Joshua's lifesaving activities began on December 17, 1841, when he was just 15 years old. Five years after the death of his mother and sister Joshua James leaped aboard a surfboat manned by volunteers from the local chapter of the Massachusetts Humane Society at Hull heading toward the ship Mohawk which was being “hammered shapeless” off Allerton Beach at Harding's Ledge. He would continue to save lives for the next six decades as a member Massachusetts Humane Society and later the U.S. Life-Saving Service .
By 1886 he was involved in so many rescues that the Humane Society struck a special silver medal for "Brave and faithful service of more than 40 years." The report said, "During this time he assisted in saving over 100 lives." Unfortunately, many records of his early rescues were lost when the archives of the Massachusetts Humane Society were destroyed in the Great Boston Fire of 1872.
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