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About Fortunatus Bassett
Added by E. C. Nickerson: Fortunatus Bassett Sr. died aboard the brig General Arnold. The following is from the History of the Town of Plymouth by James Thacher (Boston: Marsh, Capen & Lyon 1835) at pages 210-211: Fortunatus served in the French and Indian War in 1761-1762 and in Revolutionary War in the Sea Coast Defence as a second lieutenant from 1775-1776 and as a first lieutenant in the Massachusetts 14th Regiment under Col. Gamaliel Bradford. His last service was aboard the privateer brig General Arnold and the tragedy that befell that ship December 26-27, 1778 1778. --- December 26th and 27th. The inhabitants of this town were called to witness a catastrophe, truly appalling to humanity. The brig General Arnold, mounting 20 guns, having a crew of 105 men and boys, commanded by Captain James Magee of Boston, sailed from that port on Thursday, 24th of December, bound on a cruise. On Friday, anchored off Plymouth harbor, being destitute of a pilot. In the night a heavy gale drove her on the White Flat. She soon filled with water and it became necessary to cut away the masts. Unfortunately, a great disturbance was occasioned by intoxication among some of the seamen in the steerage, which was with difficulty quelled by the officers. A tremendous storm of wind and snow came on, and a considerable number of men died on Saturday afternoon and in the night. Three men, not of the crew, being on board, took the yawl, and passed eight or ten rods to the ice, and were taken on board a schooner that was frozen in. Had the boat been returned as promised, many lives would have been saved.
Sunday morning [December 27th], the vessel was seen in a most distressful situation, enveloped in ice and snow, and the whole shore was frozen to a solid body of ice, the winds and waves raging with such dreadful violence that no possible relief could be afforded to the miserable sufferers. The inhabitants made every effort to reach the wreck in boats, but were obliged to put back, although aware that the seamen were in the arms of death, and when the miserable victims on board saw the boats returning leaving them in a condition of utter hopelessness, their spirits were appalled, and numbers were seen to fall dead on the deck. On Monday, the inhabitants passed over the ice to the wreck. Here was presented a scene unutterably awful and distressing. It is scarcely possible for the human mind to conceive of a more appalling spectacle. The ship was sunk ten feet in the sand, the waves had been for about thirty-six hours sweeping the main deck, the men had crowded to the quarter deck, and even here they were obliged to pile together dead bodies to make room for the living. Seventy dead bodies frozen into all imaginable postures were strewed over the deck, or attached to the shrouds and spars; about thirty exhibited signs of live, but were unconscious whether in life or death. The bodies remained in the posture in which they died, the features dreadfully distorted; some were erect, some bending forward, some sitting with the head resting on the knees, and some with both arms extended, clinging to spars or some parts of the vessel. The few survivors and the dead bodies, were brought over the ice on sleds and boards, and the dead were piled on the floor of the court house, exhibiting a scene calculated to impress even the most callous heart with deep humility and sorrow. It has been said that the Rev. Mr. Robbins fainted when called to perform the religious solemnities. Those bodies that were to be deposited in coffins were first put into the town brook; a considerable number were seen floating on the water, fastened by ropes, that their form might be made to conform to the coffin. But about sixty were thrown into a large pit as they were taken from the vessel. This pit is in a hollow on the southwest side of the burial ground, and remains without a stone. The greater part of those who were found alive, expired soon after. Capt. Magee survived, and performed several profitable voyages afterwards. He abstained entirely from drinking ardent spirits, but was of opinion that he was greatly benefitted by putting rum into his boots. Those who drank rum were more immediate victims, several being found dead in the very spot where they drank it. A man named Downs, belonging to Barnstable, was apparently dead, but on being seen to move his eyelids, was put into a vessel of cold water for several hours, by which he was resuscitated, but with the most exquisite pain. He lost both of his feet, but lived many years after. Among those who perished were Dr. Mann, of Attleborough, Dr. Sears, Captain John Russell, of Barnstable, commander of the marines, and Lieutenant Daniel Hall. The two last were buried in one grave on the south side of the burial hill. Note. -- It should be observed that when persons are exposed to intense cold there is always a propensity to sleep, but the moment it is indulged it becomes the sleep of death. /ECN/