U.S. Coast Guard
On 22 December 1884 the crew of the Cape Hatteras (NC) Station, performed one of the most heroic feats in the annals of the Life-Saving Service. Under the leadership of Keeper Benjamin B. Dailey, assisted by Keeper Patrick H. Etheridge, they rescued the nine men composing the crew of the barkentine Ephraim Williams. Out of Providence, RI the vessel was bound home from Savannah, GA with a cargo of pine lumber. On 18 December, when to the northward of Frying Pan Shoals, she encountered heavy weather and became waterlogged and almost a complete wreck. In this condition she drifted helplessly before the southerly gale until near Cape Hatteras.
On 21 December her anchors were let go to save her from driving onto the outlying shoals several miles from shore. The ill-fated craft dragged some distance further. Just before dark, she seemed to fetch up. The crews of the Durant's, Creed's Hill, and Cape Hatteras Stations saw her but it impossible for them to do anything. Experienced local surfmen swore that the surf was the heaviest and most dangerous they had seen for years. The aforementioned station crews, along with that of the Big Kinnakeet station, maintained their vigilence through the night for any signal from the bark. Nothing was seen, however, during the night.
At daylight on 22 December, it was found she had made it past the shoals lay six or seven miles northeast of the Cape Hatteras Station, nearly opposite the Big Kinnakeet station. The Big Kinnakeet crew, nearly all of whom were at the Hatteras Station, set out at once for their own station to get their boat. Tired from loss of rest, they ate breakfast upon arriving at the station. Keeper Dailey came up with his horse-drawn boat. Keeper Patrick H. Etheridge of the Creed's Hill station took the place of an absent member of the crew. It was then about 10:30 AM. Up to that time the was no sign of life on the bark, but as they stood watching her a flag was run up to the mast-head as a distress signal. That was enough for Dailey and his crew to launch their boat. The Cape Hatteras men were soon ready. They lashed all loose articles in the boat, stripped off clothing that might impede them the boat capsized. Then, donning their cork belts, they shoved the boat in and gave way.
To those on the shore it seemed a forlorn hope. Few believed it would be successful. The breakers on the inner bar were safely crossed, but then came the infinitely more hazardous outer bar. The scene was enough to make even the most stout hearts quail. As Dailey neared the barrier, he held his boat in check for a brief period awaiting his chance. The chance soon came. Quick as a flash, the word was given to the rowers and a few powerful strokes carried the boat safely beyond the bar and through the greatest danger. Keeper Scarborough and the crew of the Big Kinnakeet Station attempted to follow in Dailey's wake, but could not get through. They were compelled, very much against their inclination, to turn back and beach the boat.
There was still a pull of several miles for Dailey and his gallant fellows, they reached the bark about 12:30. It was impossible to lay the boat alongside for fear of being swamped. So it was anchored off the bark's quarter by means a line thrown to them by the captain. This allowed them to move close enough to take the men off one by one. This required the most skillful maneuver to avoid staving the boat. The rescued people were distraught with cold and hunger, as they had been battered by the weather for over ninety hours. As soon as they were seated and everything was ready, the anchor was weighed and a start made for the shore. Keeper Etheridge relieved Dailey at the steering-oar while the latter tended the drag. The boat, laden with sixteen souls, was almost gunwale deep, but it rode the seas like a duck.
After safely passing the outer line of breakers, they reached the shore in good shape. Once there, they were met by the Big Kinnakeet crew and the others on the beach. A hearty meal had been prepared at the Big Kinnakeet Station by Keeper Scarborough' s direction and the castaways were taken there to be revived. Thus was accomplished one of the most daring rescues by the Life-Saving Service since its organization.
The officer detailed to inquire into the circumstance of the gallant affair closes his report with the following remarks:
"I do not believe that a greater act of heroism is recorded than that of Dailey and his crew on this momentous occasion. 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 most tumultuous sea that any boat within the memory of living men had ever attempted on that bleak coast, and all for what. That others might live to see home and friends. The thought of reward or mercenary appeal never once entered their minds. Duty, their sense of obligation, and the credit of the Service impelled them to do their mighty best. The names of Benjamin B. Dailey and his comrades in this magnificent feat should never be forgotten. As long as the Life-Saving Service has the good fortune to number among its keepers and crews such men as these, no fear need ever be entertained for its good name or purposes."
For their conspicuous bravery the boat's crew was awarded medals of the first class. Those receiving awards included Keeper Benjamin B. Dailey and Surfmen Isaac L. Jennett, Thomas Gray, John H. Midgett, Jabez B. Jennett, and Charles Fulcher of the Cape Hatteras Station and Keeper Patrick H. Etheridge of the Creed's Hill Station.
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