July 8, 1823

The steamship Patent undertakes her first voyage, marking the beginning of steam-powered ferry service between Boston and Portland Maine.

1827

The Abyssinian Church is founded in Portland by the city’s African-American community led by Reuben Ruby. It was an important stop along the Underground Railroad and is reputed to be the third oldest black church in the United States that is still standing.

 

1860

The Prince of Wales visits the city of Portland

July 4, 1866

What begins as a small fire in a boat yard on Commercial Street in Portland develops into a great conflagration. By the time The Great Fire is extinguished, eighteen hundred buildings have been destroyed including numerous landmarks. Incredibly only two deaths are reported.

 

1884

Mark Twain publishes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

October 14 1889

The SS Portland is launched in Bath, Maine.

June 14, 1890

The SS Portland undertakes her maiden voyage to Boston.

February 18, 1898

The USS Maine explodes and sinks in Havana Harbor Cuba. The incident leads to hostilities between Spain and the United States. Ironically more Americans will be killed during the 36 hours of the Portland Gale then will be killed in combat during the ensuing Spanish-American War.

November 26, 1898

The SS Portland is docked at India wharf in Boston taking on freight. Many individuals wishing to return to Maine from Thanksgiving family visits in Massachusetts book reservations. The Portland’s Captain is Hollis H. Blanchard. Blanchard has recently been promoted from pilot to Captain.

November 26, 1898 | 10:30 a.m.

The Weather Bureau orders red flags raised as storm signals along the eastern seaboard from Norfolk, Virginia to Eastport, Maine as a storm develops off of Cape Hatteras North Carolina.

November 26, 1898 | 12:00 p.m.

The Weather Bureau releases their forecast for the day.

November 26, 1898 | afternoon

Captain Blanchard goes to the Weather Bureau’s office in Boston to discuss the forecast with meteorologist John W. Smith. Blanchard also has a phone conversation with Alexander C. Dennison, Captain of the Portland’s sister ship, the Bay State, docked in Portland. Dennison informs Blanchard that he will not leave port due to the increasingly bad weather.

November 26, 1898 | 5:30 p.m.

The Portland Steam Packet Co. general manager, John F. Liscomb, telephones from Portland and speaks with Boston agent of the line C.F. Williams. Captain Blanchard cannot be found at the time. Liscomb allegedly tells Williams to instruct Captain Blanchard to hold the Portland at its dock until nine p.m. and to not sail if the weather gets worse.

November 26, 1898 | 7:00 p.m.

The SS Portland promptly casts off her lines at India Wharf and proceeds into Boston Harbor. As the steamer leaves Boston’s outer harbor snow begins to fall and the wind picks up.

November 26, 1898 | 9:30 p.m.

The fishing schooner Maude S, Captained by William Thomas, is making its way towards Gloucester Harbor. Thomas sites the Portland making her way north. At this time the Portland is off of Bass Rocks, southwest of the twin lighthouses on Thatcher’s Island.

 

November 26, 1898 | 9:45 p.m.

Captain Lynes B. Hathaway watches the Portland’s lights as she passes Thatcher’s Island.

 

November 26, 1898 | 11:00 p.m.

Captain Reuben Cameron of the schooner Grayling sights the Portland twelve miles south and east of Thatcher’s Island. The weather continues to worsen.

November 26, 1898 | 11:45 p.m.

The schooner Edgar Randall barely avoids a collision with what the Captain believes to be the steamer Portland. Her location is 14 miles east-southeast of Eastern Point, Gloucester. She is headed west towards the safety of Gloucester harbor and, according to the Randall’s captain, her superstructure is damaged and her lights are out.

November 26, 1898 | overnight

The storm grows increasingly worse. The wind gauge at Highland Light at the tip of Cape Cod registers ninety miles an hour before it is torn away. The SS Portland is not sighted again that night but she must have been driven by the wind across Massachusetts Bay towards Cape Cod.

 

November 27, 1898 | 5:45 a.m.

Samuel O. Fisher of the Race Point Life-Saving Station hears “four short blasts,” from a steam whistle and sends a man onto the beach to search for a ship in distress. No ship is sighted.

 

November 27, 1898 | 8:30 a.m.

The weather temporarily abates as the wind dies down and the clouds part. The fishing boat Ruth M. Martin, captained by Michael Francis Hogan, has spent a harrowing night off of Cape Cod trying to weather the storm. She is attempting to make her way into Provincetown harbor. Captain Hogan will later assert that he and his crew saw a large side-wheeled steamer that they are sure was the Portland that morning. Captain Hogan claims that the ship was in view for a couple of hours before the storm’s ferocity once again increases and blots the steamer from sight. He and his crew will be the last men to ever see the doomed steamer afloat.

 

November 27, 1898 | 7:30 p.m.

Surfman John J. Johnson of the Peaked Hill Bars Life Saving Station, while on patrol along the beach, spots an object in the pounding surf. It proves to be a life belt with the words Str. Portland stenciled on it. Soon after he discovers a large milk can with markings indicating that it is from the Turner Center creamery of Maine.

November 27, 1898 | 11:00 p.m.

Large quantities of wreckage from the Portland begin to wash ashore including doors, mattresses, light bulbs, chairs, and wooden panels. The wreckage is concentrated on the beach between the Race Point and Peaked Hill Bars Life Saving Stations.

November 28, 1898 | 2:20 a.m.

Surfman Gideon Bowley of the High Head Life Saving Station is patrolling the beach when he comes upon the body of an African American man wearing a life belt from the SS Portland. Over the course of the day additional bodies are found along the beach.

 

November 28, 1898 | 2:00 p.m.

the Portland’s sister ship, Bay State, arrives in Boston Harbor from the city of Portland and reports no sighting of the Portland on her route.

 

November 28, 1898 | afternoon

Boston Herald reporter Charles F. Ward, based out of Chatham, receives part of a telegraph message over a private telegraph line from Highland Light to Hyannis. The message is from Isaac M. Small, Marine reporting agent for the Boston Chamber of Commerce. Small’s coded message states the following: “Wrst strm in yrs…part of cliff gone…wind over 100 mph…bad washout btwen Truro and Ptown…sevrl schooners on beach…wreckage piling up…We think Str. Portland piled up on peaked Hill Bars Sunday…Believe all perished…5 bodies ashore…Have much wreckage…Including tonnage board marked 2283…Looks like Portland…Not sure.” Then the telegraph line went dead. Ward confirmed that the wreckage was indeed from the Portland by consulting a friend’s Ship’s Register which contained specifications of various ships operating in the region. The Register confirmed that the Portland’s tonnage was, in fact, 2283 tons. Ward had just established the fate of the Portland. However, the rest of the New England still anxiously awaits news of the overdue steam ship. Ward cannot reach the Boston Herald’s office as the telegraph lines from Cape Cod to Boston have been severed by the storm. He sets out for the Hyannis train station.

 

November 28, 1898 | afternoon

Anxious relatives of those who sailed aboard the Portland begin to gather at the Portland Steam Packet offices, in both Portland and in Boston, hoping to get some word about the fate of their loved ones.

 

November 28, 1898 | 6:30 p.m.

Reporter Charles Ward boards a work train in Hyannis. The train is setting out to clear the tracks that have been damaged by the ferocity of the storm. The train only makes it as far as East Sandwich, the tracks having been washed out by the storm. Ward abandons the train and begins walking along the partially submerged tracks. He is determined to reach the office of the Boston Globe with his momentous news.

November 29, 1898

The news of Portland’s fate is still unknown to the outside world. Officials at the Portland Steam Packet offices and the press still hold out hope that the ship may be found.

 

November 29, 1898 | early morning

Reporter Charles Ward, after walking for several hours at night in the extreme cold approaches Sandwich village were he has a cup of hot coffee and borrows a farmer’s horse. He proceeds to Buzzards Bay were he catches the first train to Boston to depart since the storm began.

November 29, 1898 | 11:00 a.m.

Charles Ward arrives in Boston and makes his way through the snow bound streets to the office of the Boston Herald. He is physically exhausted from his strenuous and lengthy trip. He manages to tell the editor of the Herald that the Portland has been wrecked on Peaked Hill Bars and that all aboard are thought to have perished before he loses consciousness.

December 1, 1898

Boston Globe reporter Frank Stayan had spent the previous days in Orleans combing the beach for information that would help identify the bodies washing ashore. Although almost forty bodies had been recovered at this time only fourteen had been positively identified. Stayan wants to get the names of those positively identified to his editor but is unable to make his report to the Globe because another storm has cut all the telegraph lines. Stayan walks to one of the few buildings in the town that has its lights on. By chance he has stumbled upon a relay station of the French Cable that conveys messages from New York to France. Desperate to get his story to the Globe Stayan asks the telegraph operator if he can send a message to Boston? The man tells him the line runs under the Atlantic to France but does not touch Boston. The operator, however, is able to send a message to Brest, France. From there the message is sent to London. From London the message is sent along British Postal Service lines to Ireland, and then along another trans-Atlantic cable to Canso, Nova Scotia. From there the message is sent down the coast of New England to Boston. Hence the first positive identification of the Portland’s passengers travels thousands of miles in mere seconds and arrives in Boston which is less then one hundred miles away.

December 8, 1898

The Boston Globe sponsors an expedition headed by Navy Lieutenant Nicholas J. Halpine to attempt to ascertain the resting place of the SS Portland. A heavy chain is dragged between two tugboats where the ship is thought to have sunk, a sandbar named Peaked Hill Bar. After several days of searching, the Globe concludes that the Portland did not sink on Peaked Hill Bar. Over the years fishing trawlers bring a number of objects attributed to the Portland to the surface of Massachusetts Bay.

December 23, 1898

The first suit against the Portland Steam Packet Co. is filed. It claims that the company was negligent in allowing the Portland to proceed to sea despite the forecast of inclement weather. It also claims that the Portland’s safety equipment, life boats and life preservers, were insufficient. The suit is filed on behalf of Nathan Cohen whose son, Samuel, perished aboard the steamer. In the following months an additional 54 claims, totaling $494,626 in damages, will be filed against the company.

December 26, 1898

The Portland Steamship Co. denies all liability for the Portland tragedy and requests that the U.S. District Court in Portland recognize the company’s lack of liability in the disaster. District court judge Nathan B. Webb declines the plea.

May 16, 1899

The company’s limited liability suit begins in earnest. The company calls upon a long list of witnesses to testify to the Portland’s construction, her adequate safety equipment, and the ferocity of the gale in which she sank. After two days of testimony Judge Webb declares the loss of the Portland an, “act of God.” He orders the company to pay for some of their court costs and declares the case closed.

 

1908

The Ford Motor Company begins production of the Model T automobile.

 

April 15, 1912

The RMS Titanic strikes an iceberg in the North Atlantic on her maiden voyage and sinks, drowning 1,517 of her 2,223 passengers and crew.

1916

The Abyssinian Church in Portland is dissolved. Its membership had been greatly reduced by the Portland disaster, at least 17 church members and two deacons are victims of the Portland tragedy. By 1912 its membership is down to seven parishioners.

September 23, 1916

the Portland’s sister ship, the Bay State runs aground on Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Although all passengers and crew are brought safely to shore the vessel is a total loss.

 

1918

After 74 years of continual ferry service between Boston and Portland the Eastern Steamship Corporation, formerly the Portland Steam Packet Co., closes its doors. This leaves Portland without direct steamship service between the city and the other major ports in the North East. The stated reason for terminating the service is the prohibitive cost of maintenance. Almost certainly competition, in both passenger and freight service, from regional railroads contributes to the line’s demise.

June 1945

New England’s greatest maritime historian, Edward R. Snow, launches his own expedition to find the gravesite of the lost steamer. He has been inspired by the recent discovery of items attributed to the Portland and found by fishermen while dragging in Massachusetts Bay. Snow believes that the wreck of the Portland sits on Peaked Hill Bar. Snow hires diver Al George to dive on what Snow believes to be the location of the doomed steamer. George discovers a wreck in the approximate location the Portland is believed to have sunk in. Snow is convinced that this wreckage is that of the Portland but others remain unconvinced.

August 29, 2002

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announce that they have discovered the location of the SS Portland’s wreckage. The wreck lies on Stellwagen Bank in Massachusetts Bay. The agency, in tandem with the Historic Maritime Group of New England and The National Undersea Research Center for the North Atlantic and Great Lakes at the University of Connecticut, use a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to capture video and high-resolution images of the wreck. The wreck is found to be sitting upright on the ocean floor, its hull still intact.

 

2008

Five recreational sport divers become the first individuals to dive on the wreck of the SS Portland. The arduous endeavor requires the use of dry suits and other specialized equipment. The dive takes three to four hours as the divers must stop at different depths as they return to the surface to avoid decompression sickness, commonly referred to as “the bends.” the Portland’s grave is 460 feet below the surface.