A Ship in the Air (1647)

Behold, a fourth colony of New-English Christians, in a manner stolen into the world, and a colony, indeed, constellated with many stars of the first magnitude. The colony was under the conduct of as holy, and as prudent, and as genteel persons as most that ever visited these nooks of America; and yet these too were tryed with very humbling circumstances.

Being Londoners, or merchants and men of traffick and business, their design was in a manner wholly to apply themselves unto trade; but the design failing, they found their great estates sink so fast, that they must quickly do something. Whereupon in the year 1646, gathering together almost all the strength which was left them, they built one ship more, which they fraighted for England with the best part of their tradable estates; and sundry of their eminent persons embarked themselves in her for the voyage. But, alas! the ship was never after heard of: she foundred in the sea; and in her were lost, not only the hopes of their future ‘trade, but also the lives of several excellent persons, as well as divers manuscripts of some great men in the country, sent over for the service of the church, which were now buried in the ocean. The fuller story of that grievous matter, let the reader with a just astonishment accept from the pen of the reverend person who is now the pastor of New-Haven. I wrote unto him for it, and was thus answered:

“REVEREND AND DEAR SIR: In compliance with your desires, I now give you the relation of that APPARITION of a SHIP IN THE AIR, which I have received from the most credible judicious, and curious surviving observers of it.

“In the year 1647, besides much other lading, a far more rich treasure of passengers, (five or six of which were persons of chief note and worth in New-Haven) put themselves on board a new ship, built at Rhode-Island, of about 150 tuns; but so walty, that the master (Lamberton) often said she would prove their grave. In the month of January, cutting their way through much ice, on which they were accompanied with the Reverend Mr. Davenport, besides many other friends, with many fears, as well as prayers and tears, they set sail. Mr. Davenport in prayer, with an observable emphasis, used these words: ‘Lord, if it be thy pleasure to bury these our friends in the bottom of the sea, they are thine: save them.’ The spring following, no tidings of these friends arrived with the ships from England: New-Haven’s heart began to fail her: this put the godly people on much prayer, both publick and private, ‘that the Lord would (if it was his pleasure) let them hear what he had done with their dear friends, and prepare them with a suitable submission to his Holy Will.’ In June next ensuing, a great thunder-storm arose out of the north-west after which (the hemisphere being serene) about an hour before sun-set, a SHIP of like dimensions with the aforesaid, with her canvas and colours abroad (though the wind northernly) appeared in the air coming up from our harbour’s mouth, which lyes southward from the town, seemingly with her sails filled under a fresh gale, holding her course north, and continuing under observation, sailing against the wind for the space of half an hour.

“Many were drawn to behold this great work of God; yea, the very children cryed out, ‘There ’s a brave ship!’ At length, crowding up as far as there is usually water sufficient for such a vessel, and so near some of the spectators, as that they imagined a man might hurl a stone on board her, her main-top seemed to be blown off, but left hanging in the shrouds; then her mizzen-top; then all her masting seemed blown away by the board: quickly after the hulk brought unto a careen, she overset, and so vanished into a smoaky cloud, which in some time dissipated, leaving, as everywhere else, a clear air. The admiring spectators could distinguish the several colours of each part, the principal rigging, and such proportions, as caused not only the generality of persons to say, ‘This was the mould of their ship, and thus was her tragick end,’ but Mr. Davenport also in publick declared to this effect, ‘That God had condcscended, for the quieting of their afflicted spirits, this extraordinary account of his sovereign disposal of those for whom so many fervent prayers were made continually.’ Thus I am Sir,

“Your humble servant,

“JAMES PIERPONT.”

Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana (Hartford: Andrus, 1855), vol. I., pp. 83-84.

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