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Storied Rocks of Cohasset

Lucy E. Treat

From Lucy E. Treat, "Storied Rocks of Cohasset," Cohasset Cottager, n.d. (probably late 7930s).

Along the Massachusetts coast, nature has thrown up rocky bulwarks to withstand the furious onslaught of the sea. The cliffs at Newport, the rocky headlands of Cape Ann, the sea ledges off Cohasset, even the clay bounds of the Highland Light act as natural barriers to the sea and say defiantly to its onrushing waters, "Thus far shalt thou come and no farther." Very few coastal towns of Massachusetts have such a rocky shoreline and as many sunken ledges as has Cohasset. Very aptly was it called by the Indians Konahasset [Quonahassit], a long, rocky place.

It has been said that, to the many who know etymology, every word is a picture. Truly to him who is acquainted with Cohasset's sea ledges, every rock bears a significant name or suggests a story. Some have received names descriptive of their contours, like Barrel Rock and Hogshead Rock. Several have acquired names from local industries, like Windmill Point and Quarry Point. Others have become associated with tragic wrecks, as the Lighthouse Rock, in the center of Sandy Cove [but now buried in sand], so called because in the great Lighthouse Storm of 1851, wreckage from the old light was cast upon this rock. In the early days when no channel buoys marked the safe course of navigation, Cohasset's ledges were a challenge to the mariner. Either he must be very familiar with every rock off the shore, both sunken ledges and those on the surface of the water, or see his ship piled upon these very rocks, a tragic wreck.

We are reminded by the two names Quarry Point and Windmill Point of two means of livelihood for the early settlers. In the days of salt making, a salt mill whirled its arms for several years over the chasm on Windmill Point. Across the cove on Quarry Point, about the year 1840, a lucrative business in stone cutting was being carried on. Men were busy cutting out huge blocks of granite and loading them by means of a derrick onto a boxcar, which was then hauled by oxen down the railway across the rocks to the water's edge. Then again, by means of a derrick, the blocks were raised to the decks of large sloops called the stone fleet, which came down each week from Boston for a load of stone. Remains of iron cogs in the rocks show the course of the railway, and drill holes in the rocks show where the blocks of stone were cut out.

Off the shore lies Brush Island, Cohasset's only island that has any verdure, hence its name. As early as 1795, the Humane Society had a but of refuge there. The earliest recorded wreck off Cohasset was that of the Danish brig Gertrude Maria, which ran ashore on the jagged rocks of this island. For several years an old couple, Aunt Coop and her husband [according to Cohasset Genealogies, the first names were Sarah and John], were the only inhabitants. Captain Nicolas Tower later bought the island, then sold it to Edward Cunningham, one of Cohasset's early summer residents. Possibly it was because the latter was a tea merchant engaged in the China trade that he built his house on the Chinese plan. It was an oddly built but charmingly located camp. None of the rooms connected with one another, but opened directly on a piazza.

Black Rock is another small island off the shore. Gunners usually have a shanty here, and in the great storm of '98, three shipwrecked men found refuge there for several days.

The only rock that bears an Indian name is Quamino. It is said that an old Indian of that name, from around Pembroke, used to come down and fish here when he got hungry for saltwater perch. Anyone who has fished off Quamino knows that the Indian chose good fishing ground.

Just beyond Quamino lies beautifully rounded Sutton Rock, named for one of Cohasset's good old deacons just why is not known. This is a fine ledge for sea moss, and the deep hole on the shore side of the rock was a popular and safe anchorage for Cohasset vessels in the fishing days.

The outer ledges the Grampus, West Shag, the Sea Ledges, and the Minots--all seem to run in a general southeast direction. East Shag, the Collamores, and Cowen's off Scituate seem to run in about the same direction. The Grampus bears the name of a small whale, probably because the shape of the ledge bears some resemblance to that mammal. This reef, out of water only at half tide, has swallowed almost as many victims as a whale. More vessels have been wrecked on the Grampus than on any of the other ledges. In the early packet days, the Glide, which ran between Plymouth and Boston, grounded on the ledge and filled. The deck load of fishermen's dories, which the packet was carrying, floated off, a real bonanza for salvaging wreckers.

East Shag and West Shag do not at all belie their names. The emigrant brig St. John grounded back of West Shag, drifted down on the ledge, and split open, spilling out the emigrants, who were barred below decks. The salt mills at Sandy Cove were on that occasion turned into morgues. Bodies drifting ashore were laid out in the mills until they could be claimed or properly taken care of.

Lying outside of West Shag is a rock whose top is so rounded that it is called Hogshead Rock. Off this rock is good cod fishing ground. A brig loaded with turpentine went ashore on this rock in the early days, and all were lost.

The name Gull Ledge is easily explained if one has ever seen the gulls holding a convention on the rocks. In the good old wrecking days, the ship Mac Mazzalo, loaded with boxes of refined sugar, went ashore just off the ledge. Since the watchman was a man who, after being treated, was not at all concerned about the cargo, everyone stole a box who could. Sugar doughnuts were a luxury not accounted for in many a Cohasset home that winter.

The names Inner and Outer Minot are self explanatory. On the night before Thanksgiving in 1847, the ship Alabama struck on Minot's and drifted off to the east. She was not seen again until the following spring, when Captain George Hall discovered her lying off North Scituate, with her topgallant just out of water. A diver, sent down to find her condition, reported that her decks had broken open. Then the wreckers got busy. Crates of crockery, cutlery, and ship's tools were hauled up by means of large wrecking tongs. When a sufficiently large quantity had been taken ashore, the articles were auctioned off on Captain Hall's wharf.

Black Ledge, off Kimball's, is really the darkest of the sea ledges. This reef was the undoing of the ship California in 1857. The cargo sugar, molasses, and gin was most healthful and satisfying for the wreckers. The story is told of uncle S that, after drinking a little too much of the gin, his muscles failed to coordinate and he fell overboard. After being pulled out by his companions, he almost at once fell in again, but this time into a barrel of molasses. The tails of his long coat began to freeze and curl up, so that when the boat came ashore, Uncle S sat in the stern looking like a real Jackin the pulpit.

Nearer the Scituate shore but plainly visible from Cohasset beaches are the Collamores, named for Captain Anthony Collamore, who ran ashore there in his vessel on his way to the North River. The Chittendons, just beyond, bear the name of that ship building yard on the North River.

Three miles off Cohasset's shore, the tall gray tower of Minot's arises on its reef and faithfully flashes to mariners its timely warning to keep well off the rockbound shore of Cohasset.