This Week in History, March 1, 1914The last great sailing ship to wreck on Block Island
This week in history 99 years ago — at 5 a.m. on March 1, 1914 — the pretty, four-masted schooner Jacob S. Winslow struck Black Rock in calm weather and at low tide, becoming the last great sailing ship to wreck on Block Island.
The following morning the Winslow was a twisted hulk, and the beaches for hundreds of yards along Mohegan Bluffs were piled with the lumber the ship was carrying.
The captain and crew of eight men reached land safely, but several returned to the ship hoping to secure her against a rising southeast wind. After an hour, all except the engineer had come back to shore. But the wind increased further, later reaching 84 m.p.h., stranding him.
Lifesavers under Capt. William Teal (1873-1951), from the West Side Station on Cooneymus Road, fired a small “shot-line” from the beach. Attached to the shot-line was a thicker lifeline that would let the stranded sailor ride safely to shore on a pulley, hanging above the water in a harness. Three times the line was successfully shot across the schooner’s deck, but against the storm the engineer could not pull the thick line aboard.
As the Winslow began breaking up, the engineer climbed the mainmast, which soon fell into the water, forcing him to swim for shore holding the smaller shot-line as an aid. When nearly to safety, some of the tossing timbers from the cargo struck him and the tide and surf swept him away. His battered body was later pulled to the beach — he was still alive but later the engineer died.
The Winslow had sailed from Fernandina, Florida, her decks piled high with a cargo of 600,000 feet of hard pine.
As the photo shows, islanders salvaged much of that lumber from the cove, which can be reached today by going almost a mile down Black Rock Road to the end, descending the old wagon path to the beach and walking to the right around the next point.
Some of the salvaged wood went into buildings on the island — at the Big Barn on Lewis Farm; at the original “Island Light and Power Plant” built in the mid-1920s; and at Capt. George King’s house near Grace’s Cove (Plat 15/125), built about 1917, but destroyed by fire after his death in the 1950s.
Although no larger sailing ship has since been destroyed on Block Island, for another quarter century even larger steamships would wreck on the island’s shores, until the last, the freighter Essex, in 1941.