Shipwrecks and lifesaving in Orleans date back to the winter of 1626-1627, approximately 170 years before the town separated from Eastham and was formally incorporated. During that winter, the Sparrowhawk, carrying passengers bound for Jamestown from England was wrecked in a violent storm in the dangerous waters off of what became Orleans. Aid was first provided by local Native Americans, who also notified the colonists at Plymouth of the wreck. William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony, personally led a rescue mission which crossed Cape Cod Bay by water, landed at Namskaket Creek, and traversed what is now Orleans via Arey’s Pond, to the site of the wreck. Bradford’s “lifesavers” brought much needed supplies, as the survivors had run out of food and water prior to the wreck, and many, including the captain, were sick. After an aborted attempt to repair the ship and a second wreck, the survivors were ultimately taken to Plymouth, and remarkably, no deaths are evident in the record of this first Orleans lifesaving mission.
For nearly two centuries after the Sparrowhawk rescue, there were no organized efforts to aid those who were involved in shipwrecks in the dangerous waters off Cape Cod’s shores. Those who found themselves cast up on the shores or sandbars of Cape Cod were at the mercy of whoever found them, if anyone did. Victims who made it to shore would have found a desolate shoreline with no one around.
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