"The Blue Book says we've got to go out and it doesn't say a damn thing about having to come back." --Captain Patrick Etheridge, USLSS
A compilation of U.S. Life-Saving Service reports, newspaper articles, publications and more related to shipwrecks of the N.C. coast. Does not include ships that were hauled off or otherwise saved.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Schooner George L. Fessenden ~ 27 April 1898
Annual Report of he Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1898:
Wrecked about a mile NE. of the station, and four men were lost; three men rescued by the life saving crews. (For detailed account see caption “Loss of Life.”)
Wreck of the Schooner George L. Fessenden
The three-masted schooner George L.Fessenden was wrecked in the forenoon of April 27, 1898, about 1 mile northeast of the Chicamacomico Station, coast of North Carolina, and four of her crew, whose names, except one, could not be ascertained, were lost.
The vessel was 24 years old, of 414 tons measurement, hailing from Bridgeton, NJ, and manned by 7 men, including the master, C.B. Norton, who was one of the drowned. She was loaded to her full capacity with crushed stone in Philadelphia, PA, whence she sailed for Southport, at the mouth of Cape Fear River, NC, on March 30. For some reason which does not appear, but was probably stress of weather, she put into Hampton Roads, VA, where it is likely she remained for some time, not having been again heard from until the morning of Tuesday, April 26, when she was discovered by Surfman E.S. Midgett, of the Chicamacomico Life Saving Station, which is some 20 miles north of Cape Hatteras, heading toward New Inlet in a partially disabled condition. Her foremast was broken off about one-third of its length below the crosstrees, and her main topmast was also gone, while it was clear that she had lost most of her sails from the fact that the only canvas spread was a double-reefed spanker, a topsail set as a mainsail, a storm trysail as a foresail, and a flying jib. These damages, as was subsequently ascertained, had occurred some days previous to the wreck in a furious southeast gale which struck the Fessenden in the vicinity of Cape Lookout, not far from her destination, and compelled her to put about and run northward of Cape Hatteras to the vicinity where she appeared on the morning above mentioned.
When first observed she was about 8 miles east-northeast of the Chicamacomico Station, and after standing toward the shore for a while she tacked off, and finally came to anchor about 4 miles distant, to the northeast. The wind was moderate and the weather clear and fine, but the condition of the vessel and the danger of her position, should a storm arise, caused her to be scrutinized with much care for signs of a signal for assistance; and as the day advanced and none was made, keeper L.B. Midgett, from the lookout of his station, set his code flags to inquire whether she wanted aid. No notice whatever was taken of them, and when the sun went down the schooner still lay comfortably at her anchor.
During the evening the wind began to freshen, and continued to increase to such an extent that strong fears for her safety were entertained, and all preparations were therefore made at the station for instant action. No alarm occurred, however, during the night, and at daylight Wednesday, the 27th, the vessel was still holding her own, but the sea was very rough, with the wind blowing a stiff northeast gale, and she was riding so heavily that it seemed as though her cables might at any moment give way. She still showed no signal of distress, but incessant watch was kept upon her, and between 8 and 9 o’clock it became evident that the cables had parted and she was drifting toward the beach. At 8.50 she struck on the outer bar about a mile north of the station, and finally fetched up, a few minutes later, some 250 yards from the beach, head on.
The Chicamacomico crew started out with their apparatus as soon as they saw that the vessel was going ashore, and reached the place of stranding within 20 minutes after she struck. The crews of the New Inlet and Gull Shoal stations had been requested by telephone to cooperate, and both promptly responded, the former reaching the scene almost simultaneously with the Chicamacomico crew, and that from Gull Shoal arriving a few moments later.
When the schooner stranded her crew were gathered on the forecastle deck, but the heavy waves at once began to sweep the whole hull, and the men were therefore compelled to seek refuge on the jib-boom. Even there they were constantly beaten by the crests of the great waves and their position was extremely precarious. The Lyle gun was instantly placed in position and a moment later sent out its first friendly shot, which was so well aimed that it laid its line fairly across the jib-boom, almost at the very hands of the shipwrecked men, who seized it at once and began, as well as they could, to haul it out in order to get the whip line and block aboard. Situated where they were, this task would have been hard under almost any conditions, but was now extremely so because of the swift longshore current which caught the line and swept he bight of it far to the southward. At times the men would almost fall from the boom, but nevertheless they were doing fairly well and would probably have succeeded had the hull of the vessel been sufficiently sound to stand the shocks of the sea for even a good half hour. One of the witnesses describes her as “rotten as a pear.” Her dead weight cargo of 521 tons of stone fixed her as firmly in the sand as a breakwater, and under such circumstances her weakness made it impossible for her to hold together. While the poor sailors were desperately struggling to get the life saving lines on board, and within not more than 20 minutes after stranding, she broke into a thousand pieces and the entire crew, still clinging to the jib-boom, were precipitated into the surf. Two of them, it was stated by some of those present, were struck by pieces of wreckage and killed outright. The captain was said to have been washed overboard and drowned when the schooner struck and while all hands were still on deck. At all events, fur of the seven were alive just after the hull broke up and these manfully breasted the waves in a desperate and almost forlorn attempt to save their lives.
Lyle Gun Projectile
The life saving men were properly equipped with heaving lines, and the moment the crash came they scattered along the shore to the southward, in which direction the current carried the swimmers, and pushed out into the surf as far as they could go without losing foothold and being themselves swept seaward, so that whenever a man came within possible reach they either caught him in their arms or threw him a line, by which they drew him within grasping distance. In this way three were rescued, but the fourth, who was also the fourth member of the ship’s company to perish, drifted beyond reach and drowned. The last man saved was taken from the water fully a mile south of the wreck, and all three were nearly exhausted—one to every outward appearance being beyond possibility of resuscitation. The most vigorous efforts, however, were made to restore him to consciousness, and by the intelligent and persistent application of the Directions for Restoring the Apparently drowned, in which all the crews are thoroughly drilled, his life was saved.
The work of rescue involved peril to the life of every man engaged in it, and it is, therefore, only a matter of justice to state that the life savers were bravely assisted by two volunteers of the neighborhood, C.P. and A.F. Midgett, who were under no obligations to participate save that imposed upon noble minds by the highest sense of humanity, and who well performed their voluntary part.
Strange as it may appear, none of the rescued men knew the names of their lost shipmates, although they had been in daily association with them for at least a month within the narrow limits of a vessel’s forecastle.
The survivors, who remained at the station for several days, were provided with proper clothing from the stores of the Women’s National Relief Association, and when they were ready to depart were supplied with the month necessary to secure transportation by contributions from the crews of the Chicamacomico, New Inlet, Gull Shoal, Little Kinnakeet and Cape Hatteras stations.
The incidents of this wreck were much like those of the Edward W. Schmidt, recorded in previous pages, and there is room for scarcely a doubt that I both instances the lives of all on board would have been saved had the masters signaled for, or even in case of the Fessenden, shown a willingness to accept aid or advice from the keepers of the life saving stations before it was too late.
The following letter from the shipwrecked men was sent to the General Superintendent:
CHICAMACOMICO LIFE-SAVING STATION, NORTH CAROLINA, May 4, 1898
SIR: We, the three survivors of the schooner George L. Fessenden, wrecked near this station April 27, 1898, wish to state that everything was done by the crews of the three stations, Chicamacomico, New Inlet, and Gull Shoal, to save us, and that the loss of the four other men was in no way the fault of the surfmen, as the vessel went to pieces in twenty minutes after we got the shot line. We all had to take to the jib boom, and it was impossible for us to haul off the whip line from there; the vessel was as rotten as a pear, and was a wreck before we ran ashore. We also wish to heartily commend the work of the Life-Saving Service along this dreadful coast; the men are experts in the heroic performance of saving life and property. In conclusion we wish to express our thanks for the kind treatment given us by your men while we were with them. Respectfully yours, JOHN F. JONES, Steward ; GEORGE RAASCH, Seaman, LOUIS BURNS, Seaman, of the wrecked schooner George L. Fessenden