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Item of the Week: The Orion, Wrecked Off Montauk, 1815

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 08:50

From the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection

On Sept. 24, 1815, Abraham M. Smith of East Hampton wrote Henry Packer Dering (1762-1822), Sag Harbor's customs collector, with news of a shipwreck the day before at Montauk. The "brig from Petersburg," Russia, carried cargo including "hemp and iron," and Smith writes that it "is entirely lost, and some of the cargo, they expect to save only a small portion of the iron."

While the ship is not identified in this letter, the date, cargo, and location match perfectly with the shipwreck of the Orion, which was lost at Montauk on Sept. 23, 1815, according to Jeannette Edwards Rattray's book "Ship Ashore!"

The Orion was captained by Seth Talbot (1779-1858) and bound for Providence, R.I. Talbot hailed from Dighton, just over the Massachusetts border from Providence. Mrs. Rattray claims the hemp was lost but the entire crew and 200 tons of iron were saved.

The letter refers only to Petersburg, but Mrs. Rattray notes that the ship came from "St. Petersburg and Cronstadt," or Kronstadt, which served as a major shipping and commerce center just outside St. Petersburg under Peter the Great.

What this letter neglects to mention is that this shipwreck coincided with a major New England hurricane. On Sept. 23, 1815, the storm hit Long Island and Connecticut as what is generally agreed to have been at least a Category 3 hurricane, with winds well over 111 miles per hour. While we don't have much record of storm conditions in Montauk, we do know the storm made landfall in Center Moriches before continuing on to hit Saybrook, Conn.

Reports from New England indicated catastrophic flooding. New Bedford, Mass., saw tides rise 12 to 14 feet beyond the high-water mark, and Stonington, Conn., reported tides rising 17 feet. Both Providence and New Bedford lost nearly their entire shipping fleets. 

Yet somehow, the crew of the Orion survived this storm off Montauk, and salvaged tons of iron. 

Andrea Meyer, a librarian and archivist, is head of collection for the East Hampton Library's Long Island Collection.

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