Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Graveyard of the Atlantic

 Roll on, thou deep dark ocean, roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Thy wrecks are all they deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man's ravage, save his own,
When for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.
~Apostrophe to the Ocean, George Lord Byron

Alexander Hamilton coined the nickname that has stayed with the seas of North Carolina for over 200 years: Graveyard of the Atlantic. In 1773, a 15 year-old Hamilton was caught off Cape Hatteras in a furious storm which nearly sent his ship to the bottom of the Atlantic.

Shipwrecks have occurred of the North Carolina coast since European settlement of the New World. For nearly 300 years, ships grounded on the shoals, pitchpoled in the enormous breakers, encountered sudden knockdowns outside Cape Hatteras or simply disappeared from the gray, heaving sea without a trace.

Record keeping of shipwrecks began in 1526, and since then, 5,000 ships have sunk in these waters.

While men and women carved a new country out of the North American frontier, fighting the Native Americans, the French, the Spanish, the English and each other almost no effort was made to save the countless mariners, merchants and passengers who found themselves clinging to the tattered shrouds of shipwrecks.

Though the origins of organized lifesaving are rooted in the experiments and efforts of the Northern coastal states, for decads untold numbers of ships have been coming ashore on North Carolina beaches. The Henry, the Horacio and the Islington all foundered in the winter of 1820. The elegant steamship Home, which sailed right into the terrible "Racer Storm," was one of 16 wrecks recorded in 1837. Grounded just 100 yards off Ocracoke, the Home's shipmates realized they had only two life preservers on board. 90 people perished in the surf.

The Pulaski in 1838, the Congress in 1842 and the French bark Emilie in 1845 were all victims of the shoals off the Outer Banks. And the toll continued to mount. The Mary Anna, the Ocean, the Magnolia. During some storms, such as the brutal gale of July 24, 1850, that took five vessels at Diamond Shoals alone, miles of beach would be strewn with debris and bodies. It can never be known how many lives were lost during this period.

The alarming loss of life off the Outer Banks prompted Congress to allocate funds to station surfboats at Bodie Island, Ocracoke and Wilmington in 1852, for use by volunteer crews. Despite the great need for more, North Carolina lacked the political influence for appropriations comparable to those allocated to New Jersey and Massachusetts.

In the late 1850s, a small majority in Congress finally acknowledged the need for a publicly funded organization of well-trained lifesavers to safeguard against maritime catastrophes and to respond when trouble struck. The outbreak of the Civil War delayed their efforts, but in 1871, amid continued debate, the United States Life-Saving Service (LSS) was born as a branch of the Revenue Marine Service of the Treasury Department and the age of volunteerism was over.

Found at Fire on the Beach: Recovering the Lost Story of Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers  by David Wright & David Zoby

Outer Banks Ghost Fleet

Wreckers & the "Legend of Nags Head"

"Wreckers" by E. Duncan, in the
Winter Exhibition at 7, Haymarket
From The Illustrated London News, January 19, 1867:

"What even the storm spared will not escape the more ruthless hand of man's fellow-man. We do not see the "wreckers" leaving in their greed, as they have often don, the poor shipwrecked ones unaided, to perish; the painter has spared us that. But on all that is left--the shattered hull, the splintered masts and spars, the tattered sails--they are gathering, more rapacious than the gulls that toss and shriek above them, like birds of prey scenting carrion; like demons round a lost soul. We had hoped that the most diabolical practice of wrecking, which formerly so much prevailed, especially on the Cornish coast, no longer disgraced our civilizations; but it would appear that this is not so, judging by the most recent accounts of wrecking at Deal, and the still worst instance at New Brighton, near the entrance of the Mersey." 

From Shipwrecks of the Outer Banks by Kevin P. Duffus:

Shipwrecks have shaped the destiny of the Outer Banks ever since Native-Americans stood awestruck, as some of the earliest European seafarers met their doom off North Carolina's treacherous capes and attendant shoals in the 1500s. A century later, non-native inhabitants, many castaways themselves, survived almost entirely off the flotsam of foundered vessels. A few were even rumored to have adoped the ways of the wreckers of Britain's Cornish coast, "indulging in proverbial crudity," by neglecting, or even murdering, ill-fated shipwreck victims in order to salvage wreckage with abandon. The practice produced a legend, fanciful but false, of the origin of the name, Nags Head, which was based on how wreckers may have lured wayward ships onto the beach using a lantern, dangling from the neck of a Banker pony--a visually romantic ruse but in practice, unlikely. No navigator worth his salt would ever be fooled by a dimly-lit lantern swinging from a horse's neck, even if his vessel was within a mile or two of Outer Banks breakers. In thick and threatening weather, poor visibility would make the prospect significantly more improbable. Still, there were rumors. 

From The History of North Carolina by Hugh Williamson, 1812:

"The main land of North Carolina is separated in most parts from the ocean by a Sound, of different breadths, and a sandy bank, that is about one mile broad and one hundred miles long. This bank is chiefly settled; and the inhabitants, some hundreds in number, are employed in fishing, piloting, or navigating small coastal vessels.

North Carolina has been long noted for the number of ships that are wrecked upon its coast in the vicinity of Cape Hatteras. There is hardly any other coast on which a ship may be cast away with so little danger to the lives of mariners: a circumstance that is fully understood by the masters of old vessels that are well insured. It is known that on the coast of Cornwall in England, on the coast of Ireland, of France, and on every other coast where ships are frequently wrecked, the mariners and passengers are in much danger of being murdered by the inhabitants for the sake of getting their property. The laws of England, where the police is well regulated, have not been able fully to prevent those abominable outrages upon humanity. On the coast of Carolina there has not been an instance of murder. The mariner or passenger, who may have the misfortune to be shipwrecked, is hospitably received. The bankers lend their active assistance in saving the cargo." 

Wreck Masters & Vendues

Ocracoke Island Journal

A Daily Journal of Island History & Culture / Monday, February 26, 2018

Wreck Masters & Vendues

About a week and a half ago a reader left this comment on our post about the Life-Saving Service: "With all these ship wrecks and saved passengers and or sailors what happened to the cargo. Who on the island benefited the most when it came to salvage rights. That is the part I find interesting, stuff washing on shore. is it up for grabs because the insurance company pays for the loss and there it is and a free for all ensues??? If it washes on shore it is not theft to remove something that does not belong to the person removing the items??"

Cargo on Shore after the 1899 Storm
Carol Cronk Cole Collection, Outer Banks History Center
I have addressed this issue in the past, but the information is worth repeating.

In the nineteenth century and early twentieth century the federal government appointed wreck masters in coastal communities. These individuals were empowered to take charge of cargo and other goods thrown on shore after a shipwreck. Of course, for generations Ocracokers and others on the isolated Outer Bankers were accustomed to salvaging whatever they could before the sea reclaimed it.

Once wreck masters were appointed, their task was to contact the shipping agent who arranged for a vendue, or auction. The vendue (an old French word) was the occasion for much excitement in coastal areas. Residents and visitors would gather around for the entertainment as much as for the opportunity to purchase items at bargain prices.

Shipwreck salvaging is a time-honored tradition on Hatteras and Ocracoke

Found at www.villagerealtyobx.com.

Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006, dawned bright and warm on Hatteras, and the regulars at the Frisco Rod & Gun loitered around the coffee, talking about fishing, gas prices, and the latest "he said-she said." Uneventful as the day began, that changed big time when a wild-eyed, out-of-breath local stuck his head in the front door and yelled, "Containers washed up at the bathhouse! There's jillions of bags of Doritos all over the beach!" Later that day, as the novelty of the story worked its way into the national media, an employee of the Rod & Gun remarked to one of the papers that, "In the blink of an eye it was just the employees left standing there, stunned, looking at each other. The place emptied in, like, 12 seconds."

Down through history, that kind of mad scramble has been nothing unusual for the islanders. It is a scenario that has played out hundreds of times before. We were just doing what comes naturally.

Shipwreck salvaging, or wreck busting, is a time-honored tradition. It was altogether lucrative during the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s, and the largest cash industry on the coast. With large sums of money at stake, it was also intensely competitive. It was not uncommon on Hatteras and Ocracoke for islanders to pull down as much as $800 a pop or for a group of men to split several thousand dollars.

Many years ago, David Stick underscored the intensity of wreck busting in an interview he conducted with an insurance agent at Ocracoke for his book, "Graveyard of the Atlantic."

"The Ocracokers," the man said, "would drop a body while carrying it to the grave, and leave it on the road, or leave Sunday services, if someone yelled, 'Ship ashore!'"

Actually, there appears to be some basis for that assessment. Brother L. O. Wyche, beloved preacher at Ocracoke, was conducting a revival at the Methodist Church in the mid-1890s when word spread through the congregation that a lumber-laden vessel had struck near The Swash.

Preaching came to a halt as the men executed an orderly dash out the doors. The next night, one of the ladies of the church scolded Brother Wyche, saying the episode was unchristian-like, and our Lord could not possibly condone such intoxicating behavior.

The eloquent Wyche, hat in hand, politely responded, "Don't dwell on it, good sister. He'd have done the same thing for us…."

Long before there was an Interstate 95, with thousands of tractor-trailers hauling commerce up and down the East Coast from Miami to Boston, there was an I-95 of sorts right off Hatteras and Ocracoke. It was the great Atlantic shipping lane, with hundreds of ships every day riding the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current and passing within sight of the beach, from the earliest ships of the Age of Discovery right up through World War II. As the Doritos saga aptly showed, those shipping lanes are still used by maritime traffic today.

As with accidents in bad weather on I-95, on our beaches there were shipwrecks, and in the case of major storms, several at one time. When they came, islanders summoned their inner busters and dropped meager subsistence livings, such as fishing, oystering, or boat building, to concentrate their full focus on wrecking.

When a ship wrecked along the beach, the international maritime salvage laws came into play. It is still recognized law today, with some exceptions. Simply stated, the first on board took possession, providing they "raced" to reach the notary public to have their claim registered.

The following is a typical account taken from the wreck commissioner's logbook of Caleb B. Stowe, one of two archived at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras.

"State of North Carolina, Hyde County, April 27th, 1858. Messrs. Zorababel Gaskins, Robert Rollinson and Caleb Stowe personally came and appeared before me Joshua H. Dailey, Notary Public, and have this day petitioned me in my official capacity and says that the aforesaid gentlemen are in command of a certain Schooner called Charles Roberts of Rockland in the state of Maine of the Burthen of One hundred and Seventy tons or thereabouts under Master Daniel E. Post of Bucksport in the state of Maine laden with a cargo of corn, shingles, tar, pitch and turpentine and that while engaged on a voyage from the Port of Charleston SC Capt. Post has on the Twenty Sixth Inst. been unfortunately shipwrecked on Outer Diamond off Cape Hatteras and crew except Capt. Post and First Mate Benjamin Davis of Bristol in the state of Maine cast ashore on the seabeach south of said sand reef. Vessel unmanageable as foremast and mainmast broken away and mainsail and mizzen-sails torn to flinders and fast on Diamond and aforesaid gentlemen advised Capt. Post after deliberation with him on his misfortune and succeeded by aid of lighters in unloading and getting said Schooner afloat whereupon she struck Middle Diamond taking on water through her hatches and listed to starboard. Therefore the aforesaid gentlemen in attendance with Capt. Post petitions me to approve a survey of goods and competent men to go on board the Charles Roberts and a true examination made of all materials and things relative to the condition of said Schooner and the cargo of her and in agreements and aid of Capt. Post with their advice in regard to what course deemed most proper for him to pursue to promote the rights, privileges and interest of all parties concerned in said vessel and her cargo. Having therefore full faith and confidence in your integrity, skill and judgment in such matters I do hereby nominate and appoint you for that purpose and request that you will immediately repair to and board the said Schooner and her cargo in concurrence respect, faith, and fairness with Capt. Post and report the same to me on oath of the Holy Evangelist of Almighty God and under your signatures. Given under my hand and seal at Cape Hatteras NC this 27th April 1858. Joshua H. Dailey, Notary Public, Zorababel Gaskins, Robert Rollinson, Caleb Stowe, Capt. Daniel Post, Benj. Davis (signatures).

North Carolina is still a "race" state today -- first to record gets first position. Wreck busters were not pirates. They simply acted within the law. The original ship owners, with the captain as their representative, still possessed priority rights. The common sense thinking of common law countries pursued a view that saving the cargo of a wrecked ship meant compromises.

A respected community leader, wrote Charles Williams II in "The Kinnakeeter," was appointed wreck commissioner by the governor, who acted on the recommendation of the township's representative to state government. Hatteras and Ocracoke, prior to the arrival of the U.S. Postal Service in 1870, were delineated into four townships -- Chicamacomico Banks, Kinnakeet Banks, Hatteras Banks, and Ocracoke.

At the first news of a wreck, the commissioner went to the scene. He was similar to a U.S. marshal in that he was the authority figure to keep order -- to prevent the ship from being plundered. As such, he was there first and foremost to protect the rights of the ship's owners and their insurers and, secondly, to allow the salvagers to perform their services of unloading the ship.

In addition to representing the government and keeping control of salvage operations, the commissioner was also responsible for the vendue, loosely the English translation and pronunciation of the French verb, "vendre," which means "to sell." At the vendue, the commissioner presided over an auction sale of the ship and its contents on the beach at the scene of the wreck. His fee was set by law at five percent. Needless to say, the wreck commissioner enjoyed a measure of prosperity in his life.

In most cases, the ship's owners and wreck busters split the remaining balance 50-50. Many factors, however, came into play that often caused disagreements. If the captain or owners could not prove total ownership, whether by loss of papers or questionable dealings, the wreck commissioner would call in an arbitrator. If there was a cloud on the vessel's ownership or bad faith dealings on part of the owners, it was not unusual for the arbitrator to award wreck busters as much as 75 percent.

Similarly, if the salvors had acted unlawfully or not dealt in good faith, the owners were awarded a higher percentage. The character and integrity of wreckers were held to a high standard. In some cases, if the wreckers had indeed acted unlawfully or if the cargo was of considerable value, buyers from northeastern North Carolina or Hampton Roads in Virginia often bid on the merchandise as a whole.

Wreckers were then employed to handle the cargo. A recent example of this was the 1976 beaching between Kinnakeet and Chicamacomico of the World War II liberty ship Betelgeuse, bound from Philadelphia to a Galveston scrap yard, when it was cut loose by the sea tug towing her as bad weather threatened to wreck both vessels. Two Rodanthe men, Mac Midgett and Steve Midgett, the first to board her under maritime salvage laws and after the prerequisite trip to a notary, were awarded an undisclosed amount of money to "guard" the vessel by the insurance company.

The earliest known recorded shipwreck salvaging effort on our shores occurred in late January of 1698, when the Swift Advice, bound for England from Williamsburg, was scuttled in an ice storm exiting the Chesapeake Bay, subsequently beaching at Chicamacomico.

The Swift Advice was no ordinary ship -- not by a long shot. It was owned by none other than King William, and was outfitted with the best guns, furniture, sails, and provisions of the day. In a bit of intrigue, the ship also carried intelligence documents capable of compromising the monarchy's efforts to hem in King Louis and France and that nation's considerable interest in North America.

The ship lay stranded for fewer than 36 hours before an armed detachment dispatched by the Lord Proprietors from near present-day Edenton on the Chowan River arrived to guard the vessel for the monarchy. To their utter horror, it had been stripped bare of everything. No guns, no furniture, no sails, no spars, no nothing, pretty much left on blocks like the proverbial Ford Fairlane at a redneck trailer park.

In his official report of the fiasco at Chicamacomico, Deputy Governor Thomas Harvey wrote the following to Governor John Archdale:

"In January last His Majesty's Ship Swift Advice boat was deserted of the King's owne men in the Colony of Virginia & from thence was driven by the wind to sea &… cast on shore on our Sand Banks where she was found by some of the inhabitants of that place who plundered her of what they could carry away... as more company Came every one endeavored to get something for themselves out of the spoil. Some were great Rogues, (and the) opportunity made others but little better… before I heard anything of it much of the goods, armes & furniture was embezzled... as soon as I had notice I sent down Capt. Jno Stepney and after him Mr. Comander who apprehended about 20 of the inhabitants engaged in this Riot & tooke a good deal of the Goods that was Carried away in the people's houses & Some hid in the Ground & ye persons what were apprehended were most of them brought before me & Comitted for tryall…"

Apparently, piracy was alive and well on Hatteras and Ocracoke before Blackbeard was barely old enough to shave.

The last of the great shipwreck vendues was the George A. Kohler. It was a proud four-masted schooner bound from Baltimore to Haiti for log wood when it was driven ashore below Chicamacomico by 90 mph winds during the Hurricane of 1933 on Aug. 22. At 212 feet long, the Kohler presented a sweet opportunity to ship busters in Kinnakeet and Chicamacomico.

One of the fortunate busters was Charles Williams II of Avon, who bid in the vendue. He and others received salvors' fees for removing everything of value on the Kohler to the beach. While she carried no cargo for Haiti, there was plenty of stuff to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, such as desks, furnishings, foodstuffs, fresh water, canvas, sail gear, and the hulk itself.

One man who remembered the wreck and sale of the Kohler was the late Charlie C. Gray of Avon. Still in his possession when he was interviewed for a story in May, 1993, was the captain's seafaring shaving kit, a gift to Charlie from his uncle, Percy Williams, one of the Kinnakeet wreckers.

"Little Charles and myself went up with Uncle Percy and Uncle Charles in Charles' truck and unloaded her," Charlie said. "Lots of heavy stuff had to be hoisted over the side. The Kohler had sanded up real bad, and it was easy to throw a ladder up the side. We got to go aboard her and it was a thrill running around on her decks.

"I wasn't but about 6 and Little Charles wasn't much older, but it was pretty high up there for two little boys. We felt like we were on top of the world."

His Uncle Percy, according to Charlie, got a desk, chair, and various small furnishings. He paid to tear all the wood out of the forecastle for his barber shop, in which he cut hair for many years afterward, Charlie said. The ship's master, Capt. George Hopkins, salvaged the sails. The yawl boat was bought by Noah H. Price from the owners, White and Vane of Baltimore. Price resold it for a tidy profit to Lloyd Meekins. Charlie's Uncle Charles bought the rights to the hulk from White & Vane for $150, which he periodically stripped and sold.

In 1938, Williams sold the hulk to Leonard Hooper of Salvo, who used some of it to build what is now the Salvo Assembly of God church. Hooper then burned the remnant for its massive amounts of steel and iron in 1940, leveraging the high market the fittings brought as scrap metal for the World War II effort.

The glory days of shipwreck salvaging have passed, along with the Age of Sail, but that doesn't mean we've heard the last of ship busters. The next time something washes ashore, Doritos or whatever, get on board or get out of the way, because you can bet the islanders will be stepping all over each other to be the first ones out there.

(Daniel C. Couch is a contributor to The Island Free press who has been writing about the history of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands since he was in high school. He operates Hatteras Tours, which specializes in historical tours of the islands.)

Monday, June 3, 2013

United States Life-Saving Service

"These poor, plain men, dwellers upon the lonely sands of Hatteras took their lives in their hands, and, at the most imminent risk, crossed the tumultuous sea ... and all for what? So that others might live to see home and friends."

Historical records are filled with stories of ship disasters off the Outer Banks. It's astounding to learn how many ships grounded and washed ashore during the 18th and 19th centuries and how often Bankers risked their lives to rescue mariners and their cargo.

During the 18th century, the Outer Banks offered no organized method of dealing with one of the area’s most constant and worrisome problems … shipwrecks. Fortunately, on their own, it's residents, known as "Bankers", did a fair job of it themselves. In some cases they were rewarded for their actions either by wreck survivors, by the ship’s owner or by public sale of the ship’s cargo.

In 1801 the North Carolina Assembly finally legislated a loose system of wreck districts for the Outer Banks that authorized wreck commissioners to handle maritime disasters. Wreck masters were responsible for gathering a party of people to rescue ships in distress—accounting for the wreck and its cargo and assuring that the ship’s owners reimbursed the rescue party. If the cargo from a wreck went unclaimed for a year, a public sale was arranged by the wreck master. At best, this system was disorganized, leaving initiatives with the various coastal communities, and depending on Bankers to have the integrity to do the right thing.

A rash of maritime disasters near the mid-9th century convinced a reluctant Congress to appropriate funds for government-sponsored lifesaving stations and in 1852, federal money paid for surfboats to be stationed at Wilmington, Ocracoke and Bodie Islands in the custody of the customs collector. But it was not until 1871, following another series of shipwrecks, that a Revenue Marine Bureau was funded within the U.S. Treasury Department and given responsibility for maritime rescues. The new legislation authorized 7 lifesaving stations on the Outer Banks, to be built in 1873 and 1874, at Jones’s Hill, Caffrey’s Inlet, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, Bodie Island, Chicamacomico and Little Kinnakeet. 

The presence of lifesaving stations on the Outer Banks was a step in the right direction, but the stations were understaffed for years. It required the wreck of the Huron off Nags Head in 1877, with the loss of 103 lives, to create a public outcry for increased government resources for maritime disasters.

Two months later, the steamer Metropolis grounded at Currituck, and 85 people drowned. That same year, Congress conferred full bureau status on the U.S. Lifesaving Service (USLSS), and the agency came into its own. Like the Revenue Marine Bureau, the USLSS lay within the Treasury Department.

Still, the government rescue operations extended only halfway down the North Carolina coast, leaving Core Banks, Shackleford Banks, Bogue Banks, Topsail Island and the Cape Fear regions without an official means of responding to shipwrecks. This geographical limitation may have been influenced by the Union sympathies of the upper half of the Outer Banks during the Civil War.

The politics of Reconstruction may have dealt another hand in the evolution of the USLSS on the Outer Banks. The story of the Pea Island Station, for example, is an anomaly in the service’s annals and should be recounted in some detail.

Photo: U.S.Coast Guard
Built in 1878, it was staffed with an all-white crew. Soon after its opening for active duty, one of its watches failed to spot a grounded vessel. This lapse cost the lives of four men. An investigation of the tragedy by USLSS officials forced the resignation of the station keeper and of the surfman who had neglected his duties. The investigating official further recommended Richard Etheridge, a local black, for the position of keeper, and on January 24, 1880, he became the first black station keeper in the USLSS. 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.” Read more HERE. 

Yet another shipwreck tragedy was required to convince Congress of the wisdom of extending lifesaving operations south of Kinnakeet to the southern reaches of the Carolina coast. The dreadful breakup of the Crissie Wright in 1886 off Shackleford Banks, during which horrified citizens watched passengers and crew freeze to death in the ship’s rigging, inspired lifesaving stations at Hatteras, Ocracoke, Portsmouth, Lookout and so on down the coast to Wilmington and Southport.

The U.S. Lifesaving Service, originally set up on a nationwide basis in 1871 and expanded to include part of the North Carolina coast in 1876, was merged with the older U.S Revenue Cutter Service on January 28, 1915. The name given to the new federal agency thus formed was United States Coast Guard, but the change made little difference along the coast, for the same stations, equipment and crews were still employed.

At the time of the formation of the Coast Guard there were 29 stations on the coast of North Carolina. These were, from north to south: Wash Woods, Pennys Hill, Whales Head, Poyners Hill, Caffeys Inlet, Paul Gamiels Hill, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Bodie Island, Oregon Inlet, Pea Island, New Inlet (abandoned the following year), Chicamacomico, Gull Shoal, Little Kinnakeet, Big Kinnakeet, Cape Hatteras, Creeds Hill, Durants, Hatteras Inlet, Ocracoke, Portsmouth, Core Bank, Cape Lookout, Fort Macon, Bogue Inlet, Cape Fear and Oak Island.

The Coast Guard absorbed the Lighthouse Service in 1939 and its duties came to include both prevention and rescue, customs violations, prohibition enforcement and all other national maritime regulation. In many instances, the Coast Guard simply occupied the structures of its predecessors and went on with business as usual.

Visit About the United States Life Saving Service for more information and old illustrations.

U.S. Life-Saving Service Annual Reports

Annual Reports of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service

Annual Reports for the USLSS were published each year from 1876 to 1914 and are not limited to Life Saving stations serving the North Carolina coast. Reports ceased on January 20, 1915 when the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and U.S. Life-Saving Service were combined and renamed United States Coast Guard.

USLSS Annual Reports summarize the operations and activities of the service for that year. They include information regarding the establishment of stations, the design and procurement of equipment, statistics regarding maritime activity, accidents, shipwrecks and casualties, and descriptions of related life-saving operations.

This post lists transcriptions of the following USLSS Annual Reports on vessels that wrecked off the North Carolina coast. Because of the difficulty in scanning said reports for NC wrecks, there are no doubt vessels that might have been missed. Following are links to the actual reports:


1908 – Not Available
1914 – Not Available
1918 – Not Available
1919 – Not Available