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U.S. Coast Guard Awards

Rasmus S. Midgett

Awarded 18 October 1899

A painting of Rasmus Midgett rescuing the crew of the vessel Priscilla

Rasmus Midgett rescues the crew of Priscilla

At 3:00 AM on 18 August 1899, Surfman Rasmus S. Midgett of the Gull Shoal (NC) Station, set out on horseback to make the regular south patrol. When he reached a point about three-fourths of a mile from the station he discovered buckets, barrels, boxes, and other articles coming ashore. This indicated to him that there was a wreck somewhere in the neighborhood. The surf was sweeping clear across the narrow bank of sand that separated the ocean from Pamlico Sound. At times it reached to the saddle girths of his horse. The night was so intensely dark that he could scarcely tell where he was going, nevertheless, he knew that the patrol must be made at all hazards. The rapidly multiplying evidences of disaster urged him on. When he had traveled a little more than 2 miles farther he thought he detected the sound of voices. He paused to listen and caught the outcries of the shipwrecked men. He could see nothing of them or of the wreck, but dismounting and proceeding toward the edge of the bank he soon made out a part of a vessel, with the forms of several persons crouching upon it, about a hundred yards distant. The vessel was Captain Benjamin E. Springsteen’s barkentine, Priscilla, which had run aground.

Here was a dilemma that called for the exercise of sound judgment and faultless courage. Midgett had consumed an hour and a half on his patrol before reaching the place. To return to the station and bring back the life-saving crew was to sacrifice three hours more when every moment was precious. On the other hand, to undertake to save the lives of the shipwrecked men without aid was perhaps to throw away his own life and leave them utterly helpless until another patrol should be attempted. By then all might perish. Short time was spent in deliberation. He determined to do what he could alone and without delay.

Selecting the first opportunity when a receding wave permitted, he ran down as close to the wreck as he could and shouted instructions for the men to jump overboard, one at a time, as the surf ran back, and that he would take care of them. Then retreating from the in rushing breakers to the higher part of the bank, he watched his chance to approach the wreck again, calling for one man to jump. Obeying his instructions a sailor would leap overboard. Midgett, in each instance, would seize him and drag him from the pursuing waves safely to the bank. In this manner he rescued seven men.

During all these laborious exertions he incurred much danger from the chance that he and his burden might be swept out to sea. But now came far greater demands upon his courage and physical powers. There still remained upon the vessel three men so bruised and exhausted that they were unable to do as the others had done. Midgett, however, was not dismayed. To save these he must go right down into the sea close to the wreck, take them off, and carry them to the beach. Down the steep bank into the very jaws of death three times he descended. Each time he dragged away a helpless man and bore him out of the angry waters to safety. The ten lives he saved were the priceless trophies of his valor. Seven of the men were still able to walk. These he sent forward toward the station, while the other three he took to a safe place. After giving his own coat to Captain Springsteen, Midgett rode on to summon the aid of his comrades.

Keeper Pugh was on the beach when Midgett came into sight. Upon hearing Midgett’s amazing story, Pugh ordered two of the surfmen to harness horses to their carts and proceed to bring up the disabled men. The other surfmen he directed to set up a stove in the sitting room and prepare for the castaways. It was the end of a splendid day’s work, well worthy of the admiration of the whole people. Midgett, who bore the noblest part, was subsequently awarded a Gold Lifesaving Medal by the Secretary of the Treasury. With the award the Secretary transmitted a highly commendatory letter reciting the story of the brave man’s heroism. 

Last Modified 1/12/2016