Tag Archive for Pea Island

“The Beacon and the Coward” is Published by Apex magazine (@apexmag)! Now for the real #history

I’m very proud to announce that my short story, “The Beacon and the Coward” is up at Apex Magazine: http://www.apex-magazine.com/the-beacon-and-the-coward/

This is a post-Civil War steampunk story loosely based on the first all-Black lifesaving station on Pea Island in the Carolinas, and of their most famous rescue. I have so much respect for these men of the Revenue Cutter Service (now the United States Coast Guard) and for what they accomplished. The original story is one of those tales where writers would have a difficult time retelling it because it was so amazing, no one would believe it. Truth IS stranger (and in this case, I think better) than fiction.  Read the fiction; read the ACTUAL history below.

Pea Island Station and her crew. Keeper Etheridge is on the far left.

Pea Island Station and her crew. Keeper Etheridge is on the far left.


Captain Richard Etheridge became the first African-American to command a Life-Saving station when the Service appointed him as the keeper of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station in North Carolina in 1880. The Revenue Cutter Service officer who recommended his appointment, First Lieutenant Charles F. Shoemaker, noted that Etheridge was “one of the best surfmen on this part of the coast of North Carolina.” Soon after Etheridge’s appointment, the station burned down. Determined to execute his duties with expert commitment, Etheridge supervised the construction of a new station on the original site. He also developed rigorous lifesaving drills that enabled his crew to tackle all lifesaving tasks. His station earned the reputation of “one of the tautest on the Carolina Coast,” with its keeper well-known as one of the most courageous and ingenious lifesavers in the Service.

On 11 October 1896, Etheridge’s rigorous training drills proved to be invaluable. The three-masted schooner, the E.S. Newman, was caught in a terrifying storm.  En route from Providence, Rhode Island to Norfolk, Virginia, the vessel was blown 100 miles south off course and came ashore on the beach two miles south of the Pea Island station.  The storm was so severe that Etheridge had suspended normal beach patrols that day.  But the alert eyes of surfman Theodore Meekins saw the first distress flare and he immediately notified Etheridge.  Etheridge gathered his crew and launched the surfboat.  Battling the strong tide and sweeping currents, the dedicated lifesavers struggled to make their way to a point opposite the schooner, only to find there was no dry land.  The daring, quick-witted Etheridge tied two of his strongest surfmen together and connected them to shore by a long line. They fought their way through the roaring breakers and finally reached the schooner.  The seemingly inexhaustible Pea Island crewmembers journeyed through the perilous waters ten times [emphasis added] and rescued the entire crew of the E.S. Newman.  For this rescue the crew, including Etheridge, were recently awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal by the Coast Guard.

Historian’s Office US Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security

And as an additional snippet of information:

Ellen Gardiner, wife of Newman Captain, Sylvester Gardiner, wrote in her journal years later: “I was tied to the mainmast of the ship with our three-year old son. I was singing to young Thomas, as I wanted the last thing for him to hear was his mother’s voice as we prepared to meet our creator, when from the tumultuous surf came the hand of salvation – the hand of a black man, Theodore Meekins.”