Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1886:
The schooner Nellie Wadsworth, of Baltimore, MD, was driven ashore on the northerly side of Hatteras Inlet, NC, on the night of December 5th, and became a total wreck. She was from Charleston, SC, bound through the inlet into Pamlico Sound on her way to New Berne, NC, with a cargo of phosphate, and had anchored in the inlet on the morning of the 5th to await the subsidence of the strong gale then blowing from the southwest. Her crew consisted of 5 men.
The crew of the Durant’s Station (6th District) some miles north of the inlet, had observed her soon after she came to and proceeded to the point with their boat on its carriage. She had dragged in over the shoals, but was then in smooth water and apparently all right, although there was a formidable line of breakers between her and the shore, which could only be traversed by the boat at great risk. Under these circumstances, and as the people made no signal to be taken off, feeling secure and safe so long as the anchors held, the life savers made no attempt to board the vessel. They, however, watched her all day, and at 9 o’clock that night, when the patrol reached the point, she was still riding safely to her anchors, and he so reported to the keeper on his return.
When, however, the next watch, surfman W.R. Austin, reached the point at 1 o’clock on the morning of the 6th, he found that she had dragged into the breakers and was lying broadside to the beach, about 120 yards off. Austin quickly made signal and then hurried to the station with the alarm, and by 3 o’clock or a little earlier the crew were on the scene with the beach apparatus. Although the night was dark as pitch and the schooner had no lights, the first shot was successful and carried a line into the main rigging within easy reach of the crew, who had been driven thither for safety almost as soon as she struck. The weather was freezing cold, and the men on board, being drenched to the skin and almost perished, had as much as they could do to haul the whip off. As soon as the sailors secured the tail block to the mainmast the station men sent off the hawser, and they were about to set it taut and rig the breeches buoy when the mast fell over the side and the life saving gear became entangled in the floating wreckage. The men managed, however, to clear the whip sufficiently to send off a bundle of cork life belts, but when the latter were within a few feet of the schooner the line again fouled, so that they could not be reached or moved either way.
To add to the people’s peril the vessel was rolling deeply in the surf and almost buried by the waves, and they had the utmost difficulty to avoid being washed overboard. In order to secure the life belts one of the sailors, George Richardson, of New River, a colored man, jumped into the surf and after a desperate struggle succeeded in getting hold of them. The icy coldness of the water was, however, more than he could stand, and his strength failing he was unable to return to the vessel, being just able to cling to the line and no more. It was also so dark that the men on the beach were unaware of his situation. They, in the meantime, were taking steps to clear the line, intending, as the breeches buoy could not be used, to devise some other means of getting the people ashore as quickly as possible. The beach pony that had been used to help haul the apparatus cart from the station was attached to one part of the whip and the animal was then started at a brisk pace across the beach.
This proved effectual, the strain starting the line through the block, which was still attached to the broken mast, and in a few moments Richardson, to the surprise of the surfmen, was seen emerging from the surf, still clinging to the line, the belts coming with him. The poor fellow had been in the water probably 10 or 15 minutes and was speechless and almost gone from exhaustion. One of the station crew at once took him in charge and did all that was possible to revive him by giving him brandy and rubbing his half froze limbs, while the rest turned their attention to those still on the wreck. Three more were brought ashore by means of the whip without much difficulty, but the fifth and last man lost his hold as he neared the beach and would have been swept away by the undertow but for the surfmen, who quickly formed a line by joining hands, with the keeper in the lead, and wading out over waist-deep the latter grasped the man and with the aid of he others brought him out safe.
With the gale still blowing and the temperature below the freezing point the sailors were in a sorry plight, and in no condition to undertake the journey to the station, three or four miles distant. But it was the nearest shelter, and they must be got there or freeze to death in their dripping garments. They were partially revived with stimulants from the medicine chest and then the party set out, the castaways being aided in every possible manner by the beachmen. Before they had gone a quarter of the distance the colored man, Richardson, who was very thinly clad, gave out, and faintly begging to be left alone he lapsed into a state of unconsciousness, from which he never recovered. Energetic measures were taken to restore him, but it was of no avail, and in a few moments the poor fellow was dead. The rest were also suffering dreadfully from the cold and begged piteously that they be left to their fate on the bleak and desolate beach. Had this been done, or had there been the least delay, there can be no doubt that the end would soon have come to them all.
By almost superhuman exertion, however, on the part of the surfmen, the survivors were conducted to the station, the keeper, Zera G. Burrus, with true heroism, giving up his own hat and shoes to the man who he had in charge and carrying him on his back as much as of the distance as his own almost exhausted strength would permit. The life savers behaved throughout with the utmost humanity and deserve the highest praise. The party reached the house at 7 o’clock, just before sunrise, and the first thing done by the station men before thinking of themselves was to remove the frozen garments of the sailors and replace them with dry clothing from the supply donated by the Women’s National Relief Association and from the keeper’s own scanty wardrobe. They were also given hot coffee and then put to bed, their condition being such that it was unsafe to partake of solid food until they had rested and were somewhat recovered from the effects of the terrible ordeal they had passed through. The body of Richardson was also decently coffined and interred the same day in a piece of woods not far from the station. The survivors remained under the care of their rescuers for several days, or until they were well enough to leave for New Berne, across the Sound, where most of them reside.