Very memorable was the Providence of God towards Mr. Ephraim How, of New-Haven, in New England, who was for an whole twelvemoneth given up by his friends as a dead man; but God preserved him alive in a desolate island where he had suffered shipwrack, and at last returned him home to his family.

The history of this Providence might have been mentioned amongst "Sea Deliverances," yet considering it was not only so, I shall here record what himself (being a godly man) did relate of the Lords marvelous dispensations towards him, that so others might be incouraged to put their trust in God, in the times of their greatest straits and difficulties.

On the 25th of August, in the year 1676, the said Skipper How, with his two eldest sons, set sail from NewHaven for Boston, in a small ketch, burden 17 tun, or thereabout. After the dispatch of their business there, they set sail from thence for New-Haven again, on the 10th of September following; but contrary winds forced them back to Boston, where the said How was taken ill with a violent flux, which distemper continued near a Moneth, many being at that time sick of the same disease, which proved mortal to some. The merciful providence of God having spared his life, and restored him to some measure of health, he again set sail from Boston, October 10. By a fair wind they went forward so as to make Cape Cod; but suddenly the weather became very tempestuous, so as that they could not seize the Cape, but were forced off to sea, where they were endangered in a small vessel by very fearful storms and outrageous winds and seas. Also, his eldest son fell sick and died in about eleven days after they set out to sea. He was no sooner dead but his other son fell sick and died too. This was a bitter cup to the good father. It is noted in 1 Chron, vii, 22, "that when the sons of Ephraim were dead, Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him." This Ephraim when his sons were dead his friends on shore knew it not, nor could they come to comfort him; but when his friends and relations could not, the Lord himself did, for they died after so sweet, gracious, and comfortable a manner, as that their father professed he had joy in parting with them. Yet now their outward distress and danger was become greater, since the skipper's two sons were the only help he had in working the vessel. Not long after, another of the company, viz. Caleb Jones (son to Mr. William Jones, one of the worthy magistrates in New-Haven), fell sick and died also, leaving the world with comfortable manifestations of true repentance towards God, and faith in Jesus Christ. Thus the one-half of their company was taken away, none remaining but the skipper himself, one Mr. Augur, and a boy. He himself was still sickly, and in a very weak estate, yet was fain to stand at the helm thirty-six hours and twenty-four hours at a time: in the meantime, the boisterous sea overwhelming the vessel, so as that if he had not been lasht fast he had certainly been washed overboard. In this extremity he was at a loss in his own thoughts, whether they should persist in striving for the New England shore, or bear away for the southern islands. He proposed that question to Mr. Augur; they resolved that they would first seek to God by prayer about it, and then put this difficult case to an issue, by casting a lot. So they did, and the lot fell on New England. By that time a moneth was expired, they lost the rudder of their vessel, so that now they had nothing but God alone to rely upon. In this deplorable state were they for a fortnight. The skipper (though infirm, as has been expressed), yet for six weeks together was hardly ever dry; nor had they the benefit of warm food for more than thrice or thereabouts. At the end of six weeks, in the morning betimes, the vessel was driven on the tailings of a ledge of rocks, where the sea broke violently; looking out they espied a dismal rocky island to the leeward, upon which, if the Providence of God had not by the breakers given them timely warning, they had been dashed in pieces. And this extremity was the Lords opportunity to appear for their deliverance; they immediately let go an anchor, and get out the boat; and God made the sea calm. The boat proved leaky; and being in the midst of fears and amazements they took little out of the vessel. After they came ashoar they found themselves in a rocky desolate island (near Cape Sables), where was neither man nor beast to be seen, so that now they were in extream danger of being starved to death. But a storm arose which beat violently upon the vessel at anchor, so as that it was staved in pieces, and a cask of powder was brought ashore (receiving no damage by its being washed in the water), also a barrel of wine, and half a barrel of molosses, together with many things useful for a tent to preserve them from cold. This notwithstanding, new and great distresses attended them; for though they had powder and shot, there were seldom any fowls to be seen in that dismal and desolate place, excepting a few crows, ravens, and gulls; these were so few as that for the most part the skipper shot at one at a time. Many times half of one of these fowls, with the liquor, made a meal for three. Once they lived five dayes without any sustenance, at which time they did not feel themselves pincht with hunger as at other times, the Lord in mercy taking away their appetites when their food did utterly fail them. After they had been about twelve weeks in this miserable island, Mr. How's dear friend and consort, Mr. Augur, died, so that he had no living creature but the lad before mentioned to converse with; and on April 2, 1677, that lad died also, so that the master was now left alone upon the island, and continued so to be above a quarter of a year, not having any living soul to converse with. In this time he saw several fishing vessels sailing by, and some came nearer the island than that which at last took him in; but though he used what means he could that they might be acquainted with his distress, none came to him, being afraid; for they supposed him to be one of those Indians who were then in hostility against the English. The good man, whilest he was in his desolate estate, kept many dayes of fasting and prayer, wherein he did confess and bewail his sins, the least of which deserved greater evils than any in this world ever were or can be subject unto; and begged of God that he would find out a way for his deliverance. At last it came into his mind that he ought very solemnly to praise God (as well as pray unto him) for the great mercies and signal preservations which he had thus far experienced. Accordingly he set apart a day for that end, spending the time in giving thanks to God for all the mercies of his life, so far as he could call them to mind, and in special, for those Divine favours which had been mingled with his afflictions; humbly blessing God for his wonderful goodness in preserving him alive by a miracle of mercy. Immediately after this, a vessel, belonging to Salem in New England, providentially passing by that island, sent their boat on shore, and took in Skipper How, who arrived at Salem, July 18, 1677, and was at last returned to his family in New-Haven.

Upon this occasion it may not be amiss to commemorate a providence not altogether unlike unto the but now related preservation of Skipper How. The story which I intend is mentioned by Mandelslo in his Travails, page 280, and more fully by Mr. Clark in his Examples, vol. ii, page 618, Mr. Burton in his Prodigies of Mercies, page 209. Yet inasmuch as but few in this countrey have the authors mentioned, I shall here insert what has been by them already published. The story is in brief as followeth:--

"In the year 1616, a Fleming, whose name was Pickman, coming from Norway in a vessel loaden with boards, was overtaken by a calm, during which the current carried him upon a rock or little island towards the extremities of Scotland. To avoid a wreck he commanded some of his men to go into the shallop, and to tow the ship; they having done so, would needs go up into a certain rock to look for birds eggs; but as soon as they were got up into it, they at some distance perceived a man, whence they imagined that there were others lurking thereabouts, and that this man had made his escape thither from some pyrates, who, if not prevented, might surprise their ship; and therefore they made all the hast they could to their shallop, and so returned to their ship; but the calm continuing, and the current of the sea still driving them upon the island, they were forced to get into the long-boat, and to tow her off again. The man whom they had seen before was in the meantime come to the brink of the island, and made signs with his hands lifted up, and sometimes falling on his knees, and joyning his hands together, begging and crying to them for relief. At first they made some difficulty to get to him, but at last, being overcome by his lamentable signs, they went nearer the island, where they saw something that was more like a ghost than a living person; a body stark naked, black and hairy, a meagre and deformed countenance, with hollow and distorted eyes, which raised such compassion in them, that they essayed to take him into the boat; but the rock was so steepy thereabouts, that it was impossible for them to land; whereupon they went about the island, and came at last to a flat shore, where they took the man aboard. They found nothing at all in the island, neither grass nor tree, nor ought else from which a man could procure any subsistence, nor any shelter, but the ruins of a boat, wherewith he had made a kind of a hutt, under which he might lie down and shelter himself against the injuries of wind and weather. No sooner were they gotten to the ship, but there arose a wind that drave them off from the island; observing this providence they were the more inquisitive to know of this man, what he was, and by what means he came unto that uninhabitable place? Hereunto the man answered:--


I am an Englishman, that about a year ago, was to pass in the ordinary passage-boat from England to Dublin in Ireland; but by the way we were taken by a French pirate, who being immediately forced by a tempest, which presently arose, to let our boat go; we were three of us in it, left to the mercy of the wind and waves, which carried us between Ireland and Scotland into the main sea: in the meantime we had neither food nor drink, but only some sugar in the boat; upon this we lived, and drank our own urine, till our bodies were so dried up, that we could make no more; whereupon one of our company, being quite spent, died, whom we heaved overboard; and awhile after a second was grown so feeble, that he had laid himself along in the boat, ready to give up the ghost: but in this extremity it pleased God that I kenned this island afar off, and thereupon encouraged the dying man to rouse up himself with hopes of life; and accordingly, upon this good news, he raised himself up, and by and by our boat was cast upon this island, and split against a rock. Now we were in a more wretched condition than if we had been swallowed up by the sea, for then we had been delivered out of the extremities we were now in for want of meat and drink; yet the Lord was pleased to make some provision for us: for on the island we took some sea-mews, which we did eat raw: we found also in the holes of the rocks, upon the sea-side, some eggs; and thus had we through God's good Providence wherewithal to subsist, as much as would keep us from starving: but what we thought most unsupportable, was thirst, in regard that the place afforded no fresh water but what fell from the clouds, and was left in certain pits, which time had made in the rock. Neither could we have this at all seasons, by reason that the rock being small, and lying low, in stormy weather the waves dashed over it, and filled the pits with salt-water. When they came first upon the island, about the midst of it they found two long stones pitched in the ground, and a third laid upon them, like a table, which they judged to have been so placed by some fishermen to dry their fish upon, and under this they lay in the nights, till with some boards of their boat, they made a kind of an hutt to be a shelter for them. In this condition they lived together for the space of about six weeks, comforting one another, and finding some ease in their common calamity, till at last, one of them being left alone, the burden became almost insupportable: for one day, awaking in the morning, he missed his fellow, and getting up, he went calling and seeking all the island about for him; but when he could by no means find him, he fell into such despair, that he often resolved to have cast himself down into the sea, and so to put a final period to that affliction, whereof he had endured but the one-half whilst he had a friend that divided it with him. What became of his comrade he could not guess, whether despair forced him to that extremity, or whether getting up in the night, not fully awake, he fell from the rock, as he was looking for birds eggs; for he had discovered no distraction in him, neither could imagine that he could on a sudden fall into that despair, against which he had so fortified himself by frequent and fervent prayer. And his loss did so affect the survivor, that he often took his leer, with a purpose to have leaped from the rocks into the sea; yet still his conscience stopped him, suggesting to him, that if he did it, he would be utterly damned for his self murther.

"Another affliction also befel him, which was this: his only knife, wherewith he cut up the sea-dogs and seamews, having a bloody cloth about it, was carried away (as he thought) by some fowl of prey; so that, not being able to kill any more, he was reduced to this extremity, with much difficulty to get out of the boards of his hutt a great nail, which he made shift so to sharpen upon the stones, that it served him instead of a knife. When winter came on, he endured the greatest misery imaginable; for many times the rock and his hutt were so covered with snow, that it was not possible for him to go abroad to provide his food, which extremity put him upon this invention:-- He put out a little stick at the crevice of his hutt, and baiting it with a little sea-dogs fat, by that means he got some sea-mews, which he took with his hand from under the snow, and so kept himself from starving. In this sad and solitary condition he lived for about eleven months, expecting therein to end his dayes, when Gods gracious providence sent this ship thither, which delivered him out of the greatest misery that ever man was in. The master of the ship, commiserating his deplorable condition, treated him so well, that within a few dayes he was quite another creature; and afterwards he set him a shore at Derry, in Ireland; and sometimes after he saw him at Dublin; where such as heard what had happened unto him, gave him money wherewithal to return into his native countrey of England."

Thus far is that relation.


From: A History of Gods Remarkable Providences in Colonial New England by Increase Mather, pag. 40-49, 1997, Back Home Industries, Milwaukie, OR, USA.