Today in History: Feb 9, 1896 – The Florida Shipwreck

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On February 9, 1896, the schooner the Florida wrecked on Salisbury Beach during a snowstorm.

The Florida was a 133-foot-long, 32-foot-wide, 286-ton schooner built in Belfast, Maine for owners Joseph Simpson, Zeb Maker, and Charles Ryan of New York City and Henry Miller of Portland, Maine.

The ship was captained by Arthur Brown with a crew of at least six men, 45-year-old A.M. McCullough of Maine, 20-year-old William Wiles of the West Indies, and 49-year-old Arthur Willianty of St. Johns, New Brunswick and three other men whose identities could not be confirmed.

Photo of four schooners circa 1899
Photo of schooners circa 1899

On the afternoon of February 9, 1896, a local fisherman, Charles Fowler, observed the Florida heading broadside into the breakers off Salisbury Beach during a storm.

Fowler ran to the nearby Sea Side House to get help and word was sent to Newburyport and then to the Life Saving Station on Plum Island via telephone.

Onlookers on the beach signaled to the ship that help was on its way but visibility was poor due to the driving wind and snow.

Eyewitnesses reported that the crew climbed into the rigging and tied themselves to the main and mizzen masts, probably to prevent being washed overboard.

Plum Island’s life saving apparatus was further down the beach when they got the word so men with horses were sent to retrieve it but several hours elapsed before they were able to reach Salisbury Beach.

While awaiting the life saving apparatus, a surf boat was launched from the life saving station but it hit something in the water and sprung a leak and had to return to Plum Island.

After finding another surf boat, the rescuers were able to make it across the mouth of the Merrimack River to Salisbury Beach and then walked several miles to the location of the ship, losing a lot of time in the process.

When the life saving apparatus finally reached Salisbury Beach it was already 7pm it was already too dark to see the ship.

The rescuers lit a large bonfire on the beach to signal to the schooner and tried several times to fire a life rope to the ship but it was too dark and windy to reach the ship.

Around 8pm, the rescuers saw a flash of light on the ship and heard a gunshot. When wreckage from the ship began coming ashore, rescuers feared the men wouldn’t survive the night.

Around 9pm, one body washed ashore and shortly after a second body was spotted floating in the water.

The rescuers continued their efforts throughout the night but all on board were lost. It is believed that much of the remaining wreckage sank into the water below.

Almost 120 years later, in April of 2015, wreckage from a 19th century schooner washed up on Salisbury Beach near beach access way 7 and it was speculated that it may have belonged to either the Florida or another shipwrecked schooner but the wreckage eventually washed back out to sea.

Wreckage on Salisbury Beach in April 2015

In January of 2016, more wreckage washed up on Salisbury Beach, near the beach center where the Jennie M. Carter shipwreck is located, and some speculated it was part of the Jennie M. Carter shipwreck but others speculated it could have come from the Florida or the many other shipwrecks that occurred on Salisbury Beach.

Sargent, Carolyn. Salisbury History. Salisbury Historical Society 1991.
1896 – Five Men in the Rigging.” Greener Pastures,
Chiaramida, Angeljean. “A Mystery from the Sea.” Newburyport Daily News, 27 Jan. 2016,
Chiaramida, Angeljean. “Shipwreck reveals precious few of its mysteries.” 24 April. 2015,
Chiaramida, Angeljean. “Remnants of centuries-old shipwreck wash ashore at Salisbury Beach.” Newburyport Daily News, 24 April 2015,