Wednesday, October 24, 2012

John Tufts shipwreck story of Londonderry immigrants

Here is my first attempt at an article on ancestry that my fellow (and much more accomplished) blogger Heather Rojo was kind enough to include on her Nutfield Genealogy Blog:

By Tom Tufts

Has anyone ever heard of Londonderry or Windham immigrants from Ireland in 1737 being shipwrecked off Nova Scotia or Maine?

Sometimes it’s really not clear what records to believe. I have been researching Tufts families for a few years and come across a lot of great stories and records but often the stories are conflicting or unclear. I always tell people to seek out the actual records and cherish those as accurate, but are they really? We have all seen errors in census and written histories.


 John Tuffts or Tufts was clearly in Windham by 1748 when he married and then bought a farm in 1752 from John Morison (whose wife was Ann (Tufts) Morison-his second cousin). He married (first) Catherine Moore had a family in Windham and a second family with Mary Campbell in Belfast Maine. His history from then is quite clear as he was a miller, selectman and led the families that removed to settle what is now Belfast Maine. They were all clearly of Scots-Irish descent and their stories are in several town histories.

The Tufts historians have differed over John’s ancestry. The latest was Herbert Adams who worked for 50 years on Tufts history and his result was recently published by the Tufts Kinsmen Association as Tufts Kinsmen. He shows that this John came from Medford as most of our Tufts descended from Peter Tufts who came from England around 1638.  He even mentions the bible of Peter Tufts was handed down through John’s family.

Recently a genealogist sent me a note questioning this connection. She has a transcript of a story handed down through a branch of this family that he was actually from Ireland (Scots-Irish) and shipwrecked as a boy when coming to this country and orphaned. This reminded me I had seen a similar story in; Tufts Family History 1963 by Jay Franklin Tufts. That story is from a third branch of John’s family and very similar to the transcript.

The genealogist also sent a news article from the Boston Evening Post in 1737 which details the wreck of the Catherine off sable Island near Nova Scotia. It was from Portrush Ireland and headed for Boston with many families and said to be the “most richly laden that ever crossed the ocean”. Many perished but some were rescued and brought to “Piscataqua” (Portsmouth) and “thence to Londonderry”

So my quandary is who to believe. The shipwreck stories can’t be denied. While there are differences, there are too many similarities, and the story comes from 2 different branches of John’s descendents. The bible story, if accurate, would prove he was related to Peter Tufts but where’s the bible?  There are other details in Tufts Kinsmen which relate him as well, including estate benefits from relatives wills. The other note in Kinsmen that is interesting is under another John who was said to be Irish, not from Peter, who settled in West Brookfield MA. There he states a John Tufts did try to come from Ireland but perished in the wreck of the Catherine! He quotes the ships manifest and has the notation (NEJ) which is not in the bibliography.

I really wonder why this story isn’t written about in more local or family histories. If anyone has heard of a similar shipwreck story please share. It was quite dramatic as nearly half perished. John’s mother threw him her purse to him as she slipped below the waves and this haunted him for years. Three others who perished were “Messr.s Archibald, Charles Mcneal (Macneal?) and Mrs. Margaret Snell”. They could have been coming to join others of their family already in Nutfield.  John’s survival was said to be with a brother and sister. What happened to them? Would some family have taken them in? The mystery remains to be discovered.



  1. Perhaps this is a problem DNA testing might help solve.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  2. Funny story, one cold stormy January day, we were notified that the land we offered to purchase in Boothbay Harbor was sold to another party, so my husband Peter Tufts decided to drive up that afternoon to look at another lot in Belfast. He drove up from Haverhill Massachusetts, but when he got to Belfast Maine, the realtor's office was closed from the approaching snow storm. Peter looked around to find the lot himself, and when he stopped at an intersection and looked up....he saw { PETER TUFTS ROAD } on a sign right above him. He couldn't believe his eyes.
    We bought a year-round home 9 years later in Newbury (MA) - later to find out that my husband's 6x great grandfather Reverend John Tufts headed the Parish here after graduating from Harvard (Class of 1708) & built the Reverend John Tufts Home here in 1714. (Rev. John was Peter the Immigrant's grandson).

  3. Great story, Thanks for sharing it. I missed that sign when I visited Belfast. I would like to know more about Rev. John Tufts home too. I visit Newburyport occasionally.