They stood on the Plymouth waterfront, bundled in woolens, their breath smoking in the frigid air. It was blowing so hard, the snow was coming in sideways, pelting their faces as they heard the men’s screams through the wail of the storm.

They stood on the Plymouth waterfront, bundled in woolens, their breath smoking in the frigid air. It was blowing so hard, the snow was coming in sideways, pelting their faces as they heard the men’s screams through the wail of the storm.

Most didn’t know the crew on board the brigantine General Arnold, but they had brothers, fathers, sons and fiancés. The fires of Christmas were still smoldering in their hearths at home where presents had been unwrapped and kisses exchanged.

Now they watched, helplessly, as an unspeakable tragedy unfolded before their eyes.

It was Saturday, Dec. 26, 1778. The General Arnold had sought the haven of Plymouth Harbor during a nor’easter and run aground on White Flat, a treacherous sandbar just northwest of the breakwater. The ship’s seams buckled from the impact, and frigid salt water quickly flooded the hull. More than 100 terrified sailors were forced up and onto the raised quarterdeck where the buffeting wind sent waves crashing over them as they trampled one another in the panic that ensued.

Captain Magee told them to put rum in their shoes to ward off frostbite, but many drank it instead, dying quickly thereafter, their bodies frozen where they sat or stood. Seamen huddled together against the blinding snow, whistling winds and crashing waves. Some tried to wrap the heavy, canvas sail around themselves to no avail.

They shrieked prayers to God and screamed for help from their fellow man.

But the General Arnold was beyond help.

The ship lay imprisoned in the sand and, it was so cold, the salt water of the bay froze around it. There was no way for the people onshore to reach the men. Attempts made in vain only added to the unspeakable anguish of those onboard who already knew they were dead men.

When the storm finally died down and rescuers made their way across the ice to the wreck, they found the dead frozen in grotesque forms, some clutching ropes, others clutching each other in a death grip.

Survivors who didn’t lose limbs from frostbite, lost their peace of mind. A mass grave was dug on Burial Hill for the more than 70 who froze to death. There was no list of their names. Many had been picked up in Boston, before the brig set sail south, and they hadn’t been on board long enough for the captain to log their identities.

The tragedy cast a pall on Plymouth that year. The people who witnessed the scene, who heard the screams, wanted to forget but couldn’t.

Years passed, and, somehow, the weight of time buried the tale amid a parade of other wartime stories.

However, when the skeletal remains of a shipwreck emerged from the waters of White Flat in the 1970s, archaeologists and historians unearthed the story, and sparked a heated debate when they concluded it was the wreck of the General Arnold. Others were definitive that the ship had been raised, rechristened and continued to sail the bounding main for years afterward.

The late George Hanlon, of Plymouth, was among those convinced the wreck was the General Arnold.

And so begins the mystery.

Local monument maker Lou Cook joins forces with fellow history enthusiast Bob Jannoni and author, teacher and editor Lenny Cavallaro in "Solved: The Mystery of the General Arnold," a can’t-put-it-down book that answers this and so many other questions about that horrific disaster off the shores of Plymouth.

“The state archeologists have had this thing eating them up for the longest time,” Cook said.

A journalist and author, Hanlon covered the story swirling around the recovery of the wreck and the cast of characters that fought over who had the right to it. A lawsuit followed, and all parties waited for a judgment.

And, then, suddenly, mysteriously, the controversy died. Suddenly, discussion over the wreck stopped and explorations didn’t yield any news. Soon, the only reference to the catastrophe came in the form of reports of ghost sightings of the sailors at the courthouse, and in Town Square.

Meanwhile, the briny waters continue to swirl around the mysterious wreck, visible at low tide as boats make their way in and out of Plymouth Harbor. Some say the wreck is cursed.

So what is out there on White Flat?

Cavallaro, Cook and Jannoni went to work researching every angle of the story, pouring over artifacts and journal entries made by survivors. The historians argued the points and became convinced the evidence definitively pointed one way, only to find another piece to the puzzle that suggested a very different answer altogether.

Jannoni, who is responsible for bringing Edward Rowe Snow’s famous books back into print, is a shipwreck enthusiast and treasure hunter. Cook, who owned Underwater Observation Services years ago, was one of the divers who discovered the French man-of-war Magnifique, which sank in 1782.

The idea of writing a book together congealed when Jannoni sent Cavallaro an excerpt from the writings of Barnabas Downs, one of the survivors of the wreck who lost his feet to frostbite.

“I had never heard of this shipwreck,” Cavallaro said. “I was out in the garden reading on a hot day in 2003. By this point I was sweating and I said, ‘You know this could make a movie.’ And right away the light bulb started flashing.” 

Years of research solved the mystery in a way that stunned them all. Hanlon was on his deathbed when evidence emerged that put it beyond doubt.

Lenny Cavallaro, who compiled their research and wrote the book, had to rewrite the ending.

"Solved: The Mystery of the General Arnold" is a great read because it includes excerpts from primary sources as it deposits you in the 18th century. Captain Magee survived, and you can read his own account of the disaster, as well as those of others who lived to tell the tale. The book is a testament to the painstaking care the authors took to arrive at the truth. You follow them on this journey, on this voyage, if you will, and the ending comes as an absolute surprise.

The book is also a moving tribute to the sailors who lost their lives onboard that ship. Jannoni and Cook feel a kinship with these sailors, and Cook is working to erect a monument to enhance the one marking their grave on Burial Hill.

Cook has the names of 19; he’s asking anyone with information regarding the remaining crew members to contact him at Jannoni at

You can also contact them through Two Capes Press, the company that published the work, at

The book is $8.95 and is available at Borders Book Store and Winthrop’s Hallmark in Kingston and in Plymouth at the Walgreens drug store, Pilgrim Hall Museum, John Alden Gift Shop, White Horse General Store and Divers Market. The book is also available throughout western Massachusetts at Donelan’s Supermarkets and at Nobles Giftshop in Hingham.

“I hope the story gives the readers an appreciation for what a horrible episode in our history this was – to appreciate the type of sacrifice these people underwent,” Cavallaro said.

A desendant of one of the General Arnold survivors has recommended the book to the Naval Order of the United States for its certification. Solved: The Mystery of the General Arnold is dedicated to the man who inspired it – George Hanlon.