Rescue of the Priscilla Crew, 1899

“Priscilla” wreck near Cape Hatteras, circa 1899. Image from the State Archives.On August 18, 1899Erasmus Midgett single-handedly rescued the crew of the three-masted cargo ship Priscilla after it broke up while being driven ashore by the winds and waves of the San Ciriaco hurricane.

While patrolling on horseback from the Gull Shoal Lifesaving Station near Salvo, Midgett heard cries from the wreck. Around 3 a.m. the surfman saw part of the wreckage with several people on it. He knew that there was no time to get help and that he was the only hope for the men.

Getting as close to the wreck as he could, he yelled for the men to jump into the water one at a time. Midgett saved each of the seven men already in the sea by dragging them ashore. Three men were still on the vessel but injured enough that they could not jump. Midgett had to take each of the injured men off and carry him to shore. He thus saved 10 members of the crew including Captain Benjamin Springsteen of Baltimore.

Once all the men were ashore, Midgett got help from the station to transport the wounded to safety. For his part in the heroic rescue, Midgett received a Gold Lifesaving Medal from then U. S. Secretary of the Treasury Lyman Gage.

Visit: The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras tells the story of North Carolina’s treacherous coast and high concentration of shipwrecks.

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