The uncovering, again, of a 1888 shipwreck is another reminder of the dynamic nature of the Eastern Shore’s barrier islands: constantly shifting and moving sand in an environment that has always been and will always be in flux.
It was recently reported a shipwreck was uncovered during the January storm. The report said the shipwreck photographed is believed to be the Esk, but one of the Eastern Shore’s many interesting wrinkles of history arises here.
According to local author and historian Curtis Badger, there were actually two ships named the Esk which shipwrecked off Paramore Island in the same week in 1888.
“That is one of the most incredible stories I have ever come across. I had known about the wreck for years and had gone out to Parramore years ago and photographed the wreck with the lifesaving station in the background. But when I was researching the book Wilderness Regained, I found that there were actually two ships named the Esk, and both of them wrecked on the shoals of Parramore during the same week in 1888. The story is on page 128 of the book,” he said.
The first Esk was a 148 ton schooner that wrecked on Sept. 7. 1888, two miles south of Parramore Beach Station. According to Shipwrecks on the Virginia Coast by Richard and Julie Pouliot, all seven crewmen were saved although the the ship was a total loss (valued at $7500). She was transporting a cargo of dyewood (valued at $3500) from Maracaibo, Venezuela to Providence, Rhode Island under a master named Watt. The home port of the Esk was Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
Details of the first wreck and rescue of the seven crew members are detailed in “Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-saving Service for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1889” pg. 103. The ship was grounded 250 yards offshore and required multiple firings of a Lyle gun to get a line secured for the rescue of the master (William F. Watt) and his six crewmembers. The ship grounded approximately 2 miles south of the Parramore Life Saving Station.
However, Badger believes the wreck uncovered and photographed is the other wreck. That Esk was carrying guano, a popular fertilizer at the time, and a crew of laborers from the Caribbean back to Norfolk. She was swept up in a hurricane on either September 7 or 8, and blown off course. The ship was declared lost with all aboard in 1890.
“News accounts of the other Esk, the one carrying dyewood and bound for Rhode Island, say that the crew was rescued by the life-saving service, but the ship was pounded to pieces in the surf. The Esk carrying the guano sank in deeper water and was preserved until it was washed up in the northeaster,” said the local author.
The Peninsula Enterprise of September 15, 1888 reported: “The British schooner Esk, of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, bound from Maracaibo, South America, to Providence, Rhode Island, with a cargo of 180 tons of dyewood, valued at $3,500, stranded on Parramore’s Beach off the eastern coast of this county, during the furious gale last Saturday night, and the vessel is now a total wreck. The captain, W. F. Watt, and the entire crew, all of Nova Scotia, were rescued by the crew of the life saving station in charge of Capt. N. B. Rich, at imminent peril to their own lives. The cargo was also saved, and is now in the hands of the underwriters. The schooner was valued at $7,500 and partially insured. Capt. Watt, in a letter to us expresses gratitude to Capt. Rich and crew for “noble services rendered him and his crew.”
The remains of the Esk have appeared and disappeared several times over the last 136 years. According to Badger, the ship carrying guano was first uncovered in 1900 during a nor’easter.
The photo of the remains of the Esk was taken several years ago and was included in Shipwrecks of the Virginia Coast.
Despite the depredations of souvenir hunters, worms, rust and shifting sand, substantial portions of the wreck remain, a tribute to the oak timbers that make up her frame and the iron fittings that reinforce them.
“I don’t think anyone really is aware that there were two ships named Esk, and they both wrecked off Parramore within days of each other in 1888,” Badger concluded. “This is one of the great stories of Eastern Shore history.”