Nantucket's Lifesaving Legacy

Crew Shot

Selflessness, Grit, and Determination in the Service of Others, Recognizing Nantucket's Lifesavers (1845 - 2019)

By Michelle Cartwright Soverino and Olivia E. Jackson

The late Edouard A. Stackpole, island historian, author, and the first Curator of the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum, wrote in the forward of his 1972 book, "Life Saving Nantucket,"

Nantucket, situated off the coast of Cape Cod, along the former route of coastwise commerce, literally is surrounded by shoals extending well beyond its shores. The toll of wrecks grew as Nantucket Sound became more and more a maritime highway and disasters continued well into the century until the opening of the Cape Cod Canal diverted coastwise vessels from the course around the Cape.

Exploits of Nantucket life savers include exciting stories. The closely-knit character of the island community brought a unique touch to these events. In early days volunteer crews responded to calls for rescue. This custom continued through the many years after the Massachusetts Humane Society erected "Houses of Refuge" on the island shores and placed lifeboats there. A tradition in the lifesaving activities of Nantucket was established in which certain families and individuals became closely associated with rescues.

This island tradition of lifesaving, established in the waters to rescue mariners in distress, continues well into the twenty-first century. The "closely-knit character of the island community" has reared generations of men and women who go above and beyond the call of duty in effort to save another human life, stranger or friend. It is, without a doubt, the most inspiring and humbling legacy Nantucket has made in the maritime world, and we are fortunate to live among such selfless neighbors who will risk their own life to save another.

In tribute to our island heroes past and present, and in celebration of 2019's Lifesavers Recognition Day at the Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum, Egan Maritime gathered a list of Lifesavers who were recognized for their efforts by various government and private organizations. There are many missing from the below list, especially those who made remarkable rescues before any formal vehicle of recognition was established. It is Egan Maritime's hope that the following will provide a slight scope of the grit, determination, and unwavering human spirit that is embedded on Nantucket, and illuminated in the spirit of service and sacrifice of its community.

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Massachusetts Humane Society awards on display at the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum.

Awards to the Nantucket Men by the Massachusetts Humane Society

The following list of awards given by the Massachusetts Humane Society to citizens of Nantucket are, with a single exception, for rescues from perils of the sea, and in all but four instances for efforts on behalf of ship-wrecked mariners whose rescue has often been effected through extraordinary hardship and risk of life.

1845 to 1865

For rescuing crew of Brig Mariner, wrecked on Nantucket Bar, October 15, 1845: Captain Heman Eldredge – Gold Medal; George Fisher, Joseph Perry, Hiram Fisher, Jesse Eldredge, William Patterson – Silver Medal each; Captain Eben Gould – Gold Medal; Moses Hamilton, Theophilus Key, John Hall, Henry Young, Meltiah Fisher – Silver Medal each.

For rescuing crew of Bark Forest Prince, wrecked near Long Pond, December 24, 1852: David G. Patterson, Joseph S. Patterson – $10.00 each; Davis Hall, Alexander B. Dunham, Daniel T. Dunham, James C. Dunham, William R. Forbes, William Swan, Frederick A. Dunham, Joseph Fisher – $5.00 each.

For rescuing crew of Brig Brazillian, wrecked near Muskeget, December 15, 1856: Alexander B. Dunham, George W. Dunham, Frederick A. Dunham, John F. Ramsdell, Edwin R. Smith, Gustavus Smith- $15.00 each; David G. Patterson, William Patterson, Joseph S. Patterson, Watson Burgess, Davis Hall, Moses Hamilton - $10.00 each; Daniel T. Dunham, James C. Dunham, Isaac P. Dunham, John B. Brooks, George B. Coffin - $7.00 each.

For rescuing crews of the Schooners Susan & Mary and Sarah, wrecked on Bar, March 30, 1859: David G. Patterson, Joseph Perry - $8.00 each; Joseph S. Patterson, Davis Hall, Benjamin Long, William R. James, Jesse Eldredge, Alexander B. Dunham, Watson Burgess, Loring A. Dunham, Daniel Russell, George W. Holmes, William J. Burgess, George Marvin – $5.00 each.

For rescuing crew of Schooner Nevis, wrecked on Great Point, October 11, 1860: Alexander B. Dunham - $10.00; Joseph S. Patterson, George W. Dunham, Davis Hall, Frederick A. Dunham _ $8.00 each; W—Burgess, Calvert Handy, Elijah Luce - $4.00 each.

For rescuing crew of Brig May Queen, wrecked at Low Beach, December 2, 1861: David G. Patterson - $10.00; Alexander B. Dunham, David Bowen, George H. Dunham, Edward Austin, Loring A. Dunham, David B. Andrews - $7.00 each; Watson Burgess, Joseph Hamblin, William D. Ellis - $2.00 each.

For rescuing crew of Schooner Volant, stranded on the Bar, December 8, 1863: Alexander B. Dunham, Frederick A. Dunham, Loring A. Dunham, David B. Andrews, Joseph Perry - $5.00 each.

For rescuing crew of Schooner Odessa, waterlogged in Sound, December 11, 1863: Alexander B. Dunham, George W. Dunham, William J. Burgess, Loring A. Dunham, John H. Dunham - $2.50 each.

For rescuing the captain of Schooner Eveline Treat, wrecked on Miacomet Rip, October 21, 1865: Frederick W. Ramsdell – Silver Medal.

Img 5161

Portrait of Captain David G. Patterson with his Grandson. Artist Unknown. Circa 1875.

1871 to 1878

For rescuing crew of Schooner Mary Anna, wrecked on the Bar, February 4, 1871: Alexander Fanning, Joseph P. Gardner, Isaac Hamblin, George A. Veeder, Henry C. Coffin, William M. Bates, James A. Holmes, Stephen Key – Silver Medal and $10.00 each.

For rescuing crew of Schooner Mary H. Banks, wrecked near Smith’s Point, October 29, 1871: Thomas F. Sandsbury, Joseph Fisher - $15.00 each; Henry C. Coffin, James G. Smith, Isaac P. Dunham, John S. Appleton, Jr., John P. Coffin, Valentine Small, Warren F. Ramsdell- $10.00 each.

For descending into a cistern and rescuing George E. Mooers, a plumber who had become asphyxiated, September 15, 1874: Horace Cook – Bronze Medal.

For rescuing William Henry, blown off-shore in a dory from Quidnet, May 11, 1874: Alexander Bunker, Joseph Fisher, Charles S. Norcross, William H. Norcross, John B. Norcross, Oliver C. Chadwick, Frank P. Chadwick, Joseph Francis, Washington I. Chase - $4.00.

For boarding in a dense fog a Man-of-War in Muskeget Channel firing guns for assistance, and extricating her from her dangerous position, in the summer of 1876, two boats’ crews: Thomas F. Sandsbury, Isaac P. Dunham, George Huxford, James G. Smith, Theodore Ames, John Smith, Eben G. Sandsbury, Leander Small, Andrew B. Brooks, Charles B. Brooks, Marcus W. Dunham, Zimri Cathcart - $88.00 total.

For rescuing from drowning Miss Ada B. Robinson and Charles Pollard, August, 1876: James H. Christian – Bronze Medal.

For rescuing crew of Schooner William Capes sunk on Tuckernuck Shoal, October 1, 1876: George Huxford, James G. Smith, Isaac P. Dunham, John B. Brooks, Charles B. Brooks, Andrew B. Brooks, George B. Coffin, Henry C. Coffin, Theodore Ames, Wallace Dunham - $5.00 each.

For rescuing crew of Schooner John Farnum, wrecked on Tuckernuck, March 29, 1878: Thomas F. Sandsbury, James G. Smith, James C. Sandsbury, George B. Coffin, Andrew B. Brooks, John B. Dunham, Marcus W. Dunham - $20.00 each.

Captain Sandsbury

Captain Thomas F. Sandsbury, the first Keeper of the Muskeget Lifesaving Station.

1879 to 1898

For rescuing the survivors from Schooners Emma G. Edwards, J.W. Hall, and others, wrecked in the vicinity of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, April 1, 1879: Thomas F. Sandsbury – Silver Medal and $25.00; James C. Sandsbury, Henry C. Coffin, George E. Coffin, Andrew B. Brooks, John B. Dunham, Marcus W. Dunham, Edwin R. Smith - $25.00 each.

For rescuing crews of Schooners Andrew H. Edwards, Convoy, and other vessels wrecked in the vicinity of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, April 1, 1879: Isaac P. Dunham, George B. Coffin, Nathan Fish, Arthur C. Folger, Joseph A. Hendricks, -$15.00 each.

For rescuing crew of Schooner R. Baker, Jr., wrecked on the Bar, October 5, 1881: John B. Norcross, Joseph M. Folger, Jr., Asa F. Meiggs, Benjamin F. Morris, Oliver C. Chadwick, Leander Small - $10.00 each.

For rescuing crew of Schooner Alice Oaks, wrecked off Capaum Pond, April 30, 1885: Alexander C. Swain, Joseph P. Gardner, George H. Hamblin, John Hamblin, Henry Fisher, Washington I. Fisher, George E. Orpin, Charles Taylor, Everett Swain, William R. Morris, Everett Coffin, Wallace A. Eldredge, Philip L. Holmes - $5.00 each.

For rescuing crew of Schooner Lucy Jones, stranded on the Bar, December 22, 1887: Warren F. Ramsdell, John G. Orpin, Horace B. Cash, Charles G. Coffin, James M. Ramsdell, Joseph P. Gardner, James A. Holmes, Arthur C. Manter, William M. Bartlett, James Kiernan, David H. Eldredge, Leander Small, George E. Orpin, Samuel P. Winslow, Edward W. Folger, John P. Taber - $3.00 each.

For assistance rendered U.S. Life-Saving Crew who rescued 21 persons with the breeches buoy from Ship Antoinette, stranded on Tuckernuck, January 27, 1889: Robert K. Dunham, James C. Dunham, Elbert Dunham, Arthur P. Dunham - $5.00 each.

For rescuing crew of Schooner Vulcan, wrecked on the Bar, October 23, 1891: John P. Taber, John Williams, Joseph P. Gardner, Horace C. Orpin, B. Chester Pease, William Hendrick, John P. Coffin, Alonzo Fisher, Daniel W. Folger, Patrick Robinson, Everett James, Charles W. Cash - $3.00 each.

For rescuing sole survivor of Schooner St. Elmo, sunk on Rose and Crown Shoal, April 2, 1898: James A. Holmes, Horace Folger, James P. Coffin, Horace C. Orpin, Octavus W. Lewis, Arthur McCleave, Manuel Sylvia, Asa F. Meiggs, Charles S. Glidden, Leander Small, Edward H. Rose, John P. Taber - $2.50 each.

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2013 Lifesavers Recognition Day Awardees at the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum.

1901 to 1914

For rescuing Marcus E. Howes, a member of Coskata Life-saving Station, whose dory was caught in the ice in the harbor, and he in danger of perishing, February 6, 1901: William H. Norcross - $10.00; Charles G. Coffin, James A. Backus, John P. Tabor, Manuel Thomas, Robert Mack, Timothy M. Dunham, 2d, William Sylvia, John Fish, Charles Williams - $5.00 each.

For rescuing three men from an overturned sailboat near the Bar, August 22, 1903: Arthur I. Weeks, *Henry O. Underwood, *George L. Huntress, Jr., * Orrin G. Wood, *Donald C. Scott – Silver Medal each. *Summer residents

For rescuing crew of Schooner Charles Luling, stranded on the Bar, November 18, 1904: James C. Lumbert, George W. Burgess, Horace C. Orpin, James A. Fisher, James Locke, Obed Glidden, Charles B. Cathcart - $5.00 each.

For boarding a vessel off Siasconset, flying distress signals, and bringing a man ashore for medical aid, November 20, 1910: Charles C. Morris, James P. Coffin, Roland H. Coffin, Frank O. Holdgate, Albert B. Pitman, Edmund Folger, Arthur C. Folger, Horace Folger - $2.50 each.

For boarding the Barkentine Beatrice, stranded on Bass Rip, August 23, 1914: Charles C. Morris - $4.00; Horace Folger, Roland H. Coffin, James P. Coffin, Edward Fr. Coffin, George S. Davis, William Egan, Stillman C. Cash, Arthur C. Folger, Harold Folger - $3.00 each.

1924 Station Crew Photo

The crew of the Coskata Lifesaving Station, 1924.

Awards from the United States Government

In addition to the foregoing, the United States Government, through special acts of Congress, awarded the following:

For aid to Man-of-War Alaska, imperiled in Muskeget Channel in the summer of 1876: Thomas F. Sandsbury, Isaac P. Dunham, George Huxford, James G. Smith, Theodore Ames, John Smith, Eben G. Sandsbury, Andrew B. Brooks, Charles B. Brooks, Marcus W. Dunham, Leander Small, Zimri Cathcart - $500 total.

For rescue of shipwrecked seamen in the vicinity of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, March 31, 1879: Thomas F. Sandsbury – Gold Medal; James C. Sandsbury, Henry C. Coffin, George E. Coffin, Andrew B. Brooks, John B. Dunham, Marcus W. Dunham, Edwin R. Smith – Silver Medal each.

For the rescue of crew of Schooner H.P. Kirkham, on Rose and Crown Shoal, by the crew of the Coskata Life-Saving Station, January 20, 1892: Keeper Walter N. Chase – Gold Medal; Surfmen Jesse H. Eldredge, John Lyman, Charles B. Cathcart, Roland H. Perkins, Josiah B. Gould, George H. Flood – Silver Medal each.

In 1863, the King of Prussia, through his official representative, presented to Captain David G. Patterson, a heavy silver chronometer watch, suitably inscribed, in recognition of his efficient aid, at the risk of his life, in rescuing the crew of the Prussian bark Elwine Fredericke, wrecked on Great Point Rip, April 21, 1863.

Skipper Chase And His Gold Medal Crew

Keeper Walter N. Chase (second on the left) and members of his crew who received special recognition from the United States Government for the rescue of the H.P. Kirkham.

Special Awards

Awards given by the Secretary of the Treasury

For his heroic services in rescuing Seth L. Ellis at the recent Monomoy disaster, April 5, 1902: Elmer Mayo - Gold Life Saving Medal

The secretary also awarded a Gold Medal to Seth Ellis, the survivor of the crew.

Awards given by the Boy Scouts

Life-saving awards: Jason Swain and Vincent Blair, 1935
Merit badge in Life Saving and Swimming: Francis E. Pease, 1938

According to an article published in the "Inquirer and Mirror" in 1936, the Scout Merit Badge is acquired after taking courses sponsored by the Nantucket Chapter of the American Red Cross; the classes promote water safety by training young people in sane swimming habits and in the means of doing emergency rescue work.

Awards given by the Massachusetts Humane Society

For his part in the rescue of six fisherman from the dragger Sharon Louise during the blizzard of December 12, 1960: BM1 James Perry, second in command at Brant Point Coast Guard Station - Life Saving Medal

Awards given from the National Headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America, Washington D.C.

For saving a boy from drowning at Miacomet Pond, Summer 1971: Michael Bridges - Special Lifesaving Award.

Awards given from Department of Interior Valor, Washington D.C.

For rescuing three men from a wrecked and partly burning car seconds before the vehicle burst completely into flames on Nantucket, March 21, 1982: Donald E. Leary, Jr. - Department of Interior Valor Award for a "life-saving act of heroism."

Awards given by Blue Cross of America

For providing immediate aid to a wedding guest who had suffered a heart attack, White Elephant Hotel, Nantucket, June 1992: Nantucket Police Officer Scott Saunders - Blue Cross' 1992 Lifesaving Award.

Awards given by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission

For rescuing a man caught in a rip current at Maddequecham Beach that swept him fifty yards away from shore, September 2004: Justin Dunham

This award is given throughout the United States and Canada to those who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others.

Awards given by Nantucket's Board of Selectmen

For saving the life of an 11-month-old baby, October 3, 2011: Dispatcher Hillary Ray - Nantucket Police Department's Life-saving Award.

For bringing an alleged burglar to justice, July 12, 2011: Sergeant Daniel Mack - Exceptional Duty Award.

For initiating a program to foster community involvement in the police department, 2011: Sergeant Kevin Marshall - Honorable Service Award.

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2007 Lifesavers Recognition Day awardees, Dwayne Dougan and Wayne Kampfhenkel, at the Coffin School.

Egan Maritime's Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum Lifesavers Recognition Day Award

Nantucket’s history is filled with stories of heroic lifesaving efforts made by everyday citizens and those who went above and beyond the call of duty. Honoring that tradition, Egan Maritime Institute and Nantucket Cottage Hospital recognize modern-day lifesavers annually on September 11 during the Lifesavers Recognition Day ceremony at the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum.

2005: For rescuing a man caught in a rip current at Maddequecham Beach that swept him fifty yards away from shore, September 2004: Justin Dunham.
This act of heroism was not only recognized by Egan Maritime, but by the Massachusetts Humane Society and the United States Coast Guard. Dunham was also a Carnegie Hero award recipient.

For rescuing two individuals who had been swept offshore by heavy surf, May 2006: Andrew Quinn
Andy was later recognized by the Massachusetts Humane Society, who awarded him a silver life-saving medal.

2007: For rescuing a local scalloper who had fallen into frigid water and nearly succumbed to hypothermia, January 2007: Dwayne Dougan, Wayne Kampfhenkel. For rescuing campers who had gotten into difficulties in the waters off Pocomo, Summer 2007: Benjamin Firth, Katelyn Fitzpatrick, Trevor Hooper.

2008: For rescuing local fisherman and scalloper Bill Blount who had fallen overboard, November 2007: Robert McKee, Johnny Backus.

For their role in saving the life of a 14-month old baby girl who stopped breathing after falling into a pool: Sergeant David Aguiar (Ret.), Melinda Burns. For their response to a 911 call to assist two sailors on a capsized Sunfish off the north shore; they saved the life of one of the sailors and retrieved the body of the other: Dave Fronzuto, Harbormaster, Sheila Lucey, Assistant Harbormaster.

For her vital assistance to Annemarie Malbec of Miramar Beach, FL who was found lying helpless on the ground on the side of the Swift Rock Lane North: Kimberley Layman. For working tirelessly every day to perform many more rescues than is normally expected of them: Town of Nantucket Lifeguards. For rescuing three teenagers on a sailing dinghy off Quaise: Jim Sjolund.

2011: For the valiant saving of Bruce Beebe, who had fallen unconscious into the water, January 18, 2011: Michael Eagan, Tris Gauvin, John Howard, Tim Reinemo.

For rescuing three swimmers at Nobadeer Beach: Gaven Norton, Curren Huyser. For rescuing Marc Arronson in Nantucket Harbor: SN Daniel Kerr, USCG Brant Point. For rescuing three fishermen in Nantucket Harbor: Captain Raymond Oliver, Pilot Bernardino Ramos. For their emergency efforts in the Polpis Road Rollover of University
of Massachusetts-Boston’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute: Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Fire and Emergency Services.

For rescuing Justin Bell in Polpis Harbor, Summer 2013: Jessica Norris, Marissa Affeldt, John Allen, Beau Barber, Sheila Lucey, Harbormaster, Ken Lappin, Assistant Harbormaster. For his leadership and heroism in distress, Summer 2013: Captain Jason Mleczko. For his rescue of five boaters outside Madaket Harbor, Summer 2013:
Captain Thomas Mleczko.

For her knowledge, professionalism, compassion, leadership, and camaraderie to the lifesaving efforts of Nantucket Cottage Hospital and her critical role in preparing the hospital for disasters and crises: Martha Lake-Greenfield, RN. For his efforts as a first responder to a person in distress in Nantucket Harbor on August 16, 2014:
Collin Perry.

For rescuing Mr. Stauff of the S/V Penguin after she ran aground on the east jetty at the entrance to Nantucket Harbor, June 27, 2015: BM3 Keisha Ormsbee, BM3 Matthew Pugh, FN John Feniello, MK2 Sam Freedman. For their brave and quick thinking actions during the rescue of a swimmer in distress off Madaket Beach, August 3, 2015: Austin Bentley, Alex Hauer, Claire Moisan.

For rescuing a dozen small children from the sinking Andrea Doria on the night it was struck off Nantucket by the Swedish liner Stockholm: Jerome S. Reinert. For rescuing six people from a sport fishing boat, the Sea Wolf, that had run aground on the east jetty of Nantucket Harbor on August 12, 2016: Jim Sjolund, Joe Tormay.

For rescuing three kaykers who were in distress after being pushed out to sea off Wauwinet due to high winds, June 2017: Captain Brian Borgeson, First Mate Scott Riddle. For their immediate response to the crash of the Steamship Authority's ferry, the M/V Iyanough, when it collied with a jetty in Hyannis Harbor, June 2017: BM3 John McNally and Nate Woodason. For their rescue efforts and operations in 27 separate incidents as Hurricane Gert passed south of Nantucket, August 16, 2017:
Town of Nantucket Lifeguards.

2018: For co-piloting a plane during a snow squall to bring an island resident to Boston for two organ transplants: Doug Lindley, Jeff Turner. For successfully rescuing three souls caught in the South Shore rip currents: Andrew Trott-Kielawa, Connor Ventling.