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Joshua James and the 25-28 November 1888 Rescues

In his own words. . . .

A photo of Joshua James.

     Upon request of Lieutenant O. C. Hamlet of the United States Life-Saving Service [sic; First Lieutenant Oscar C. Hamlet was actually an officer of the U. S. Revenue Marine Service and his assignment was as a district superintendent of the Life-Saving Service; revenue officers were assigned as superintendents and inspectors of the Life-Saving Service much as U.S. Navy officers sat on the Lighthouse Board and served as lighthouse district inspectors], I make the following statement of work done by myself and others who joined me as boat crews in saving the lives of shipwrecked persons off the beach of Hull and Nantasket, Massachusetts, during the gale of November 25th and 26th, viz

     "On the morning of November 25th, I went up on Telegraph Hill, Hull, to look out for vessels, as a heavy gale was blowing and the weather was rainy and stormy.  Vessels anchored off the Lighthouse Channel, about 1/2 mile southwest of Boston Light, could easily be seen, and, as near as I do now remember, there were five schooners and one coal barge in a position exposed to the sea and east gale.

     Three of the schooners afterwards drifted ashore although all of them dragged their anchors more or less.  As the gale increased I saw, by taking ranges on the anchored vessels, that they were dragging towards to the rocky shore, and after dinner I started with some others to bring the surfboat R. B. Forbes [note: the Massachusetts Humane Society named each of its surfboats, unlike the Life-Saving Service and the Coast Guard] from the boat house to where the vessels would be apt to come on shore.  About 2 p.m. we got the boat down.  The schooner Cox and Green had then struck on the beach, a short distance west of Toddy Rocks, and the sea was so heavy that I considered it too risky to launch the boat.  The beach apparatus were fetched down and used, and the crew, eight in all, were successfully landed with the breeches buoy.  Many of the people in Hull assisted in placing and working the beach apparatus.  Neither myself or any person assisting me was in this case exposed to any danger.

     Shortly before landing the last man from the Cox and Green, the schooner Gertrude Abbott had her flag in the rigging, union down, and struck the rocks about 1/8th of a mile to the eastward of where we were at work.  The beach gear was immediately moved over abreast of the Abbott but she was too far off to be reached and no attempt was made to use the gear after the sand anchor had been placed.  It was then quite dark; the tide was up, and the gale and sea was so furious that I concluded to haul the surfboat over abreast of the vessel and wait for low tide before launching.  We built a large fire on the high bluff to light up the vicinity and enable us to see the vessel.

     Owing to the gale blowing into the bay and the tide did not fall much and between 8 and 9 p.m. we launched the surfboat and succeeded in getting safely out through the heavy breakers.  Two men were constantly employed in bailing the boat with buckets to keep her from filling.  The schooner was lying head in, and we got a line from her bow.  We were some time in getting the men into the boat and this gave the boat's crew a chance to rest after the heavy pulling they had done coming off from shore.  As soon as the eight men were all in, we started back, but the boat was crowded and there was a poor chance to work the oars.  She was hard to manage.  The sea and wind swept along the shore, which made it more dangerous, and the boat struck a rock about 100 fathoms from the beach, filled and rolled one side deep under.

     The men shifted to windward and straightened her up.  One of the crew got overboard but was hauled in by the rest.  I called to the men as loudly as I could to stick to the boat, no matter what might happen.  The boat struck a number of times on the rocks, swung around and drifted along.  The few oars left in her were used in pushing her off and keeping her headed for the shore as much as possible, in order that she might not be thrown in by the sea.  It seemed like a miracle that she was not thrown bottom up by some of the breakers when striking the rocks.

     When she finally struck the rocks in shoal water on the beach, we all jumped out and waded on to shore.  The starboard side of the boat was stove in and some of the gear lost.  I think it was between 9 and 10 o'clock in the evening when we landed.  The following mend composed by boats and crew at this rescue, all of Hull, Massachusetts, viz:

Osceola F. James; H. Webster Mitchell; John L. Mitchell; Jos. T. Galiano; Alonzo L. Mitchell; Ambrose B. Mitchell; Eben T. Pope; Louis F. Galiano; Fred'k Smith [note: all of these men were awarded the U.S. Gold Life-Saving Medal by the Treasury Department.  Osceola James was the son of Joshua James.]

     We went home after having hauled up the boat, in which were were assisted by a number of people on shore.  During the afternoon of the 25th, I sent over to Point Allerton and had the surfboat Robert G. Shaw taken down to the Stony Beach station.  We were engaged in keeping a lookout along the beach during the night and at 3 a.m., November 26th, it was reported to me that a schooner was close to the rocks near the Cox and Green.  It was raining heavy and blowing harder than I had seen it blow for years.  I immediately had the surfboat Robert G. Shaw carried from Stony Beach to Pemberton wharf where I could launch her in safety.  As soon as daylight made, we could see men in the rigging of the schooner and we started to their assistance.  It took a long time to get to the vessel, owing to the heavy sea and furious gale, but the men in the rigging were finally rescued.  There was no immediate danger in this effort as long as we could keep clear of the rigging of the vessel.  The sea broke over her fore and aft and we managed to get the seven men into the boat between seas.  The captain and mate had been swept over and drowned during the night.  The schooner was the Bertha Walker; she had struck and sunk some distance west of Toddy Rocks.  

     The landing of the crew after leaving the wreck was effected without much danger or trouble.  My boat's crew was composed of the following persons, all of Hull, viz:

Osceola F. James; Francis S. James; John L. Mitchell; William B. Mitchell; Louis F. Galiano; Reinier James, Jr.; Alonzo L. Mitchell; Eugene Mitchell; Jas. T. Galiano; Alfred A. Galiano.

     When we reached the shore from the Berth Walker, it was about 9 a.m.  Before the boat's crew left the boat, I requested a tug-boat to tow me out to a schooner anchored a short distance from Toddy Rocks, showing a flag in her rigging.  After getting alongside of her, we found her to be the Puritan, of Boston.  She was in no danger as long as her anchors could hold, but wanted to be towed in.  We returned to Pemberton wharf the second time and I was then informed that there was a vessel ashore in a dangerous position off Nantasket Beach.

     As this was on the outside beach I concluded to take the large surfboat Nantasket which had been carried across from Station No. 20, and towed up Weir River with the same tug.  We landed on the narrow beach, inside of Hotel Nantasket, hauled the boat over, launched on the other side and pulled along inside of the breakers to get abreast of the vessel.  We had to make a landing in order to haul the boat over a narrow point of land and launch again on the other side of it.  While making the landing, the boat was stove in on the rocks, but temporary repairs were soon made and lead patches put over the holes.

     While we were repairing the boat, Captain Anderson, in charge of the Humane Society's beach apparatus, fired a line to the vessel and sent off a whipline and hawser; but fouling with some wreckage, his gear became so tangled that the breeches buoy could not be operated.  As soon as the boat was repaired, I launched and went off to save the men who could be seen in the rigging.  The sea alongside of the vessel was terrible.  She laid head out and one of the men in the fore rigging slid down from there to the mizzen by the hawser Captain Anderson had sent off.  The others only reached the main rigging, and all were taken off by jumping overboard after bending on to themselves the having lines thrown to them from the boat.  Five men were thus taken off and safely landed.  The master of the vessel and one seaman had been swept off by the sea and drowned during the night, and another person had died while in the rigging.

     The vessel was the schooner H. C. Higginson of Rockland, Maine.  The principal danger in effecting this rescue was from the heavy sea running.  The wind had abated considerably.  It is my opinion that no other boat, except the one we had, could have gotten up alongside of the vessel as far as the main rigging where the men were; no boat that I know of.

     A dory with three men pulled off from the shore to clear Captain Anderson's gear, but she kept in comparatively smooth water astern of the vessel and could not have gotten far enough to do any good.  She returned to the shore.  My boat's crew on this occasion was composed of the following men, all from Hull, viz:

Osceola F. James; William B. Mitchell*; Eugene Mitchell, Jr.*; George F. Pope; Alfred A. Galiano*; John L. Mitchell; Eugene Mitchell*; Eben T. Pope; Jos. T. Galiano; Geo. Augustus* [note: the men marked with the asterisk were awarded the U.S. Silver Life-Saving Medal by the Treasury Department.  The others received the Gold Medal for the rescue of the crew of the Gertrude Abbott].

     Before leaving the beach, a brig was seen to the northward drifting in toward the shore.  I had the boat transported along the beach.  After she struck, lines were fired to her by the U.S. Life-Saving crew from Scituate Station.  Owing to the heavy rain it was impossible to see whether there were any persons on board or not although no attention was paid to the shotline.  I launched, went alongside and ascertained that there was no person on board.  We landed safely and were exposed to no special danger on this occasion.  The vessel was the British brig Alice.

     My boat's crew on this trip was comprised of the following persons, all from Hull, Massachusetts, viz:

Osceola James; Francis S. James; Alonzo Mitchell; William Mitchell; Eugene Mitchell; Eugene Mitchell, Junior; Alfred Galiano; Louis Galiano; Geo. Pope; Geo. Augustus; Fred'k Smith; John Mitchell.

     It was late in the afternoon and we all went home to get food and dry clothing, of which we stood sadly in need.  Two men had gone on board the brig Alice in a dory after we left here.  The dory had parted from the vessel.  One of the men had hauled himself to the shore line, but the other was left on board.  Late in the evening when I returned to the beach I saw that this man would be in a dangerous position were he left there overnight, so I got a boat crew together and took him off with the surfboat.  No person was exposed to any danger on this trip, and this ended the life-saving work done by myself and those who assisted me therein on the 25th and 26th of November last.  My boat's crew on this last trip to the brig Alice was composed of the following persons, all from Hull, viz:

Alonzo Mitchell; Webster Mitchell; John Mitchell; Harrison Mitchell; Stephen Mitchell; Stephen Lowe; James Lowe; James Galiano; Louis Galiano.

Questions asked of Captain Joshua James by First Lieutenant Oscar C. Hamlet [USRMS]:

Q.  Captain James, did you at any time during the 25th and 26th of November last, while you were engaged in rescuing the lives of shipwrecked persons, consider and feel conscious that the life of yourself and those of your boat's crew were in imminent danger?

A.  Yes, I did.

Q.  Will you state when, where, and the circumstances?

A.  In going to the rescue of the crew of the schooner Gertrud Abbott, on the night of the 25th.  The danger was in going out and coming in through the breakers among the sunken rocks.

Q.  Was the apparent danger mentioned, discussed or in any was considered between yourself and your crew before launching to go to the rescue, and did anyone object to go on account of the apparent danger of losing his life?

A.  Yes.  The danger to ourselves was discussed between us before launching.  The danger to the crew of the vessel was also fully understood if a rescue was not attempted on the next low tide.  No one objected to me, as I asked no one to join me, but before launching, some of the men who had belts, took them off and handed them to others who put them on and joined as members of the crew.

Q.  In your opinion and judgment, unbiased any personal feeling or relationship, did any one of your boat's crew at any time during the November 25th and 26th last, exhibit greater bravery or daring in risking his own life in the effort of rescuing that of some of the shipwrecked person than any of the others?

A.  No.  All of the men exhibited the same courage and determination, and no one did anything more than any other in the effort of rescuing the shipwrecked.

Q.  Did you not consider yourself and crew in imminent danger at any other time during November 25th and 26th?

A.  No.  Only in going to and coming from the schooner Abbott.  The sea was bad at all the other vessels to which we went, and the slightest accident might have resulted fatally to all of us, but it was daylight, and the possible danger ahead did not strike me as forcibly as when going to the schooner Abbott in the night.


Joshua James

The above statement and answers were subscribed and sworn to before me at Gloucester, Massachusetts, this 5th day of January, 1889. 

(SEAL)                                                    Cyrus Story, Notary Public.     

Last Modified 1/12/2016