Friday, April 20, 2012

Schooner E.S. Newman ~ 11 October 1896

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1897:

Sails blown away and master obliged to beach her during hurricane 2 miles below station at 7 p.m. Signal of distress was immediately answered by patrolman’s Coston light. Keeper and crew quickly started for the wreck with beach apparatus. The sea was sweeping over the beach and threatened to prevent reaching scene of disaster, but they finally gained a point near the wreck. It was found to be impossible to bury the sand anchor, as the tide was rushing over the entire beach, and they decided to tie a large-sized shot line around two surfmen and send them down through the surf as near the vessel as practicable. These men waded in and succeeded in throwing a line on board with the heaving stick. It was made fast to the master’s three-year old child, who was then hauled off by the surfman and carried ashore. In like manner his wife and the 7 men composing the crew were rescued under great difficulties and with imminent peril to the life savers. They were all taken to station and furnished with food and clothing, and during next three days the surfmen aided in saving baggage and stores from wreck. On the 14th three of the crew left for Norfolk, and on the 21st the remainder departed for their homes, the vessel having proved a total loss.
U.S. Coast Guard Award:

Richard Etheridge
Benjamin Bowser
Dorman Pugh
Theodore Meekins
Lewis Wescott
Stanley Wise
William Irving
Awarded 5 March 1996

The three-masted schooner E.S. Newman, sailing from Providence, RI to Norfolk, VA ran into a hurricane. Pushed before the storm, the ship lost all sails and drifted almost 100 miles before it ran aground about two miles south of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station (NC) on 11 October 1896. The station keeper, Richard Etheridge, had discontinued the routine patrols due to the high water that had inundated the island. Surfman Theodore Meekins, however, saw what he thought was a distress signal and lit a Coston flare. He then called to Etheridge to look for a return signal. Both strained to look through the storm. Moments later, they saw a faint signal of a vessel in distress.
     Etheridge, a veteran of nearly twenty years, readied the crew. They hitched mules to the beach cart and hurried toward the vessel. Arriving on the scene, they found Captain S.A. Gardiner and eight others clinging to the wreckage. Unable to fire a line because the high water prevented the Lyle Gun’s deployment, Etheridge directed two surfmen to bind themselves together with a line. Grasping another line, the pair moved into the breakers while the remaining surfmen secured the shore end. The two surfmen reached the wreck and, using a heaving stick, got a line on board. Once a line was tied around one of the crewmen, all three were then pulled back through the surf by the crew on the beach. The remaining eight persons were carried to shore in similar fashion. After each trip two different surfmen replaced those who had just returned.
     For their efforts the crew of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station, Richard Etheridge, Benjamin Bowser, Dorman Pugh, Theodore Meekins, Lewis Wescott, Stanley Wise, and William Irving were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal on 5 March 1996.


  1. Did race affect imployment into the service?

  2. Perhaps at first. But Richard Etheridge trailblazed a path in the USLSS for others of his race when, on January 24, 1880, he became its first black station keeper. The appointment of a black keeper raised the anger of the locals, especially when Etheridge hired an all-black crew. On May 29 the station burned to the ground. An investigation cited arson as the cause, but no one was ever charged with the crime. Captain Etheridge supervised the construction of a new station and continued with his duties, drilling his crew beyond the requirements of the service. “We knew we were colored,” recalled one of the unit’s later members, “and, if you know what I mean, felt we had to do better whether anybody said so or not.”