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U.S. Coast Guard Awards

Joshua James *
Osceola F. James
Alonzo L. Mitchell
Ambrose B. Mitchell
H. Webster Mitchell
John L. Mitchell
Eben T. Pope
George F. Pope
Joseph T. Galiano
Louis F. Galiano
Frederick Smith

* At the time of this rescue the men were part of the Massachusetts Humane Society. As they later became members of the US Life-Saving Service, they are included in this list.

Awarded 10 January 1889

On 25-26 November 1888 a furious nor’easter swept the New England coast. The storm was particularly severe in the vicinity of Boston. Many vessels were driven onto the Nantasket, Cohasset, and Scituate beaches and other sections of the Massachusetts coast. A large number of lives and much property were also lost. Those lost may have been greater in number if not for the volunteers of the Massachusetts Humane Society who, by their heroic efforts, saved thirteen lives from the schooners Gertrude Abbott and H.C. Higginson.

On the afternoon of 25 November, the veteran lifesaver Captain Joshua James, of Hull, observed several vessels dragging their anchors in Nantasket Roads. He called together a crew of sturdy fishermen and got the society’s surfboat, the R.B. Forbes, ready for use. No sooner had this been done than a large schooner stranded a short distance west of Toddy Rocks. The sea, however, was so high that it was thought best to fire a line to her and land the crew by means of the breeches- buoy. With the assistance of a number of local residents, they successfully accomplished the task. Meanwhile, the coal-laden schooner Gertrude Abbott of Philadelphia, PA struck the rocks about an eighth of a mile to the east. She soon hoisted a distress signal in the rigging. Being so far off, however, it was clear that communication could not be effected with the beach-apparatus.

It was now growing dark, the tide was high, and the storm was raging with increased fury. These conditions prompted James and his men to wait for lower water before attempting a launch. A fire was lit on a bluff so the vessel could be kept in view. Owing to the violence of the gale, the tide fell but little. As such, it was between 8 and 9 o’clock at night when the men decided to make an attempt at boarding the schooner. They managed to launch the surfboat through the breakers and bent vigorously to the oars. Two of the crew bailed constantly in order to keep the boat from swamping. The vessel was lying head-to and the volunteers, after a desperate pull, got near enough to heave a line on the bow. The eight sailors then swung themselves into the boat. Shortly thereafter, they started for the beach.

The return was exceedingly hazardous. The wind and sea swept wildly along the shore and, as there was little or no room to work the oars, the very crowded boat was hard to manage. Within two hundred yards of the beach, it struck a rock, filled, and rolled one side deep under. The occupants quickly shifted to windward and succeeded in righting the boat. One man fell overboard, but his comrades hauled him in before the sea swept him beyond reach. Captain James admonished every one to stick to the boat as long as possible. It struck the rocks a number of times and was buffeted along at the mercy of the waves. The men just managed with the few oars that were left to keep it headed for the shore so that the sea might heave it in. It is a wonder that it was not completely capsized in the breakers or demolished on the ledges. Finally, it was thrown upon the rocks in shoal water and all hands promptly jumped out and scrambled safely ashore. The schooner’s crew were immediately taken to ‘a neighboring house and cared for. This was a notable rescue and one that put to the test the noble qualities of every member of the boat’s crew. Actuated by the highest motives, they set forth amidst peril and triumphed by their cool courage and determination of purpose. There are few examples of greater heroism.

During the remainder of the night a strict watch was kept along the beach. At 3:00 AM on the 26th, Captain James was again called out. The wind was blowing with unusual violence, accompanied by rain and sleet. At daybreak James assembled another boat’s crew, including sveral who had been on the Gertrude Abbott rescue. They pulled out to the sunken schooner Bertha F. Walker and took from the rigging seven men who were in danger of perishing.

In the late morning Captain James and his men were again summoned. This time to render assistance to the schooner H.C. Bigginson, ashore on Nantasket Beach. Captain James and his men launched their large surfboat, the Nantasket, which had been brought to the scene. The sea was very rough and breaking heavily along the stranded vessel. After a hard pull the boat was rowed near enough to the schooner so the men could throw a line on board. A sailor who was in the mizzen rigging came cautiously down the shrouds. He tied the line around his body, leaped overboard, and was hauled into the boat. The rest of the sailors, four in number, were in the fore rigging and very much exhausted from their long exposure. It was with great difficulty that they worked their way, by aid of the hawser, to the main rigging. They then fastened lines to themselves and, in turn, jumped into the breakers and were hauled one by one into the surfboat. Once in the boat, they were taken safely to the shore. The half-starved and half-frozen men were quickly conveyed in carriages to the home of Selectman David 0. Wade of Hull. Here they were rubbed dry, warmed, and furnished with a change of clothing. Three of the schooner’s crew lost their lives at this wreck. The captain and one other were washed overboard in the night and a third died in the rigging from exposure

The Humane Society’s men by their zealous and unswerving work rescued some twenty-eight people from different vessels during this great storm. When it is considered that they imperiled their lives practically without hope of reward, influenced solely by the desire to assist their fellow man, too much praise cannot be accorded them. Gold medals were awarded to Captain James and the following men who composed his crew at the rescue of those on board the Gertrude Abbott: G. F. Pope, L.F. Galiano, A.B. Mitchell, Joseph Galiano, 0.F. James, A.L. Mitchell, E.T. Pope, J.L. Mitchell, Frederick Smith, and H. W. Mitchell. Upon those who did not participate in that rescue, but who with some of those already mentioned made up the boat’s crew that went to the H. C. Higginson, silver medals were conferred. These were Eugene Mitchell, Alfred Galiano, George Augustus, Eugene Mitchell, Jr., and W.B. Mitchell.

Last Modified 1/12/2016