Shipwreck remains at Pilgrim Hall Museum are most likely from the Sparrow-Hawk, study finds

Historians have believed the remains were from the Sparrow-Hawk for a long time, but now they have scientific evidence that they are.

The Sparrow-Hawk shipwreck was last on display at Pilgrim Hall in 2007. Photo courtesy of Pilgrim Hall Museum

An archeological study of timbers displayed at the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth has found it likely the timbers came from a ship that brought Irish immigrants to Plymouth 400 years ago, The Boston Globe reported.

The shipwreck, known as the “Sparrow-Hawk,” brought 25 passengers from Europe to America in 1626, according to the Pilgrim Hall Museum. The ship was bound for Virginia, but landed in distress on Cape Cod after six weeks of enduring stormy waters.

Two survivors were rescued by members of the indigenous Nauset nation and taken to the newly formed Plimouth Colony. The survivors told Gov. William Bradford what had happened, and he sent a boat to rescue the stranded passengers and crew.


The Pilgrims gave the former passengers of the Sparrow-Hawk, who were largely Irish indentured servants, food and shelter. Finally, nine months later, two ships heading for Virginia took them to their destination.

According to the museum, after the Sparrow-Hawk wrecked, it was buried in sand and mud in Orleans. In 1862, the remains were uncovered after a storm, and the hull was removed and reassembled. The hull was exhibited in many cities, and then presented to the Pilgrim Society in 1889.

Exposed by a storm in 1863, the timbers of the shipwrecked Sparrow-Hawk were exhibited on the Boston Common in 1865. – (Josiah Johnson Hawes)

According to the museum, the Sparrow-Hawk is the only surviving remains of a 17th century trans-Atlantic ship.

The ship’s 109 timbers have been “disassembled, measured, drawn, and exhibited many times,” Pilgrim Hall’s executive director, Donna Curtin told the Globe, “but they have never been fully examined archeologically or forensically until now.”

Because of this, it’s never been proven that the ship remains actually came from the Sparrow-Hawk.

A study published on March 11 in the Journal of Archaeological Science confirmed that the remains are the oldest known shipwreck in Colonial English America, the Globe reported.

Using newly developed dendrological and other techniques, the newspaper wrote, the scientists’ finds indicate that it is highly likely that the ship is, in fact, the Sparrow-Hawk.


The study eliminates some alternative explanations for the shipwreck’s origin by showing that the timbers came from England and date to the early 17th or late 16th century, the Globe reported.

This 2007 photo provided by the Pilgrim Hall Museum, shows collection of 109 surviving timbers from the 1626 shipwreck of the Sparrow-hawk at the Pilgrim Hall Museum, in Plymouth, Mass. – (Stephen C. O’Neill/Pilgrim Hall Museum photo via AP)

Curtin told the Globe that not only does the study give the museum a scientific basis for displaying the ship’s remains, but that it can help them understand the ship’s passengers and their effect on the Plimouth Colony.

The arrival of many newcomers not intending to become part of Plimouth, a religiously founded colony, and the fact that many of them were Irish, may have had a big impact on the colony’s daily life, the Globe reported.

The survivors of the Sparrow-Hawk were housed with various families, and remained in the colony long enough to make connections there, the Globe reported.

The Globe wrote that, according to Gov. Bradford’s writings, one of the men from the ship impregnated one of the maids, and the two fled to Boston “to escape punishment.”

The Pilgrim Hall Museum will open for the year on April 1 and follow a Wednesday-to-Sunday schedule of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit pilgrimhall.org/index.html.


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