The traders are coming, the traders are coming! That is, the traders would have been arriving at the Port of Boston in much greater numbers had they been better able to navigate the treacherous and rock-ridden path around the harbor islands. Of all the impediments that the Boston Harbor presented, the most infamous, perhaps, was the corridor between Georges and Lovells islands, a dangerous channel known as the Narrows. Steering through this perilous passage used to be one of the last obstacles that lay in the final 10-mile stretch for boaters who sought the harbor’s safety, but unluckily, many ships and their crews met their demise in the Narrows. To this day, ship fragments clutter the bottom of the harbor near the Lovells Island shore in silent affirmation of the journey’s precarious and harrowing nature.
Beneath its surface, the now rather approachable Lovells Island conceals a slew of gruesome, wreckage-related stories, the chief of which is the tale of the 74-gun French warship Magnifique. Pilot David Darling gained unwanted notoriety and became the subject of much ridicule when the Magnifique, which he was manning, wrecked along the Narrows in 1782; the US subsequently provided the French navy with its own brand-new 74-gun vessel out of fear that its Revolution-era ally would sour without proper reimbursement.
A few years later, a ship hailing from Maine met a similar fate near Lovells Island’s shores: the boat crashed into an obstruction, and despite the fact that the thirteen passengers were able to swim ashore, they all died on account of the freezing temperatures. Bostonians who later assessed the scene claimed that two of the wayfarers, supposedly an engaged couple, huddled together behind a rock in a fruitless attempt to survive. This stone was thereby named Lovers’ Rock.
Although Lovells Island is nearly synonymous with shipwrecking, the various incidents that occurred near the island spawned a movement to render the course safer for those who attempted to traverse it. In 1787, the Massachusetts Humane Society constructed a hut on Lovells Island that contained dry clothes, blankets, and flint and tinder to create fire, amongst other crucial items. When the hut proved effective, other such shelters cropped up on several other islands near dangerous stretches. Ultimately, Lovells Island served as an inspiration for the US Coast Guard in its current form, among other rescue and relief efforts.
The island’s history has also become intertwined with other meanings. For a spell, Lovells Island served as a military base in light of its strategic location between the harbor’s two main openings. Nowadays, the ruins of the island’s military structures make for excellent hiking trails and campgrounds. In recent years, party boats have even been moseying around the island’s waters, almost entirely sans danger of shipwreck in light of the advent of modern technology.
For more on the stories behind the city’s sanctuaries, pick up a copy of Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands by Christopher Klein, or check out last week’s blog. To help you explore the islands on the go, download our free smartphone app. Anchors away!