Thursday, February 9, 2012

Barkentine Priscilla ~ 17 August 1899

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1900:

Broken into pieces and driven ashore by the tempest, 3 miles S. of station, with the 10 survivors of the crew clinging to the after part. The master’s wife and son, the mate, and a boy were washed overboard and lost before the wreck was driven upon the beach. The station patrolman, Rasmus S. Midgett, rescued the survivors at the risk of his own life by rushing down the bank into the surf and dragging them ashore. They were taken to station, provided with dry clothing from the stores of the Women’s National Relief Association, and, as these gave out, from the keeper’s own supply. The wounds of the injured ones were dressed, and they were all succored until able to leave for their homes. The bodies of the captain’s wife and son were recovered and properly interred N. of the station. (For detailed account see caption “Loss of Life.”) 

Wreck of the Barkentine Priscilla
The hurricane that wrecked the Reppard, as described in the preceding narration of the circumstances, did not attain to the full measure of its terrific power until August 17. The report of the Weather Bureau signal station at Hatteras says that on the morning of the 16th the wind reached a velocity of 50 miles an hour, increasing thereafter until at 4 o’clock on the morning of the 17th it was blowing at the rate of 70 miles. By noon it had increased to between 84 and 93 miles, while at 1 p.m. an occasional extreme of more than 120 miles an hour was recorded. The signal station was disabled at about that time, but the observer states that he believes the regular movement of the wind was not less than 100 miles an hour between 3 and 7 o’clock p.m. of that day. There were not more than four houses on Hatteras Island into which the tide did not rise to a depth ranging from 1 to 4 feet.
     It was near midnight of this day when the barkentine Priscilla, of Baltimore, MD, was blown ashore and broken to pieces, finally fetching up at 4 a.m. of the 18th about three miles south of the Gull Shoal Station and only about half a mile to the southward of the dismal remnants of the Reppard. The Priscilla was an American vessel of 643 ton net register, commanded by Captain Benjamin E. Springsteen, owned in Baltimore, and bound from that port to Rio de Janiero, Brazil, laden with a general cargo. She had on board 14 persons, 12 of whom comprised the officers and crew, the others being the captain’s wife, Virginia, and his young son, Elmer, 12 years of age.
     The Priscilla left Baltimore on Saturday, the 12th of August, and was towed down Chesapeake Bay as far as the James River channel, where she came to anchor and remained until Monday morning, August 14, when she proceeded to sea, passing out of the capes of Virginia at 6 a.m. and standing east under all sail, the wind being moderate from west-northwest and hauling to the northward. At noon Cape Henry bore 30 miles west. At midnight the breeze was very light, the barometer high, registering 30.20 inches, and the weather was clear. By Tuesday morning, the 15th, the wind had shifted to the northeast, and the sky was cloudy, with a light rain falling. These conditions remained unchanged until about midnight, when the breeze hauled east-northeast and increased so much that the skysail and jib topsail were taken in.
     On the morning of Wednesday, the 6th, the wind was blowing so hard that all the light sails were taken in, and by noonday it was found necessary to furl the spanker and upper topsail. The gale soon became more violent and the foresail was hauled up and furled, the lower topsail clewed up but blown away, and two reefs put into the mainsail, which was also lost, as well as the main staysail. Then the captain hove to under bare poles, heading southeast in an east-northeast tempest, and rapidly drifting to the south-southwest. He knew, although able to get no observation for 24 hours, that he must be only a little to the northward of Cape Hatteras, and he was doing his best “to get clear of it.” Of accomplishing that result, however, he must have entertained little, if any, hope.
     Early in the morning of Thursday, the 17th, after a night of distressing anxiety for every soul on board, the captain observed that the water was discolored, a fact which showed that he had drifted out of the Gulf Stream, and on throwing the lead at 5 o’clock the line showed but 25 fathoms and at 8 o’clock only 20. At one-hour intervals during the day the soundings varied from 20 to 17 fathoms until 8 o’clock p.m., when but 10 fathoms were found. “Then,” says the master, “I did not sound anymore. I knew that we were going ashore, and passed the word forward for all hands to prepare to save themselves.”
     This was very near the time when the observer of the Weather Bureau says the hurricane must have had a regular velocity of 100 miles an hour. Captain Springsteen says, “It was blowing a hurricane from the northeast, and the seas were running mountain high.” At 10 minutes past 9 p.m. the fatal moment arrived, and the vessel struck the bottom, lightly at first, and shipped a sea which smashed the cabin skylights, deluging all below. She did not touch again for something like 20 minutes, but then she struck with an awful shock, and thereafter continued to pound so heavily that the master sent the mate and second mate forward with orders to cut away the port rigging. The three masts instantly went by the board, falling to starboard, and the captain then ordered all hands on deck. The seas were not breaking over the hull with irresistible fury, and in a few moments Mrs. Springsteen, William Springsteen, the mate (also the captain’s son) and the ship’s boy, Fitzhugh Lee Goldsborough, were swept overboard, beyond the remotest possibility of aid. The boy Elmer, who was actually torn from his father’s arms, was in some way dashed back into the cabin, which was full of water, where his body was subsequently found.
     Fifteen or twenty minutes later, with a loud crash, the strong hull broke amidships into two parts, Fortunately all hands were congregated on one of these parts, where the stronger might encourage and perhaps assist the weaker or the wounded. This was the after portion, and it held together and continued to pound and drift about through a period of almost inconceivable terror lasting more than 5 hours. At length, about 4 o’clock in the morning of the 18th, Friday, it ceased to rise and fall, and the castaways then knew that they must be close in to shore; but weather was so thick, and the seas still continued to beat upon them with such violence, that they could not discern the land, and having no means of signaling could do no more than cling to their places and occasionally send up a cry of distress. 
     At 3 o’clock surfman Rasmus S. Midgett, of the Gull Shoal Station, set out on horseback to make the regular south patrol, and when he reached a point about three-fourths of a mile from the station he discovered buckets, barrels, boxes, and other articles coming ashore, which satisfied him that there was a wreck somewhere in the neighborhood. The surf was sweeping clear across the narrow strip or bank of sand which separates the ocean from Pamlico Sound, at times reaching to the saddle girths of his horse, and the night was so intensely dark that he could scarcely tell where he was going, but nevertheless he knew that the patrol must be made at all hazards, and besides, the rapidly multiplying evidence of disaster urged him on. When he had traveled a little more than 2 miles father he thought he detected the sound of voices and, pausing to listen, caught the outcries of the shipwrecked men. He could see nothing of them or of the wreck, but dismounting and proceeding toward the edge of the bank he soon made out a part of the vessel, with the forms of several persons crouching upon it, about a hundred yards distant.
     Here was a dilemma which called for the exercise of sound judgment and faultless courage. Midgett had consumed an hour and a half on his patrol before reaching the place, and to return to the station and bring back the life-saving crew was to sacrifice three hours more when every moment was precious. On the other hand, to undertake to save the lives of the shipwrecked men without aid was perhaps to throw away his own life and leave them utterly helpless until another patrol should be attempted, when all might have perished. Short time was spent in deliberation. He determined to do what he could alone and without delay.
     Selecting the first opportunity when a receding wave permitted, he ran down as close to the wreck as he could and shouted instructions for the men to jump overboard, one at a time, as the surf ran back, and that he would take care of them. Then retreating from the inrushing breakers to the higher part of the bank, he watched his chance to approach the wreck again, calling for one man to jump. Obeying his instructions a sailor would leap overboard and Midgett, in each instance, would seize him and drag him from the pursuing waves safe to the bank. In this manner, being compelled to venture closer and closer and more into danger, he rescued 7 men.
Priscilla Crewmen
     During all these laborious exertions he incurred much danger from the likely chance that on each occasion he and his burden might be caught by the breakers and swept out to sea. But now came far greater demands upon his courage and physical powers. There still remained upon the vessel three men so bruised and exhausted that they were unable to do as the others had done. But Midgett was not dismayed. To save these he must go right down into the sea close to the wreck, take them off and carry them bodily to the beach. Down the steep bank into the very jaws of death three times he descended and each time dragged away a helpless man and bore him up out of the angry waters to a place of safety. Ten lives saved were the priceless trophies of his valor. Seven of the men were still able to walk, and these he sent forward toward the station, while the other three he took to a safe place, and after giving his own coat to Captain Springsteen, rode on to summon the aid of his comrades.
Rasmus Midgett On the Wreck
     Keeper Pugh was on the beach when Midgett hove in sight, and upon hearing his amazing story ordered two of the surfmen to harness horses to their carts and proceed to bring up the disabled men. The other surfmen he directed to set up a stove in the sitting room and make a variety of thoughtful preparations for the welcome of the castaways. Imagination could hardly picture a more wretched company. When the vessel first encountered the breakers they were all sound men, well clad, with their clothing securely fastened about them; but the terrible buffeting they had sustained had stripped them almost naked, and their bodies were bruised, bleeding, and swollen, the sorriest cast, perhaps, being that of Captain Springsteen, who had received a ragged wound in the breast, inflicted by the almost deadly thrust of a rough piece of wreckage. As the poor fellows hobbled or were kindly borne with the hospitable walls of the station the surfmen quickly took them in hand, stripped off their fragments of apparel, washed their bodies, gently dressed their wounds, and then clothed them in dry undergarments and placed them quietly in comfortable beds. It was the end of a splendid day’s work, well worthy the admiration of the whole people, whose brave and single-hearted servants of humanity had performed it. Midgett, who bore the noblest part, was subsequently awarded a gold life-saving medal of honor by the Secretary of the Treasury, who transmitted with it a highly commendatory letter reciting the story of the brave man’s heroism.

Life-Saving Station: Gull Shoal; Dist. #6

Date of Disaster - August 17th 1899
Name of Vessel - PriscillaRig and Tonnage - B.N.N. 600 12/100 tons
Hailing Port and Nationality - Baltimore, MD
Age - 13 years
Official Number - 150378
Name of Master - Benjamin E. Springsteen
Names of Owners - C. Morton Stewart & Co.
Where From - Baltimore, MD
Where bound - Rio Brazil
Number of crew, including Captain - Eleven
Number of passengers - three
Nature of cargo - general
Estimated value of vessel - 15,000 dollars
Estimated value of cargo - 45,000 dollars
Exact spot where wrecked - 3 miles South Gull Shoal LSS
Direction and distance from station - 3 miles South
Supposed cause of wreck (specifying particularly) - Blown ashore in harican [hurricane]
Nature of disaster, whether stranded, sunk, collision, etc. - Broken to pieces
Distance of vessel from shore at time of accident - Knot Known
Time of day or night - Between 9 p.m. & 4 a.m.
State of wind and weather - NE harican thick
State of tide and sea - verry high sea verry high tide
Time of discovery of wreck - 4:30 a.m..
By whom discovered - R.S. Midgett Sr.
Time of arrival of station crew at wreck - R.S. Midgett Saved Crew
Time of return of station crew from wreck - Reported about 5 a.m.
Was life-boat used? - No
Was surf-boat used? - No
Was life-raft used? - No
Was mortar, Lyle gun or rocket used? - No
Was heaving stick used? - No
Was life car used? - No
Was breeches-bouy used? - No
Number of lives saved, with names and residence - Capt. Benjamin E. Springsteen Baltimore, Wm. I. Henderson (cook) Baltimore, Frank A. Mason Baltimore, Samuel H. Cer? Baltimore, MD, John Evans Baltimore, MD, Olson van Nestraff? Philadelphia, Andrew Namson? Norway, Philip Hallet London, Eng, Barnard Robinson, Denmark & Karl Copenagen, Denmark
Number of lives lost, with names and residence - 1st Mate Wm. Springsteen Baltimore, Virginia Springsteen Baltimore, Elmer Springsteen Baltimore, Fitsulee Goldsborough VA
State fully the circumstances of the loss of each life - Capts wife & first mate was washed overboard before wreck was seen from shore.
State damage, if any, to boat or apparatus - no
Was vessel saved or lost? - Lost
Estimated value of cargo saved, and its condition - $15,000 Dollars damaged
Estimated value of cargo lost - 30,000 Dollars
Amount of insurance on vessel - not known
Amount of insurance on cargo - not known
Number of persons sheltered at station, and how long - 9 for 3 days, Capt. for 14 days
Number of persons found after death and cared for - two
     R.S. Midgett Surfman No. 1 on South patrol from 3 a.m. to sunrise he found a wreck Broken to pieces 3 miles South of Station and on the stern was ten men he managed to save them all with out coming to Station to report after he got them on the beatch he got on his horse and come to station and reported at about 5 p.m.  I at once sent two of my crew with horses and carts to bring the Capt and two other men that was hurt badly the other seven walked to station they were all naked & badly bruised up after a very short time the men come north.  Capt and other two we gave whisky brandy & hot coffee dry clothes as best we could dressed the wounds and after a while gave them food.  The Capts wife washed up just South of Station about 6 a.m. in good condition.  I had her brought to Station cleaned up nicely & shrouded later in the day a young son of the Capt was found in cabbin of wreck and brought to Station and washed & dressed and laid out beside his mother's ____ ____.  on the next day I had boxes made and burried them.  the crew remained at Station three? day I ____.  I assisted Capt to send them to Elizabeth City, NC.  The Capt remained at Station untill Sept 1st when he left for home in and improved condition in company with Capt. Rillbury? and Mr. John Stewart of Baltimore who come down to look after wreck & cargo whitch was sold at public Sale by wreck master.
Date of Report: Sept 8th, 1899
     /s/ D.M. Pugh, Keeper

Fisherman & Farmer, August 25, 1899

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