The Pea Island Lifesaving Station, known as “Station 17,” was manned by an all-African American crew. Originally under the leadership of Captain Richard Etheridge, these brave African American men rescued stranded sailors in the perilous and turbulent waters along the North Carolina coast. The station was manned by Louis Wescott, William Irving, George Pruden, Maxie Berry, Herbert Collins and Benjamin J Bowser, who was promoted to Captain upon the death of Richard Etheridge. Captain Bowser would serve in the capacity until his death September 2, 1900.
The Pea Island Lifesaving Station, while rescuing many sailors who may have succumbed to the sea, was known for one rescue in particular. This rescue would illustrate the dedication to duty of these rescuers and earned them the Gold Lifesaving Medal. On October 11, 1896 a violent storm hit the Outer Banks. Captain Etheridge and his crew saved the entire crew aboard the schooner E.S. Newman, which became grounded. Ignoring the severity of the storm, the rescuers launched the surfboat and battled rough seas and strong winds to reach the stranded crew aboard the schooner. Unable to implement standard rescue techniques, two of the strongest surfmen were tied together and connected by a long line to shore through breaking waves ten times in order to rescue all of the crewmen.
The film “Rescue Men – The story of the Pea Island Surfmen” is a 90-minute documentary about the historical significance of the Pea Island Lifesaving Station.