On December 14, 1839, the first of three successive storms struck Massachusetts Bay, and violently churned up the sea for two days. About 50 vessels were destroyed at Gloucester alone. Between 150 and 200 sailors were killed by these storms during the month of December, 1839.
The Atlantic hurricane season ends in early December, but the first storm that struck the coast was not unlike a hurricane. Ships moored at wharves were severely damaged by the surge, with chimneys blown down onshore by severe wind gusts. It snowed throughout the storm, but the total accumulation is unknown. The following describes the destruction of a schooner at Nahant (edited):
"The Schooner Catherine Nichols, based in Charlestown, and heading there from Philadelphia with a load of coal, was wrecked on Nahant on Sunday December 15, 1839 at 4 pm. Captain Woodward first made Egg Rock, through the thick and almost impenetrable atmosphere. Having learned his position, he navigated into Reed Cove, on the southwest side of Nahant. At this time the wind was so light, and blowing from such a direction, that all the crew might easily have escaped in the boat, but hope, so deceitful to hundreds during this gale, convinced them to remain on board. The wind was at that time favorable, and they were sheltered by the high hills of the bluff from the violence of the storm.
But they were doomed to sudden disappointment. Hardly had they anchored before the wind, as if bent on ruin, chopped around so as to make the cove unshielded. In thirty minutes, they parted their tether lines, drove by Baylie's Point, and rushed furiously on the shore. By this time the generous citizens thronged the shore in hopes to save the crew of the doomed vessel. After first struck, the ship was spun around, and on the top of a huge wave was rolled up upon the rocky shore, and immediately one mast was snapped off.
When the surf subsided, several men would make a desperate effort to seize someone on board and run him on shore. Mr. Johnson is understood to have been principally instrumental in this heroic work. In this way, the captain and two of the crew were saved. Soon, the other mast was carried away, and as it fell another man crept forward and over the gunwale. He was seized on the return of the wave, but was found to have been wounded, probably by the falling of the mast. As they laid hold of him they heard him say, 'Oh dear,' and when he reached the shore he motioned them to lay him down, which they did, and he immediately died. His name was Whitton.
The mate stuck to the vessel to the last, feeling assured that he should escape, as he had passed through so many storms safely, but he was at his last instance of danger. He died amidst the roaring surf, and was found, stripped of every particle of clothing except his stock and stockings, jammed in among the rocks of that jagged shore.
When the last mast fell, a man was seen to crawl out upon it through the mad and foaming waves. Soon the mast broke loose from the schooner, and instead of washing on shore as the poor fellow had vainly hoped, it drifted seaward, and he was carried out of sight to be buried in the depths of Lynn Bay.
On Tuesday, the two bodies which had been recovered were taken to the first Methodist Church in Lynn; appropriate funeral services were performed, and the victims of the sea were committed to the bosom of the earth. The name of the man drifted to sea was John Lindsay of Philadelphia. The vessel went entirely to pieces."