Pea Island Lifesaving Station History

Pea Island Lifesaving Station, in the years 1880 through 1915, housed the most unheralded American heroes this country ever produced. The only all-black crew that ever served in the US Lifesaving Service, the forerunner of the US Coast Guard, the men of Pea Island affected one of the greatest feats of lifesaving yet known during a late-season hurricane, Oct. 11, 1896. The schooner E.S. Newman, bound for Newport News, VA, from Providence, RI, struck at New Inlet in 95-mph winds, blowing so taut across the sea beach that exposed flesh was stripped from skin. As there were no dunes in those days, Pea Island was awash with storm surf. Four men tied themselves together on a dry patch of sand, anchoring the two strongest swimmers, Theodore Meekins and Rev. Stanley Wise, as they waded and swam 100 yards through hurricane surf to carry a line to the Newman, enabling the rescue of all 13 hands aboard. Ellen Gardiner, wife of Newman Capt. Sylvester Gardiner, wrote in her journal years later: "I was tied to the mainmast of the ship with our 3-year old son. I was singing to young Thomas, as I wanted the last thing for him to hear was his mother's voice as we prepared to meet our creator, when from the tumultuous surf came the hand of salvation - the hand of a black man, Theodore Meekins." It took one hundred years to the day, on Oct. 11th, 1996, when President Clinton and Senator Helms arranged a ceremony, attended by the Outer Banks descendants of the Pea Island lifesavers, to be posthumously awarded the highest honor for valor in this country - the Gold Lifesaving Medal of Honor.


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