members of the two parties boarded the ship, 113 perished at sea, and 68 were rescued.

Thanks to Stephen Davidson for sorting out the numbers.


“Loyalist Shipwreck”

[The following article by Stephen Davidson is reprinted from issue 2008-33 of the Loyalist Trails newsletter.]

One historian estimates that there were as many as forty shipwrecks among the hundreds of vessels that carried loyalists to safety. Of all of these shipwrecks, the one whose story can be told in the greatest detail is that of the Martha. A loyalist officer aboard the ship provided an eyewitness account of all that happened on its fateful voyage.

The Martha‘s last weeks were uneventful ones. Like the other eleven ships in the September evacuation fleet, it had taken on provisions and loyalists in New York City. A few passengers did notice the signs of the Martha‘s 30 years of service– its spliced-together rigging and patched sails. Could it weather the winds and rains of the north Atlantic?

On board were 110 members of the Regiment of Maryland Loyalists. Their party included a dozen women, 10 children and 5 enslaved Africans. The other 71 passengers were with the Third Regiment of Delancey’s Brigade. They had 9 women, 8 children and 5 slaves with them.

The Martha left New York on September 15, 1783. Because it had failed to meet the fleet’s other 19 ships at the set rendezvous point, it had to sail for the mouth of the St. John River alone. Within six days, the Martha sailed into the most dangerous waters along the Nova Scotia coast. Stretching over a 20-mile area was a series of shoals and islands around which swirled currents powered by the highest tides in the world.

A vicious gale began to beat down on the Martha. Around midnight the sounds of the mainsail crashing to the deck rudely wrenched the passengers from their sleep. Repairs were hastily made, and some of the loyalist soldiers were put on lookout duty with the Martha‘s crew.

At two o’clock, everyone aboard the Martha was again awakened, this time by a great shock that ran the length of the ship. The Martha was caught atop a ridge of rocks. The raging winds and waves repeatedly lifted the ship up and then dropped it down on the shoals. Unable to escape its rocky snare, the Martha would be broken to pieces within hours.

In the light of dawn, land could be seen and the sense of doom lifted. Passengers and crew readied the ship’s single long boat. Five of the Martha‘s crew were already out on the waters in a small sailing craft known as a yawl. It would tow the long boat from ship to shore as many times as was needed to evacuate the Martha. Just as the first of the women and children were about to board the long boat, the sails and rigging of one of the ship’s masts fell and crushed the long boat.

The crewmembers in the yawl would not return to the ship, even though the women held up their children. Promising to make his sailors return, the Martha‘s captain went out to the yawl in a small jolly-boat. However, as soon as he joined them, the captain turned his back on his ship and abandoned the passengers to their fate. Those who swam after the yawl died in the attempt; the crew did not stop to pull any of them from the sea.

Battered by rain and wind, the loyalist passengers were left to their own devices on a ship that was breaking apart. The skies grew darker; and the storm intensified. Tiring from clinging to the ship’s rigging, many passengers could hold on no longer and were washed into the ocean.

Finally, the quarterdeck broke away and turned over. Here 25 passengers, including two women and three children, sought refuge. Within a few hours, the other sections of the Martha drifted away from the deadly shoals; their castaways eventually lost sight of one another.

After six hours on the freezing Atlantic waters, only 10 of the passengers on the quarterdeck were still alive. Then –in the last light of day — there was land! In the same moment that hope reinvigorated the castaways, they realized to their horror that the tide was taking them away from the shore.

Determined to stay within sight of land, the castaways paddled with planks all through the night. Their frantic efforts kept them from being taken further out to sea, but it had utterly exhausted them. Only six of their number were still alive, and none had the strength to paddle any more that day.

As sunset approached, one of the castaways saw a sail on the horizon. The Martha‘s castaways desperately waved a plank with a handkerchief tied to its end. Sighting the castaways, three New England fishing sloops turned. The fisherman took the castaways into their punts and brought them aboard.

Within a few minutes of hearing the survivors’ story, the fishermen sighted other passengers clinging to wreckage from the Martha, and pulled them from the sea. In total, 68 Martha passengers were rescued, a number that included 6 women and 5 children.

The three sloops were too small to accommodate so many passengers, so the castaways were taken to a small, uninhabited island. Bonfires provided heat as the passengers slept warm and dry under the stars.

Within 48 hours, all were taken to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia where the Martha‘s castaways were put up in private homes. Two weeks later, the loyalist survivors hired two boats to sail them up the coast and across the Bay of Fundy to the mouth of the St. John River. There the astonished passengers of the fall fleet’s other 11 ships greeted the Martha‘s survivors.

113 people died in the shipwreck of the Martha, including 15 women, 13 children, and all of its enslaved Africans. Many of the ship’s passengers settled in New Brunswick; some sailed for Great Britain. One of the six women who survived the shipwreck went on to have 18 sons and 4 daughters, living well into her seventies.


“Elizabeth Woodward: Loyalist Castaway”

[The following article by Stephen Davidson is reprinted from issue 2008-34 of the Loyalist Trails newsletter.]

A young mother from Pennsylvania was one of only six women who survived the shipwreck of the Martha, a ship chartered to carry 181 loyalists from New York to the mouth of the St. John River in September 1783. Being shipwrecked was only a small episode in the amazing life of Elizabeth Beard-Jasper-Woodward-Hopkins. Here is the story of a loyalist woman that would later be described as a “venerable Amazon”.

Elizabeth Beard was born in Philadelphia in 1741. By the time she was 35 years old, she had become Mrs. John Jasper, the wife of a marine sergeant serving aboard the Stanley. This brig was one of the escort vessels for the Roebuck, a 40-gun British frigate.

In May of 1776, Elizabeth Jasper was with her husband when the Stanley battled three French ships off Cape May, New Jersey. As she helped to work the cannons, shrapnel pierced Mrs. Jasper’s left leg.

Following the battle, her husband went ashore with four others from the Stanley and two crew members from the Roebuck to do some foraging. While the Stanley’s men took a nap, the two from the Roebuck decided to desert, and reported the whereabouts of the other sailors to the local rebels. The patriots arrested Elizabeth’s husband and sentenced him to death.

Taking matters into her own hands, Mrs. Jasper worked out an escape plan for her husband and 22 rebel deserters, supplying them with guns and ammunition. As she led the escaping prisoners to safety, rebels on horseback fired after them. None were killed, but Mrs. Jasper was shot in the left arm. She turned, raised the firelock that was in her right hand, and shot the man who fired on her. Mrs. Jasper then took the man’s horse as a prize of war. She eventually sold it when the escapees arrived in Philadelphia.

John Jasper fought throughout the war, and died in action sometime before 1781. Elizabeth then married Samuel Woodward, a soldier in the Maryland Regiment of Loyalists. When Woodward left to fight the Spanish in west Florida in March of 1781, Elizabeth accompanied him into the midst of battle.

Loyalist regiments fended off an overwhelming number of Spanish troops that were laying siege to Pensacola’s Fort George. Although Mrs. Woodward was not involved in firing on the enemy, she stayed within the walls of Fort George and helped to prepare the soldiers’ muskets. As the five-week siege wore on and supplies ran low, she even tore her skirts into small pieces for wadding.

The siege ended when the Spanish shot a shell into the British main powder magazine. The explosion killed 75 men. The Spanish streamed into Fort George, killing 30 more. Recognizing that all was lost, the British surrendered and thereby lost control of the Gulf of Mexico. Elizabeth and Samuel Woodward, along with the others in the Maryland Regiment were sent back to New York.

Two years later, pregnant and with a young child in her arms, Elizabeth boarded the Martha, a ship that was part of an 12-vessel fleet which was formed to take loyalist refugees to the mouth of the St. John River. She was one of 21 women on board.

Six days after leaving New York, the Martha ran into a fierce north Atlantic storm and was driven onto shoals near Seal Island off of Nova Scotia’s Cape Sable. Deaf to the pleas of the mothers who held up their children in an appeal to at least save their young lives, the captain and crew abandoned the Martha‘s passengers.

As the wind, waves, and rocks shattered the ship, its loyalist passengers desperately clung to bits of the vessel’s wreckage. Elizabeth, Samuel, and their young child managed to stay afloat for two days until three fishing sloops from Boston came to their rescue. While all of the castaways were given fish chowder, only the women were warmed up with cups of tea.

68 castaways were too many for the sloops to carry, so they were put ashore where bonfires dried their clothes and warmed them. The trauma of the shipwreck and her rescue brought on Elizabeth’s labour. There, on an uninhabited island, she gave birth to triplets.

Within two days’ time the six Woodwards were put up in a home in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Eventually, Martha‘s surviving passengers hired two ships to take them north to the St. John River.

Elizabeth and Samuel initially settled in Beaver Harbour, New Brunswick. When Woodward died, Elizabeth married Jeremiah Hopkins, a sergeant in the 104th New Brunswick Regiment. Six of her sons and a son-in-law were among the regiment’s thousand men who fought in the War of 1812.

Travelling by snowshoes, the 104th undertook an historic overland march of 435 miles from New Brunswick to Quebec in the winter of 1813. One member of the regiment died of illness before leaving the province; the rest arrived safely. Given the fact that Elizabeth was present at some of the Upper Canadian battles, the seventy-year-old woman must have travelled alongside her husband and sons.

Elizabeth’s twin sons as well as her son-in-law, James McDonough, were killed while defending Fort Erie. Family legend recounts that the elderly Mrs. Hopkins gathered her remaining four sons around her and charged them to take revenge on “the hated Yankees”. In 1816, at 75 years of age, Elizabeth Hopkins appealed to the New Brunswick government for compensation. She was granted a pension of 100 pounds a year. Her veteran sons were given grants of land along the St. John River in Carleton County.

Those who gathered for Elizabeth Hopkins’ funeral no doubt felt she had lived a long and amazing life. Her service aboard the Stanley, her rescue of loyalist prisoners, her defense of Pensacola’s Fort George, her shipwreck experience, and her support of her sons in battle put her accomplishments far above those of her 18 sons, 4 daughters, and three husbands.


“The Shipwreck of the Martha and its Canine Hero,” by Stephen Davidson

[The following article by Stephen Davidson is reprinted from issue 2008-35 of the Loyalist Trails newsletter.]

It is very difficult to find any mention of dogs in the annals of loyalist history. However, in his eyewitness account of the sinking of the Martha, Captain Patrick Kennedy wrote of the crucial role the ship’s unnamed dog played in rescuing him from certain death. All that we know about the Martha‘s dog is that it was “a large stout dog” of the “pointer breed”. Here is the story of that canine hero (hereafter, to be referred to as “Pointer”).

In September of 1783, two regiments of loyalist soldiers, their wives, children, and servants boarded the Martha, a transport ship that had been chartered to take them to the mouth of the St. John River. The Maryland Regiment of Loyalists and DeLancey’s Third Regiment had survived the smallpox epidemic, endured a five-week siege in west Florida, and suffered the desertion of fellow soldiers. Now the trials of war were behind them and they –along with eleven other shiploads of refugees– could look forward to a new life in Nova Scotia. Among the officers of the Maryland Loyalists was Patrick Kennedy, an Irish doctor who had once practiced medicine in Baltimore.

The war-weary soldiers and their families were just days away from the mouth of the St. John River when a violent gale caught the ship off of Cape Sable, driving the Martha onto rocky shoals near Seal Island. Efforts to release the vessel from the grasp of the submerged rocks failed. The rise and fall of the waves repeatedly smashed the ship down onto the shoals. Within a matter of hours, the Martha began to come apart.

Coupled with stories of heroism, there are often stories of great cowardice. Five of the Martha‘s crew and her captain escaped in the only available lifeboats, abandoning the loyalist passengers and their fellow seamen to the cold Atlantic. Numbered among the crew who were left behind was Pointer, the ship’s dog.

Within a matter of hours the loyalist castaways of the Martha were scattered over the sea. Twenty-five had found refuge on the overturned quarterdeck, a makeshift raft with a floor that was only five planks wide. Every time a wave washed over it, the castaways were thrown into the sea. Climbing back onto the raft again and again was an exhausting ordeal. In this group were two women, five children, Patrick Kennedy (who later wrote an account of the shipwreck), and Pointer.

The dog had swum to the overturned quarterdeck and climbed aboard some time after the Martha sank. Pointer’s large size and weight made him an unwelcome guest. Some of the men struck the dog, and they repeatedly threw him off the raft. But Pointer was stronger than the exhausted castaways. No matter how many times he was put into the sea, he always returned to the middle of the raft. The men’s struggles to get rid of the dog rocked the raft, putting everyone in danger. Kennedy took pity on Pointer and begged the others to let him stay.

In the hours that followed, the 25 castaways on the quarterdeck raft began to succumb to the wet and cold. First the women and children died, and then eight of the men, weary and numb, slipped into the ocean.

Just as night was about to fall, Kennedy and the remaining nine castaways sighted land. To their horror, they realized that the tide was carrying their raft further out to sea. Their only hope was to take up planks and paddle for shore. Given the distance to land, it was a task that required them to work in shifts throughout the night. Sitting near the edges of the raft so that they could put their makeshift paddles in the water, the men ignored Pointer and let him stay in the middle of the raft.

As the night wore on, Kennedy could feel himself slipping into a stupor. How could he get warm? How could he keep from falling into the water? Then he looked at Pointer. He crawled over to the dog and wrapped his arms around its wet flanks.

Putting his head up on the dog’s back, Kennedy was able to keep himself up above the floor of the raft. By hugging Pointer to his chest, he could draw heat from the dog’s body, “restoring the vital part almost extinct in me”. Whenever Kennedy’s shift at paddling was over, he held onto Pointer in this way. He later wrote “to that poor animal I am confident I owe that degree of strength which enabled me to hold out to the time of our deliverance.”

Two days on the water began to take its toll. The Martha‘s six castaways were exhausted, resigned to a death at sea. As the sun began to set, one of the men caught sight of three fishing ships in the distance. Galvanized by hope, Kennedy and his comrades cobbled together a flag using a handkerchief and a plank, waved it, and then joyfully watched the ships begin to turn their way. Within an hour, fishermen were pulling the Martha‘s castaways into their boats.

As Kennedy was being lifted up into the punt that would take him to the safety of the fishing sloop, he begged the men to make sure that Pointer was rescued from the raft. It was only later that he discovered that the fisherman had not been able to honour their promise.

Despite their best efforts, the rescuers could not persuade Pointer to leave the raft. Perhaps it was the fear of strangers, the trauma of the shipwreck, or the effects of two days at sea. Every time one of the fishermen tried to grab him, Pointer snapped and bit at his would-be rescuer. Fearing that the dog was mad, the fishermen retreated.

After he had settled in Ireland, Captain Kennedy wrote about Pointer’s fate in a letter to a friend in New York. “This generous animal, the guardian, the protector, the prolonger of my days was left alone on the raft to perish.” Deeply saddened by the loss of his faithful companion, Kennedy included Pointer’s story in his memoir of the Martha‘s shipwreck as “an additional instance of the attachment and faithful services of dogs to the human race.”