An American Gold Lifesaving Medal for the Rescuing of 10 Men
An American Gold Lifesaving Medal Bronze-Struck Commemorative, to Rasmus S. Midgett, Incorrect Date Version; Bronze, obverse illustrating three people in a row boat rescuing a man from the sea, inscribed "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" above and "ACT OF CONGRESS JUNE 20, 1874." below, reverse illustrating a woman holding a wreath at the left, a flag and anchor at the right, with a monument between them inscribed "To RASMUS S. MIDGETT FOR RESCUING SINGLEHANDED TEN MEN FROM THE WRECK PRISCILLA AUGUST 18, 1889" a spread-winged eagle sitting upon the monument, the medal mis-stamped with the incorrect year "1889" (should be "1899"), 51.2 mm, spotting on the obverse, edge nicks, light contact, near extremely fine. Footnote: Rasmus S. Midgett (1851-1926) was a United States Life-Saving Service surfman in North Carolina, who single-handedly rescued ten men from the sinking barkentine Priscilla and was thereafter awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal from the Secretary of the Treasury on October 18, 1899. Erasmus S. Midgett is listed in some records as Edward S. Midgett. He was born in 1851 on Hatteras Island, North Carolina and was named for St.Elmo/ Erasmus, the patron saint of sailors. Rasmus went to grammar school at Southern Woods, now Waves, North Carolina, where he proved to be good at arithmetic and handwriting. Rasmus Midgett, one of a long line of North Carolina surfmen known as the Mighty Midgetts, was on patrol for the Gull Shoals Lifesaving Station on August 18, 1899. He left for the southward patrol at 3:00 am on his horse, Gilbert. Approximately three-fourths of a mile from the station, he saw items newly washed ashore, which indicated a shipwreck. After travelling two more miles and finding much more debris, he heard what sounded like sails frapping and then faint voices. He flashed his lantern over the ocean and saw something out over the high flood tide. A ship had keeled over approximately twenty-five feet from shore and the mast had fallen across the ship. It was still dark, and Midgett could not see far. However, he managed to make out the remains of a shipwrecked vessel that had run aground, with men clutching to remaining wood approximately one hundred yards from him. It was approximately 4:30 am. The Priscilla, a 643-ton barkentine, was out of Baltimore, Maryland on August 12, 1899, passing the Virginia Capes at 6:00 am on August 14th, and bound for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She was captained by Benjamin Springsteen, who was joined by his wife and twelve year-old son, Elmer, and crewed by twelve including another son, William Nate. At 3:00 am on the stormy, windy, and rainy evening of August 18th, Surfman Erasmus Midgett left Gull Shoals Life Saving Station on beach patrol. At about the same time the Priscilla bottomed out as the result of 100 mph winds from an intense hurricane called San Ciriaco. (This was in an era before hurricanes were given names). The seas broke over Priscilla with such force that Captain Springsteen’s wife and son and two crewmen were washed away. An hour later the hull broke in two and the crew congregated on the aft part. The aft section was continually swept by the sea and finally settled near the shore. She grounded three miles south of Gull Shoals Station and 2.5 miles north of Little Kinnakeet Station. Today, the Priscilla wreck is located at GPS coordinates 35.458859°N 75.482629°W. Midgett had to make a difficult decision: to spend three hours bringing assistance from the station, or to attempt a rescue without any aid. Furthermore, if he was incapacitated while attempting an individual rescue, another patrol would not find the men for hours. By then, it would probably be too late. He decided to try rescuing the men immediately. The surf was violent, breaching the narrow stretch of sand between the ocean and Pamlico Sound. Midgett waited until a wave had receded, then ran as close as he dared, yelling instructions to the shipwrecked men. He told them that when he called, one man should jump off the floating debris and head towards shore, with Midgett assisting him. As soon as Midgett had a chance, he again ran forward, calling for a man to jump. He then helped the man reach the shore, pulling him through the waves. Midgett repeated this six more times, but then faced another problem. There were three men remaining in the water, but they were too exhausted to swim towards shore. Midgett fearlessly entered the sea, and one by one, carried each remaining man to the beach. The seven men who were still able to walk began heading towards the station at Midgett's direction, while he himself cared for the remaining three, including the Captain of the Priscilla, Benjamin E. Springsteen, who survived the ship wreck but would die a year later. After Midgett was certain that the three men would be safe and giving his own coat to Captain Springsteen, he rode his horse back to the station to summon the aid of his comrades. Keeper Pugh was on the beach when Midgett came into sight. Upon hearing Midgett’s amazing story, Pugh ordered two of the surfmen to harness horses to their carts and proceed to bring up the disabled men. He directed the other surfmen to set up a stove in the sitting room and prepare for the castaways. For this rescue Lt. C.E. Johnston recommended, based on the transcript of the station log, the wreck report of the Keeper, and the report of the Assistant who investigated the loss of life, that Rasmus Midgett be awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal. Midgett was subsequently awarded a Gold Lifesaving Medal by the Secretary of the Treasury. With the award, the Secretary transmitted a highly commendatory letter reciting the story of the brave man’s heroism. A month later, Midgett received his Gold Lifesaving Medal from the Secretary of the Treasury.