Joshua James (lifesaver) - Significant Rescues - Hurricane of 1898

Hurricane of 1898

The storm started quietly on the evening of the 26th of November 1898 with a light but strengthening wind. Within hours the winds had grown to hurricane proportions and was creating havoc all along the coast. The winds raged all through the night of the 26th, all day on the 27th, and did not subside until the 28th. Some 36 hours after the storm had started winds were clocked at up to 72 mph in Boston and were probably even stronger along the coast to the southeast on Cape Cod.

At about 3:00am surfman Fernando Bearse who was on patrol spotted a schooner about a quarter mile from land directly in front of the station. With the surf pounding hard and the wind blowing strong it was decided against launching the surfboat. Around 6:30 am the Henry R. Tilton had swept westward and was now within range of the Lyle gun. Captain James' first two shots were unsuccessful, but the third shot landed within reach of the crew on board who quickly secured the whip line to the foremast twenty feet above the deck. After bringing the first sailor ashore the rescuers realized that the Henry R. Tilton was still drifting toward shore. After each transfer of a crewmen from ship to shore the rescuers had to reset the lines. The men handling the lines had to wade out into the water and were standing dangerously close to the breaking waves. From time to time the sea would engulf the men and equipment. It took over three hours with a mixed crew of U.S. Life-Saving men and Humane Society volunteers to bring all seven crew members of the Henry R. Tilton to safety. Back at the Point Allerton Station, Louisa James and the wives of the other surfmen had lit fire in the station's stove, laid out blankets, hot drinks and cared for the surviving crew of the Henry R. Tilton. After enduring 15 hours of riding out the storm the crew of the Henry R. Tilton could finally feel safe.

At about the time Captain James and his crew completed their rescue of the Henry R. Tilton, word came that Coal Barge No. 1 of the Consolidated Coal Company was coming ashore about three-quarters of a mile west of their location on Toddy Rocks. The storm had blown down telephone, telegraph, and electrical lines in front of the Point Allerton station making it impossible to drag out the station's second beach rescue apparatus. Joshua James conferred with his son Osceola James, who was Captain of the Hull chapter of the Massachusetts Humane Society on the best course of action. The two agreed that Osceola would send some of his men to Massachusetts Humane Society's Station #18 to retrieve the Hunt Gun stored there and Osceola would rent some horses to bring the rest of the equipment. The rest of the men went to the wreck site.

At about 11:00 pm the two crews reached the wreck site and set up the Massachusetts Humane Society's beach apparatus. While they were firing shots from the Hunt Gun, they realized that Coal Barge No. 1 was about to break up. Both keepers called for volunteers to wade out into the surf. The volunteers tied lines to their waists and walked out amidst debris to get as close to the vessel as possible. While they were wading out to the stranded barge, the pilothouse broke free from the vessel and rode the waves toward the shore. Close to shore the waves slammed the pilothouse to pieces, tossing its passengers into the surf. The volunteers already in the water rushed to grab the survivors before the rip current could drag them away. With the surfmen holding on to the sailors they waited for waves to carry them to a point on the beach where they could scramble to safety.

On the morning of the 27th, Captain James using his spy glass spotted a predetermined distress signal at Boston Light on Little Brewster Island. The U.S Life Saving crew and four volunteers launched the Humane Society's surfboat #17, Boston Herald from Stony Beach. En route Captain James spotted the steam tug Ariel and arranged to be towed as close as possible to Great Brewster Island. After being brought as close as possible to the island, the surfmen rowed the Boston Herald through the breaking surf and came alongside the schooner Calvin F. Baker. Five survivors were retrieved. At 3:00 am on the 26th the Calvin F. Baker had run aground on the island and remaining eight crew members were forced into the bow rigging. They would remain in the rigging for the next thirty hours. During that time the First Mate and Second Mate could not hold on and fell into the water and drowned. The Steward froze to death in place. His body was carried down to the surf boat by the rescuers. After rowing the Boston Herald back through the breaking surf and to Stony Beach, the survivors of the Calvin F. Baker warmed themselves in front of the fire with fourteen other lucky survivors at the Point Allerton Station.

Houses were blown over and washed away all along the coast from Cape Cod to Portland, Maine. The coastline was littered with the wrecks and wreckage of dozens of vessels large and small, smashed or sunk by the fierce winds and seas. In Provincetown harbor alone over 30 vessels were blown ashore or sunk. Damage along Boston's south shore and Cape Cod was probably the worst. Telegraph lines were brought down, railways washed out, and even the low scrub trees of Cape Cod were blown away. In Scituate, the coastline was permanently altered when mountainous waves cut a new inlet from the sea to the North River, closed the old river mouth and reversed the flow of part of the river.

As with the hurricane of 1888 there were numerous brave rescues in an extraordinary 36 hours, during which the crew of the Point Allerton station and volunteers from Hull would save 41 lives along the town’s shores.

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