On January 25, 1837 the brig Carroll set sail from New Orleans, bound for Baltimore. She carried a cargo of cotton, pork, hides, lard, castor oil and madder. Captain Miller and his crew also carried two passengers and a dog named Pillow.
After two uneventful weeks at sea, they approached Cape Lookout the night of February 8. Because it was obscured by fog, the first indication Captain Mitchell had of his proximity to Lookout Shoals was when, at 10 p.m., the Carroll suddenly struck a sand bar, ground to a stop and careened over on her side. Almost immediately, the brig drifted over the bar and into deep water again. An investigation showed she was shipping relatively little water and to outward appearances was not badly damaged. But when the helmsman tried to carry out a command he found that the wheel had lost contact with the rudder—it was soon obvious the rudder had been completely torn loose from the ship, leaving her practically unmanageable.
Due to rapidly increasing winds from the southeast, Mitchell decided to make every effort to get his vessel ashore before she foundered at sea with the imminent possibility of death for them all. “Finally,” Passenger Bangs reported later, “the light of Cape Look Out came in sight, distance about one mile. We endeavored by shifting the position of the sails to gain the light, but it was impossible to do so as the wind headed too much, and we struck the shore one mile to the south of the Cape. We remained beating on the shore all night, with a tremendous sea breaking over us every minute, looking forward with the greatest anxiety for daybreak, to see and get ashore if possible.
“The looked-for hour arrived,” Mr. Bangs continued. “Orders were given to clear the boat and all hands get in. The boat, however, no sooner touched the water than was filled, capsized, and dashed to pieces in the surf. It was fortunate for us all it so happened, for it was impossible a boat of any kind could live on such a sea, much less gain the shore with the wind ahead and the tide making out.”
As the morning wore on Mitchell, his crew and passengers made attempts to get a line to the beach some 40 or 50 yards away, but without success; and when people arrived on shore opposite the wreck they were powerless to get a line out to the Carroll as Mitchell and his cohorts were to get one in to them. Soon, the sky clouded and it began to rain. This turned to sleet, then hail and finally snow. By noon, with huge breakers crashing down around them, Mr. Bangs noted, “we had been exposed for 14 years and almost chilled to death.”
No one had attempted to swim to shore for rear of the terrible surf, but as the prospect of high tide threatened to engulf them all, it was decided to try to swim ashore with a line. It was further decided the one to do the swimming should be Pillow. As the crew of strong, able-bodied men clung helplessly to the violently pitching hull of the wrecked brig—other standing equally as helpless on the snow-covered show—Pillow, half choked by the rope around his neck, swam with all his fast ebbing strength toward the low lying beach and made it, with the line still tight around his neck. Soon afterwards his shipmates, nearly dead from cold and exposure, were safely pulled ashore!