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Cape Cod Resurrected Ship: The Sparrowhawk

Nearly four hundred years ago a shipload of would-be colonists set out from Liverpool, England, on the ship Sparrowhawk. These people were not bound for the Cape. They intended to go to the colony at Virginia, but, thanks to wind and wave (and perhaps bad navigation), although they had come safely across three thousand miles of the vast Atlantic, they got far off their course.

Whether the ship was unmanageable in stiff southerly gales, or whether the captain was wholly in the dark as to his true position, the Sparrowhawk a 36-ton ship carrying 25 passengers came into Nauset Harbor and drove herself hard onto a sandbar in December of 1626. Perhaps, they tried to pull her off by kedging, that is, sending out small boats from the ship, with lines by which, having dropped anchor, the small boats would try to pull the grounded ship toward them and thus free her little by little.

All we know of what did happen after she grounded is that all hands managed to get ashore without mishap. There they fell in with Indians who had seen them from the shore. The Indians were friendly to them and conducted them in safety to Plymouth.

The Sparrowhawk, of course, was abandoned to her fate. Time passed. Summer gales and winter storms assailed her, and the shifting sands piled around her, and at last the Sparrowhawk disappeared. She was entirely buried in the sand, except for her masts. It is said that the Indians destroyed them and her deck houses.

Not only was the Sparrowhawk buried—she stayed buried for two hundred and thirty-seven long, forgotten years. Nature is never quiet around Cape Cod, and Cape Cod sands are one of her playthings. The winds and waves of tumultuous tempests and tides, having buried the Sparrowhawk in the sand, now undid their work. New storms washed away from her sides, and from beneath her bows and counter, the heavy sand which so relentlessly had gripped and held her there so long.

And one day, when the tide had gone well out, people on the shore saw her hull showing somewhat on the mud. Curious Cape Codders dug her free and hauled the old ship up on the beach. There they found her hull nearly as sound as ever, her staunch timbers of English oak well preserved.

Unearthed by that storm in 1862, the remains of the ship have been on display at the Pilgrim Hall Museum since 1889. The Sparrowhawk incident of 1626 is known as the first recorded European shipwreck on the East Coast of the United States.

Preserve Mass History posted a pic of the bones of the famed ship on display on Boston Common in 1865.

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Cape Cod
Posted by Cape Cod - (website) on 04/28/06
Categories: History
Keywords: history, maritime, shipwrecks


In “The Life and Letters of Christopher Houston”, it is said that John Houston arrived in America aboard The Sparrow Hawk. Do you have any record of the people on board the wrecked ship?

Thanks. Sherry

Posted by Sherry Causey from texas on 01/29/09 at 05:24 AM | #

i’m jackson and i’m 10 years old
i was researching shipwrecks in the Cape Cod Canal and i came across this.i didn’t know about the Sparrowhawk,so this taught me a lot about it.   
i liked this and i want to learn more
about the Sparrowhawk.i am going to show this to my teacher. i would like it if you could post more about it…
              from Jackson O.

Posted by Jackson O. from Cape Cod on 04/13/11 at 02:16 AM | #

I found this information looking for my ancestors: I don’t know whether this is the same vessel as the Sparrow Hawk, but it is interesting history and certainly could be the same ship.

“The London Port Book for 1568 reports that the Sparrowhake (Sparrow Hauk) out of Antwerp with Mattis (Brounge) Browning, Master, had the following goods to declare: Thomas Parker: 35 pcs double carrels £17 10s (4 May 1568). Hartik van Sprecleson: 2 packs flax £16. Edward Hardannoght: 6 half-brls steel £36 (6 May). Robert Brook: 20 cwt hops £10 (22 Sept 1568). John Smyth: 2 chests Burgundy glass £4 (23 Sept). Garret Dewes: 20 reams unbound books £2. William Bower: 6 cwt hops £3. John Woodward: 20 pcs Ulm fustian, 60 yds satin, 60 yds damask £71 (24 Sept).” ‘London Port Book, 1567-8: Nos. 500-599 (May - June, 1568)’, The port and trade of early Elizabethan London: documents (1972), pp. 79-97. URL: Link Date accessed: 10 February 2012.

Posted by Jess Browning from Seattle Area on 02/10/12 at 03:43 AM | #

When the sparrow hawk crashed on Cape Cod, the native americans took the crew to plymoth. The entire story of their stay in plymoth is recorded in william bradford’s journal, where he talks about a guy named ‘Fells’ who got one of his maids pregnant, and ran away with her when they got found out. He eventually came back with his maid, when then starved bc they couldnt find food. Eventually the plymoth colonists built the ppl on the sparrowhawk a boat, and they made it to virginia on that.

Posted by Lauren on 10/01/12 at 01:50 AM | #

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