Thursday, March 22, 2012

John Tufts: A Shipwreck Story of Londonderry Immigrants

John Tufts: A Shipwreck Story of Londonderry Immigrants

By Tom Tufts, Guest Blogger for Nutfield Genealogy 
from the Boston Evening Post  22 June 1737

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.
part two of the above newsclipping
part three
part 4
click to enlarge the images


My guest blogger is Thomas Tufts, of Raymond, New Hampshire, who is a descendant of John Tufts of Windham.  He contacted me a few weeks ago about this story, and I also received an email query from him through the Londonderry Historical Society.  I couldn't find any information for him in the papers in the Londonderry Leach Library, and he has been searching the files in many local archives, including the New Hampshire Historical Society Library.  I thought that maybe by putting his information on my blog someone out there might know more information about the wreck of the Catherine or this group of Scots-Irish immigrants, including John Tufts.  If anyone knows more, please leave a comment here or contact Tom at  Thanks!

UPDATE -  see additional information about the shipwreck from Christine Sharbrough at the Accessible Archives blog at this link:
Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo and Thomas Tufts


  1. A super interesting post - Thanks

    Coming up on the Litchfield / Londonderry line and being in part of Scots-Irish decent, the subject has direct appeal for me.

    I'm also fond of public history pieces that cite and link to such source materials - Good stuff.

  2. Thanks for posting - I am a descendant of John Tufts of Windham, and had never before heard of the shipwreck. My knowledge is limited to the account in the Tufts Kinsman volume, with John Tufts arriving from Medford - but having done so at a young age, as his father died very young. Thanks again - very interesting reading. No bible in my possessoin, by the way :)

  3. Thanks all for the comments, I tried to be thorough. The real story may be the suffering of many Irish immigrants. Not only of the dangers of the sea but the way they were treated when they arrived. Mr Peakes, I would like to see what branch of John's you follow. Is the Tufts Kinsmen volume you mention the 2010 edition? The bible was said to be in the family of Bernice (Tufts) Williamson of Blue Hill Maine.

  4. Hi Heather --
    The Pennsylvania Gazette also carried an account of the wreck. I'm blogging about just that over at Accessible-Archives this week!

  5. Hi, this is ThomasS from Florida. I am trying to determine whether or not I am from the Peter Tufts ancestry, as my father always told me. I am new to this, and would like to obtain the 2010 ed. Sorry, if I am new to this. Just getting into this.

    1. Hello ThomasS from Florida,
      The author of this guest post has started his own blog at this link If you contact him he will be happy to help you. His email is

    2. Hi I ran across this post by accident, as I too, am looking for a John Tuft, and his son James Tuft who died in 1879 at the home of Mrs. O M Stansell, his dau (my g randmor) in Manistee MI. MY John came from Co Down, N Ire in mid 1800's where a mother and poss offspring perished, but John, James made it to Lewis, NY. Since I am looking to establish a line from Lucy (the Mrs. O M Stansell) back. Anyone out there with info?? James may have been living still in NY before passing away in Michigan.
      Thanks for any info--Lisa Weddle

    3. Dar Lisa, since this post was published on my blog, Thomas Tufts has started his own blog at I'll email you this information and his contact info, too.