Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Incident at Pullin Point

Preface: Patten was my paternal great grandmother's maiden name. Josephine lived in New York City where my grandmother was also born, and for years I thought that the Pattens were an old New York family. However, Josephine was only the second generation to be born in New York. Her people actually came from Massachusetts, specifically Malden and Chelsea, once part of Boston. 


 The Incident At Pullin Point

     It was a cold blustery Sunday, the day after Christmas in 1751, when the ship The Bumper, having sailed from London, struck rocks at Pullin Point Beach. Captain Nicholas Cussens and all but one member of the crew made their way safely to shore.

     Captain Cussens, being a Bostonian, hired local men whom he knew to board The Bumper and help unload the cargo and salvage what they could from the crippled vessel. Among those who boarded her were Benjamin Prat, Samuel Tuttle, Jr., Thomas Patten, Bartholomew Flagg, Ebenezer Bootman, John Brintnall, Jabez Burdett, Nathan Cheever, Edward Watts, Joseph Prat, David Sargent, Saml. Floyd, Ebenezer Prat, and Nathan Lewis.

     Mr. Tewksbury, also from town, was willing to allow the sails and rigging that had been removed, to be stored in his barn until the Captain had decided what to do with it.

     But the locals didn't remove everything from the Bumper that day. Crewmember John Scalley, who had been left alone, hidden below, had been sick for ten days prior to the shipwreck. He was alive when the ship had struck that day. He was not carried off when the crew escaped to safety, nor were his fellow shipmates allowed to go back the next morning for him in order to get him medical help, in spite of their pleas. Instead, Captain Cussens ordered them to stay on shore and wait for his orders which would come later in the day.

     That night, on the Captain's orders the Mate, the Boatswain and others went back to the ship under the cover of darkness. They were ordered to remove Scalley's corpse, if indeed he had died, and they were to bury it in the rocks beneath the ship so that no one would find it.

     The body of John Scalley was discovered, but not until January 13th after an investigation had been launched by Selectmen.  It was suspected that it was The Bumper that brought smallpox to town shortly after it was 'cast away on Pullin Point Beach'. Upon questioning the crew, the story unfolded of the cruel manner in which Captain Cussens left Scalley alone to die and that with full knowledge he caused townsmen whom he knew had not had "the Distemper" to board the ship where Scalley remained and to  handle and store infected equipment and cargo that would carry the smallpox throughout the town.

     Meanwhile, the widow Brintnall who was also the schoolteacher in town, having likely survived the smallpox in an earlier time, did offer her home to those who had been stricken, where she would allow them to stay. The Selectmen voted to supply the sick with nurses, attendants and other necessaries, and to do so in a way to prevent, if possible, the further spreading of the disease.

     Another ship's captain from the area suggested that the sails and other equipment be buried or aired, but the Selectmen felt it was more dangerous to move them and voted to leave them where they were stowed. Mr. Tewksbury, however, had more than a little concern with his family going in and out of the barn in which the sails were housed. Eventually the Selectmen relented and allowed them to be removed and brought to the beach and buried. Later, everything from the ship would all be removed to a nearby island, in the hopes of making Chelsea safer still.

     In May of 1752, the Selectmen of Chelsea voted to prosecute Captain Nicholas Cussens. From the indictment:

" Chelsea aforesaid Inhumanly And Wickedly cause and procure Benjamin Prat, Samuel Tuttle junr, Thos Patten, Bartholomew Flagg, Ebenezer Bootman, John Brintnal, Jabez Burdet, Nathan Cheever, Edward Watts, Joseph Prat, David Sargent, Samll Floyd, Ebenezer Prat, and Nathan Lewis whom he the said Nicholas then knew had not been visited with the small pox but were Liable to take and recieve the same to go on Board the said Ship and to handle and remove the said Goods so infected as aforesaid out of ye said Ship and that the said Benjamin Prat, Samuel Tuttle Junr, Thomas Patten, Bartholomew Flagg, Ebenezer Bootman, John Brintnal, Jabez Burdett, Nathan Cheever, Edward Watts & Joseph Prat by so going on board the said Ship and removing the Goods aforesaid Did then and there take and receive the Infection aforesaid and thereupon soon after fell sick of the Disease aforesaid and thereof ye said Benjamin Prat, Samuel Tuttle junr, Thomas Patten and Bartholomew Flagg afterwards at Chelsea aforesaid Died ..."

In 1739 the Brintnall Families are in Chelsea but the Pattens hadn't yet come from Malden. Note if you enlarge the map you can see Pullen Point which today is Winthrop Massachusetts, just off Hog Island

     My fifth great grandfather, Thomas Patten, perished in January 1752 after unloading the ship The Bumper on December 26. Also, lost were his 7year old daughter Jemima, and his wife's grandmother, Phebe Smith Brintnall. One account I read said that as the result of this shipwreck, of the 15,000 or so inhabitants of Boston, including Chelsea, 5,998 people became infected. The widow Brintnall who took in the sick during the epidemic was Thomas's mother-in-law, Deborah Mellins Brintnall. She lived for another 36 years.

     There was a passionate debate going on when smallpox hit Chelsea, not for the first time. Epidemics were frequent throughout the Colonial era and the debate had been started in 1721 when  Dr. Boylston from Boston and Reverend Cotton Mather had been proponents of inoculating people after having learned that they were doing so in Europe. Inoculations required that people were infected with smallpox, causing  a milder form of the disease which made them immune to future exposure. The two worked together on perfecting the procedure in Boston. Dr. Boylston experimented by inoculating two of his slaves and his own son, all three surviving. But, it was controversial on many levels and Clergy and politicians were both for it and against it.

     Some questioned whether it was wise to be infecting people with a milder case of smallpox and exposing all others who hadn't been inoculated. And, should the state be forcing inoculations? But there were religious questions, too. Was this not interfering with God's plan? The debate would rage on, some getting inoculated, some not, more epidemics would come and go all over the colonies. Finally, almost 50 years later, Jenner discovered that injecting cowpox was a safer and effective way to prevent smallpox. (trivia tid bit: the word vaccine comes from the root vacca the latin word for cow)

     People fled their homes, their towns, their states to avoid smallpox back then. In 1752, almost 2,000 people left the greater Boston/Chelsea area. Perhaps that's how the Pattens wound up in New York. Thomas's son John, was just 2 when his father died. John was the first of the Pattens in our line to live in New York, where he died in 1828. Great great great great great grandfather Thomas Patten died almost 200 years before I was born. And still, it was a painful discovery. It is just by chance or fate or Divine plan that The Bumper and her nefarious Captain Cussens "cast away" on Pullin Point after my 4th great grandfather John was born and not before; and that baby John Patten was able to survive the deadly epidemic.

     And because he did, the family survived the Incident at Pullin Point, and probably more equally dramatic moments in history just waiting for me to discover. I hope you'll be there with me when I do! 

Read more about the 1752 Smallpox epidemic at Chelsea by clicking HERE


Heather Rojo said...

Wow, loved this post! I recognized some of the names on this list. I had lots of ancestors in Rumney Marsh (Chelsea) including the Mavericks, who lived on Noddles Island (which is now Logan Airport). James Marverick married Esther Brintnall. Also, the Nathan Cheever in the story is a grandson of my ancestor Ezekiel Chever (1614 -1708). This marsh is a very bleak area, now crossed by Rt. 1.

Suz said...

Thank you Heather. So nice of you to leave a comment. We may have some collaberating to do!

Susan (Nolichucky Roots) said...

Fascinating post! So much context and such a sense of the time. Thank you!