Skip Navigation


Security Levels


U.S. Coast Guard Awards

John C. Patterson

Awarded 3 February 1887

On 27 July 1885 the stout-hearted life-savers of the Shark River (NJ) Life-Saving Station (Fourth District) made a heroic rescue under the intrepid leadership of Keeper John C. Patterson. On 25 July the cat-rigged yacht Foam, with three men on board, left Jersey City for a pleasure cruise on Barnegat Bay. All were experienced sailors. After meeting with light and variable weather, on 26 July they encountered a northeast wind and rainstorm that quickly increased to a gale. The sails were shortened, but the storm grew and the men decided to take in the sails and drop anchor. All night the small craft pitched in the seaway. At daylight on 27 July, they saw that they were half a mile from the shore about six miles south of Long Branch, NJ. Realizing the extreme danger of their situation and not knowing at what moment the cable might part, they hoisted their ensign upside down as a signal for help.

Soon after, about 6 o’clock, Keeper Patterson was patrolling the beach and saw the boat through the rain and mist. He first thought her to be a fishing vessel, but the proprietor of the Avon Inn notified him that the craft was in distress. The keeper at once hurried down the beach, mustering, a volunteer crew of surfmen as he went. These men were in the USLSS, but they were working as lifeguards for the summer at the Ocean Grove and Asbury Park beaches. Patterson then went to the station and set the signal for the crew to "assemble." Soon those who had responded to Patterson’s signal manned the beach apparatus. With a team of horses procured from a stagecoach, the equipment was hauled to a point on the shore opposite the yacht. By this time a multitude of people had gathered on the beach. The keeper remained resolute and did not swerve from his conception of duty.

The gun was carefully trained and fired, but the shot-line parted and the shot fell beyond the boat’s mast. Three succeeding trials to send the line over the craft proved ineffective. At last it was decided to launch the surfboat. It was drawn, with difficulty, through the heavy sand to a favorable spot. The lifesavers stripped for the work and put on their cork jackets. There was now a crowd of between three and four thousand people on the beach. The men on the yacht could be seen still holding on for dear life.

The surfboat was finally launched and succeeded in getting through the fierce undertow. By vigorous handling of the oars, it reached the heavy break outside. Here the strong current drove the surfmen far to the southward. As it was impossible to pull to the yacht in the raging sea, the boat turned for the beach and landed. It was now taken well to windward. Before making the second attempt, the keeper wrote a message in charcoal on the canvas covering the beach apparatus. In large letters, he wrote, "Cut cable, make sail, run for the shore." This was to be held up if the life-saving crew was not able to land them. It was hoped that, if the craft was swamped, the occupants could be rescued with lines and the breeches buoy.

Around 11:00 the surfmen saw their first real chance for a successful launch. At this point a messenger ran up and handed Keeper Patterson dispatch calling him to ‘the bedside of a dying brother, the lighthouse keeper at Sandy Hook. "Telegraph back that I cannot go now," was all he said. The boat got off in good style and a rousing cheer went up from the spectators. It soon sped through a temporary rift in the wall of foam. Not a mistake was made in crossing the bar.

The lifesavers, with every muscle strained, rowed as near as was safe to the craft. The young men were told to leap into the boat. They all sprang together and landed safely. After an hour’s unflinching fight the yachtsmen were brought unharmed to the shore. Their names were A. J. Goubert, A. P. Stanton, and E. J. Halsted of Jersey City. They were taken at once to the Avon Inn and kindly cared for by the hospitable host, Mr. B. H. Yard. The next morning the yacht was brought in, partially filled with water, and moored in Shark River Inlet. When all the circumstances are considered, the fury of the gale, and the high and dangerous surftoo much praise cannot be uttered for the cool courage, the undaunted pluck, and the daring work of the lifesaving crew. The men who manned the surfboat under charge of Keeper Patterson were John H. Pearce, John Redmond, John H. Smith, David Kittell, H. A. Bennett, Edward Brand, and William Newman. Forman Brand and Ferdinand Newman also lent valuable help. For his brave actions Keeper Patterson was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal. The faithful men of his crew were awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal for their part in this heroic effort.

Last Modified 1/12/2016