United States Coast Guard - 200th Anniversary
The Pea Island Lifesaving Station was established in 1878 near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina on one of the most dangerous stretches of the Atlantic Coast. In 1880, Richard Etheridge became the first black keeper of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. Etheridge trained his crew well and soon earned a reputation as one of the best on the coast.
The Pea Island crew performed one of their finest rescues in October 1896. The three masted schooner E.S. NL'zvltJali, sailing from Providence, Rhode Island to Norfolk, Virginia ran into a hurricane on the eleventh. Helplessly pushed before the storm the ship lost all sails and drifted almost 100 miles before it ran aground off the coast of North Carolina. The Pea Island Lifesaving Station, two miles north of the wreck, had discontinued its routine patrols that night due to the high water that had inundated the island. Surfman Theodore Meekins, who was watching the ocean, saw what he thought was a distress signal and lit a Coston flare. Calling station keeper Richard Etheridge over to look for a return signal, they both strained to look through the storm tossed waves. Moments later, the men saw a faint signal which meant that a vessel was in distress.
The lifesaving crew was readied by Etheridge, a veteran of nearly twenty years of service and considered one of the most daring life-savers in the service. 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, including his wife and his three-year old child, clinging to the wreckage. They were unable to fire a line over the distressed ship because the high water prevented them from mounting the Lyle gun in the sand.
With all normal procedures impractical, Etheridge directed two surfmen to tie a heavy line around their bodies which bound them together. Grasping another line the pair moved into the breakers while the remaining surfmen secured the shore end of the line. The two surfmen reached the wreck and tied a line securely around one of the crewmen. All three were then pulled back through the raging surf to safety by the crew on the beach. The remaining eight persons were carried to shore in this fashion and after each trip two different surf-men replaced those who had just returned.
The U.S. Life-Saving Service was one of,the early federal agencies which later became part of the modern Coast Guard. For over fifty years the Life-Saving Service, as a separate branch, earned a worldwide reputation for assisting those in distress at sea. This agency, perhaps more than any other, represented the contemporary Coast Guard's most recognized mission. This particular rescue represents the early bravery and spirit of the Life-Saving Service which continues today in the United States Coast Guard.
Artist: Roy La Grone