Sailors, Ships, and Shore Mates from the Great Lakes to the Great Barrier Reef
Women Help Save the Crew of the Bark Martha P. Tucker
To his dismay, Captain George Mitchell, master of the bark Martha P. Tucker, found himself in the middle of another ferocious brew of hurricane winds as fierce as the one that he had weathered near Savannah, Georgia a few short days ago. He squinted through the mist and rain for a glimpse of the New Jersey shore. The Martha Tucker had left Port Tampa, Florida several days ago, and he felt certain that she had almost reached her destination harbor at Carteret, New Jersey.
A bark of 603 tons built at Bath, Maine in 1874, the Martha P. Tucker had carried a variety of people and cargo over her 19 years at sea. She had ferried immigrants on several previous voyages, but on this voyage her cargo consisted of 856 tons of phosphate rock. Captain Mitchell and his crew of twelve men were anxious to reach their New Jersey port to escape this latest storm. The first mate was named Hansen, the second mate Quarlin, one of the crew members was Andrew Anderson, and the steward was a Chinaman called Gee Ti.
A Second Storm Hit the Martha P. Tucker
Nineteen days out from Port Tampa after midnight on August 28, 1893, a new storm struck the Martha Tucker with sledge hammer winds. Captain Mitchell, who owned a fourth interest in the Martha Tucker, believed that she had managed to struggle to a point off Barnegat, New Jersey, but he couldn’t sight land to verify this because of the darkness and mist. Weather and geography combined to test Captain Mitchell’s navigational skills to the limit. The powerful wind blew from the southward and Captain Mitchell, well aware of the geographical peculiarities of this stretch of ocean, hauled off to the eastward. The New Jersey shore extended south and the Long Island New York shore extended east to form two sides of a triangle with its apex at the mouth of the Hudson River in New York Harbor.
Staten Island sat on the western side and further west across a narrow channel laid the town of Carteret, the Martha Tucker’s destination port. A lee or sheltered side against the dreaded southeasterly gales was located between the meeting points of the New Jersey and New York shores, but it was situated so that ships making an effort to avoid one shore were often thrown up on the other shore.
Captain Mitchell and the Martha P. Tucker continued to battle the wind and the surging seas, and the winds drove her farther to the leeward than the Captain had calculated. At about three o’clock on the morning of August 29, 1893, a squall swept over the Martha Tucker and strained her canvas to the ripping point, parting the foretopsail sheets instantly, and tearing the sail from the bolt ropes. The sailors climbed the mast to tear off the tattered sails so they could put on a new topsail. Suddenly, the wind swept aside the curtain of rain and mist and to his dismay, Captain Mitchell spied a low beach extending east and west with a backdrop of small sand hills just under the lee northward.
The Martha P. Tucker Stranded and a Sailor Drowned
Realizing that he couldn’t keep the Martha Tucker from stranding, Captain Mitchell called the sailors down from the masts, ordered the helm up, and beached his ship head on about one mile west of the Point Lookout, Long Island, lighthouse south of Freeport, New York. The tide had almost reached flood mark so that the Martha Tucker grounded with her bows only about two hundred yards from the shore. From the viewpoint of the Tucker’s crew, the distance might have well been 200 miles.
The foam flecked waves dashed and danced and tumbled over the stern of the Martha Tucker like a waterfall, flooding the fore and aft decks and sending the sailors into the rigging. The pounding of the waves weakened the rock heavy Martha Tucker, and the mizzenmast where her crew perched precariously, swayed, warning them that the spar would soon fall into the sea. All hands except a sailor named Andrew Anderson left the sails and struggled forward to the bowsprit and jib boom which were more out of the reach of the waves. Seaman Anderson refused to follow his fellow sailors to the bowsprit and he was swept into the sea and drowned when the mizzen mast toppled over.
Captain Andrew Rhodes Found a Crew at the Point Lookout Light
At about six o’clock in the morning of August 29, 1893, someone on shore spotted the foundering Martha P. Tucker. The Point Lookout Light Station was a popular place for parties and visitors, even in bad weather. Nineteen year old Riley Raynor and three ladies from Freeport, Mrs. Celia Raynor, Mrs. Rene Southard, and Mrs. Andrew Moseman, had spent the night at the Point Lookout Light Station visiting the light keeper Andrew Rhodes and his teenage daughter Jennie.
Riley had climbed into the Point Lookout light tower and he spotted the waves tossing the Martha Tucker like a rubber ball. He climbed down from the tower and told light keeper Andrew Rhodes about the Martha Tucker and the light keeper immediately climbed the tower. At first he couldn’t see anything through the rain, but after a few minutes the rain subsided enough to that Keeper Rhodes could see the Martha Tucker not far off shore, but bending into the wind and buffeted by the mountainous seas.
The life saving crews didn’t go on duty until September 1, so Captain Rhoades didn’t have an on-site crew to help him with a rescue. Keeper Rhodes decided to find a substitute crew. He had Riley, and he had his daughter Jennie and her friends Mrs. Andrew Moseman, Mrs. James R. Raynor and Mrs. Martin Southard.
Climbing back down the stairs to the station below, Keeper Rhodes telephoned Keeper Richard Van Wicklen of the Long Beach Station, giving him the location of the foundering Martha Tucker. Then Keeper Rhodes ran outside to the barn for another sighting, and he discovered that the Martha Tucker was drifting toward the shore. He again called the Long Beach Station and Keeper Van Wicklen and M.J. Carter, telephone lineman of District No. 3, U. S. Life Saving Service set out for the Point Lookout Light Station. They had to travel on foot over four miles of uneven sandy beach and though a severe storm, but they arrived a little over an hour later at quarter past eight o’clock.
The Rescuers- Both Male and Female- Dragged the Beach Cart to the Wreck
Keeper Rhodes had also enlisted the help of Michael Alianello, an Italian watchman at the Point Lookout Hotel. Mrs. Southard decided to remain at the light station and care for the children, and Mrs. Raynor, Mrs. Moseman, and Jennie Rhodes and the men all wearing rubber coats and boots, tugged the mortar and breeches buoy cart along the beach. With the surf boat on the cart, this task usually took the combined strength of eight men, and even without the surf boat the cart wheels sank so deeply into the sandy hillside that the rescuers couldn’t move it.
The rescuers watched the foundering Martha Tucker and they watched seaman Andrew Anderson drown as struggled to reach the beach. The combined efforts of the men and women moved the cart and they pulled it over the sand hill to the hard beach surface. By this time everyone was soaked from head to toe so the men sent the women back to the light station for dry clothes and to prepare to take care of the shipwrecked sailors when they were rescued.
The three men and the teenage boy found traveling the beach so difficult that when they were about halfway to the wreck of the Martha Tucker, they decided to divide the gear. They had just finished unloading the cart when the Martha Tucker’s masts collapsed into the roaring surf, and the rescuers on shore thought that the entire crew had fallen into the sea along with the masts.
The life savers left the cart and hurried toward the wreck to help the sailors. They discovered the sailors clinging to the bowsprit and the jib boom which along with a small part of the bow, were the only part of the Martha Tucker left above water.
The lifesavers still hoped to save the sailors, so they continued their efforts to drag the cart nearer to the wrecked ship. The lifesavers made slow progress dragging the cart along the beach covered with water, their eyes stung by windblown sand. They managed to see that the Martha Tucker had already broken up from stern to forward mast.
The Rescuers – Male and Female-Hauled the Sailors Ashore in the Breeches Buoy
Finally, the lifesavers reached a place to sit the cart. They gathered some pieces of wreckage and built a rude platform. By 8;30 that morning, the cannon was positioned opposite the wreck of the Martha Tucker which by now the waves had split in two and washed away her stern. Eleven men clung to the bowsprit and high seas continually broke over the hull. The first cannon shot at 9 o’clock found its target and the No. 9 line fell across the Tucker’s bowsprit.
The sailors hauled in the line and ten minutes later sent out the breeches buoy. The women reappeared and took their places at the ropes, helping to haul all of the eleven shipwrecked men to shore. The fourteen year old cabin boy came in first in an exhausted condition. Crew members quickly followed, many of them without any clothing because they had prepared to swim for the beach when the Martha Tucker broke up. The rescued men were taken to the Point Lookout Station and fed and given warm clothing.
When the third sailor had been brought safely to land, four other men who had seen the stranded Martha Tucker arrived at the beach and relieved the women. While the rescuers were still bringing the sailors to shore, the light keepers received a message from the Long Beach Station reporting a schooner ashore one half mile west of there with seven people in the rigging. The efforts to rescue the Martha Tucker sailors were still too critical to spare any of the rescuers, so they stayed until all of the men had been rescued from the Martha Tucker and sent to the Point Lookout Station.
True to tradition, Captain Mitchell stepped into the buoy last. He had a stormy trip in the breeches buoy and half way to the shore a tremendous wave overturned him and he nearly strangled. When the rescuers dragged him up on the beach, they rolled him on a barrel and he soon regained consciousness.
The Martha Tucker Crew Minus One Rescued, but the Bark Was a Total Loss
When their rescue work at the Martha Tucker had been completed, the life savers began to move west toward the second wreck. When the rescuers had traveled about a mile, they learned that the waves had driven a schooner, which turned out to be the C. Henry Kirk without a load of cargo, well up on the beach at high water. Other rescuers had safely landed the crew. The C. Henry Kirk of New York City with an estimated value of $3,500, was bound from New York to Virginia. She became a total loss, but the seven man crew got ashore safely.
The district inspector of the Third District of the U.S. Life Saving Service summed up final voyage of the Martha Tucker in his report. He wrote that ""The vessel as I found her is a total wreck. The hull from a short distance abaft the foremast is broken off, the wood- work smashed into small pieces and strewn along the beach. The cargo cannot be recovered and nothing of value has been found. I consider it fortunate that eleven persons out of the twelve on board the bark were rescued, and believe that if Seaman Anderson had followed the crew when they left the mizzen rigging and gone to the jib boom, he too would have been saved."
.The inspector noted that the shipwrecked crew didn’t have any clothing when they reached land, so the ladies supplied them with suitable garments and after they rested a day at the station, they left for their homes.
The estimated value of the Martha Tucker was $15,000 and the cargo value was estimated at 8,000, and both were a total loss.
The New York Maritime Association Awarded Three of the Women Medals
A Brooklyn Eagle story dated October 19, 1893, continued the story of the rescuers of the crew of the Martha Tucker. The New York Maritime Association presented three of them with gold medals to honor their efforts as a volunteer life saving party. The story is datelined Freeport, Long Island, and states that Mrs. James B. Raynor, Mrs. Martin Southward and Miss Jennie Rhodes, the sixteen year old daughter of Captain Andrew Rhoes, in charge of the life saving station at Point Lookout , received gold life saving medals. .
Charles S. Whitney of the Maritime Association of the Port of New York presented the medals to the women. Charles Whitney had read the story of the rescue in the Brooklyn Eagle and visited the beach where the rescue took place. The heroism of the women so impressed him that he worked continuously to be sure that the women were awarded medals for their rescue efforts. For some reason, Mrs. Moseman is not mentioned in the gold medal story, even though a New York Times story dated August 30, 1893, and other accounts state that she participated in the rescue. .
The medals were made of gold with a gold cable border. One side featured an engraved stranded bark and a lifeboat with its accessories. The reverse side had an engraved inscription that read: "Presented by the Maritime Association of the Port of New York for heroic service in assisting to rescue the officers and crew of the American bark Martha P. Tucker at Long Beach, August 29, 1893."
Van R. Field. Mayday! Shipwrecks, Tragedies & Tales from Long Island’s Eastern Shore. The History Press, 2008.
Adam Grohman. Claimed by the Sea – Long Island Shipwrecks. Underwater Historical Research Society Publications, 2009.
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Photograph courtesy of the Ecorse, Michigan Rowing Club.