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Full text of "Joshua James, life-saver"

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JOSHUA JAMES 

LIFE- SAVER 



"TRUE AMERICAN TYPES" 



Vol. I. JOHN GILLEY: Maine Farmer and 
Fisherman, by Charles W. Eliot. 

Vol. II. AUGUSTUS CONANT : Illinois 
Pioneer and Preacher, by Robert 

COLLYER. 

Vol. III. CAP'N CHAD WICK: Marble- 
head Skipper and Shoemaker, by John 
W. Chadwick. 

Vol. IV. DAVID LIBBEY : Penobscot 
Woodsman and River-driver, by Fannie 
H. Eckstorm. 

Vol. V. CAPTAIN THOMAS A. SCOTT: 
Master Diver, by F. Hopkinson Smith. 



Price, each, 60 cents, net; by mail, 65 cents. 



AMERICAN UNITARIAN ASSOCIATION 
Publishers, Boston, Massachusetts 



JOSHUA JAMES 



LIFE-SAVER 



BY 

SUMNER I. KIMBALL 



BOSTON 
AMERICAN UNITARIAN ASSOCIATION 

1909 



Copyright 1909 
American Unitarian Association 



THE NKW YOfcl 

fIJ&UC LIBftA&Y 






" No wild hurrahs accompany 
The deeds these men do dare ; 
No beat of drum, no martial strain, 
No spirit-stirring air. 



a 



But in the cold and darksome night 
They combat with the blast ; 

And gain, by dint of hardihood, 
The victory at last." 



m 



•3 



JOSHUA JAMES 

NO finer examples of sturdy 
American manhood can any- 
where be found than in the crews of 
the United States Life-Saving Service. 
These little groups of from seven to 
ten men each, numbering in the ag- 
gregate a scant two thousand, are 
composed of robust, warm-hearted, 
and strong-handed residents, of the 
coast, chosen for the most part from 
those who, through their previous oc- 
cupations as fishermen, boatmen, and 
wreckers, have gained a thorough fa- 
miliarity with the changeful moods of 

i 



JOSHUA JAMES 

the sea, and especially with the pecu- 
liarkies of the currents, reefs, bars, 
and surf in the region of their re- 
spective habitations. The qualifica* 
tions thus attained, supplemented by 
their daily drill after enlistment in 
the Service, equip them in the best 
possible manner for their subsequent 
arduous and hazardous work. They 
are hardly known to the great ma- 
jority of their countrymen living in^ 
land; but to the inhabitants of the 
coast, especially that large portion in- 
terested in our sea and lake commerce, 
and to those who follow the sea^ they 
are well known indeed! To the lat- 
ter, when the tropical hurricane or the 
chilling blast of the Arctic winter 
storm is driving their helpless craft 
into danger and possible destruction, 

2 



JOSHUA JAMES 

or when impenetrable fog envelops 
them for days at a time, rendering 
chart and reckoning worthless, the as- 
surance that a practically continuous 
line of keen-eyed and sleepless senti- 
nels march and countermarch along 
the surf -beaten beaches or stand guard 
with warning signals in hand upon the 
jutting cliffs and headlands reaching 
far out into the sea for unwary vic- 
tims, lends a comfortable sense of se- 
curity. That this confidence is not 
misplaced is attested by the statistics 
of the Service, which show that of 
more than a hundred thousand lives 
imperiled upon vessels wrecked or in 
distress within the scope of the opera- 
tions of the station crews since the 
systematic organization of the Service 
in 1 87 1, less than one per cent has 

3 



JOSHUA JAMES 

been lost, and that a considerable por- 
tion of even this small percentage is 
made up of those whom no human 
agency could save — as, persons 
washed overboard before or at the 
moment of stranding, sailors drowned 
in attempting to land in their own 
boats, or victims of sudden capsizes of 
small boats who perished before help 
could possibly reach them. The rec- 
ord includes all, every life lost within 
the reasonable bounds of station ac- 
tivity, from craft of all kinds, the 
diminutive canoe as well as the mam- 
moth ocean steamship. 

Another American organization 
for the relief and succor of the ship- 
wrecked is the Massachusetts Humane 
Society, which has made a most hon- 
orable record, and stands credited 

4 



JOSHUA JAMES 

with the rescue of a multitude of lives. 
This Society is supported by volun- 
tary contributions, their boats and ap- 
pliances being operated by volunteers 
who are paid for each occasion of 
service. It was organized in 1785, 
and was among the first, if not the 
first, in the world to build huts for 
the comfort and shelter of ship- 
wrecked persons and, subsequently 
(1807), to provide for rescue work 
with boats and other apparatus. Its 
operations are, of course, limited to 
the coast of Massachusetts, where it 
maintained at one time as many as 
78 lifeboat and 13 mortar stations. 
When the national service extended 
its field to include that coast, in 1874, 
the Society discontinued some of its 
stations at points covered by the Gov- 

5 



JOSHUA JAMES 

eminent work, and transferred others 
to points needing protection. It still 
maintains, however, several in prox- 
imity to Government stations in espe- 
cially dangerous localities. At these 
places the crews of the two services 
have always harmoniously and effect- 
ively co-operated on occasions of ship- 
wreck. The relations between the 
two organizations have also been of 
the most friendly and cordial nature. 
In a series of sketches of " True 
American Types," one that represents 
the phase of our national character 
which the American life-saver, trained 
in one or both of these organizations, 
so aptly typifies, is peculiarly fitting, 
and the following is a narrative of the 
simple, unpretentious life of such a 
one. The subject of the sketch was 

6 



JOSHUA JAMES 

connected with the Massachusetts Hu- 
mane Society from his early youth un- 
til he was made keeper of a station in 
the United States Life-Saving Service, 
in which capacity he served during 
the last twelve years of his life. 

Joshua James, on the paternal side, 
was of humble Dutch stock. William 
James, his father, was born in Dok- 
kum, Holland, in the year 1782. Lit- 
tle is known of him before he became 
old enough to enter the army of his 
native country. He served for a 
while as a soldier until, tiring of the 
life, he ran away to sea, and in the 
course of time made his way to 
America, landing in Boston, where he 
soon after shipped on one of the nu- 
merous small schooners engaged in 

7 



JOSHUA JAMES 

the business of furnishing paving 
stones to that city. This led him 
to make his home in Hull, where 
the vessel belonged. In due course, 
by dint of faithful service and a frugal 
life, he became the owner of a vessel 
and engaged in the paving-stone busi- 
ness for himself. In 1808 he mar- 
ried Esther Dill, daughter of Nathan- 
iel and Esther (Stoddard) Dill, of 
Hull, both descended from the early 
English colonists. Her great-grand- 
father, Daniel Dill, served as a pri- 
vate in the Revolutionary Army, and 
during the War of 18 12 members of 
her family acted as volunteer coast 
guards, and in that capacity rendered 
valuable service to the country. 
Esther, who v/as the only girl in a 
family of seven children, was but six- 

8 



JOSHUA JAMES 

teen years of age at the time of her 
marriage. She was notably humani- 
tarian and philanthropic in her na- 
ture, " smart " and capable of quickly 
adapting herself to circumstances. 
The crews of her husband's vessels 
found in her a veritable mother. She 
nursed them in sickness without 
thought of recompense, and constantly 
looked after their welfare. Nor did 
she confine her ministrations to these 
and their families only, but volunta- 
rily sought out and liberally supplied 
the needs of the poor about her. Her 
remarkable courage and prompt de- 
cision are attested by an incident of 
her early married life. One of her 
children, then a year and a half old, 
fell into an old well some thirty to 
forty feet deep, containing about three 

9 



JOSHUA JAMES 

feet of water. A descent into the 
well on the slippery stones was a peril- 
ous undertaking, and, other than her- 
self, none of those who witnessed the 
accident dared venture it. While 
they were seeking other means of res- 
cue, she clambered down and saved the 
babe. It is not known what assist- 
ance was rendered her in getting out, 
but it is said that she was utterly ex- 
hausted and almost unconscious when 
she reached the top of the well. 

The loving, sympathetic, and he- 
roic character of this mother, and the 
thrift and energy of the father, could 
hardly fail of beneficent effect upon 
their children. It is from the influ- 
ence of such parentage that achieve- 
ments which have made many a man 
famous have derived their inspiration. 

10 



JOSHUA JAMES 

The James home in Hull was a 
commodious dwelling of the simple 
style of the period, built on an emi- 
nence overlooking the bay, by Mrs. 
James' family, and purchased by her 
husband soon after their marriage. 
Like most of his countrymen, William 
James was a Lutheran. It was his 
custom to read Luther's version of the 
Bible daily from a volume in his 
mother tongue brought with him 
from Holland. The children, as soon 
as they were large enough, were re- 
quired to read from the Bible every 
morning, using the King James ver- 
sion in the English language. The 
family attended the Methodist Epis- 
copal church, the only Protestant 
church in the village, and all took 
part in the Sunday School, either as 

ii 



JOSHUA JAMES 

teachers or scholars. Captain James, 
in his spare time at home, conducted 
a singing class. Music was the chief 
recreation of the family, each member 
learning to play one or more instru- 
ments. A story current among the 
older residents of Hull indicates that 
Captain James had exceptional mu- 
sical talent. It is to the effect that, 
when a young man, he applied to a 
music teacher for lessons, stating that 
he did not know a note. The teacher 
began by pointing out at some length 
the value and significance of the writ- 
ten musical symbols, the pupil in the 
meantime impatiently asking about ad- 
vanced lessons. When the teacher 
was through he was much surprised 
at the young man's question, " Is that 
all there is to it? " and ironically re- 

12 



JOSHUA JAMES 

plied that it was all! In less than 
a year young James was successfully 
teaching a singing class of his own. 
Shortly afterward he acquired profi- 
ciency on the clarinet, and was en- 
gaged to play with the noted bugler, 
Ned Kendall, in Boston and else- 
where. His musical talent was trans- 
mitted in a large degree to his de- 
scendants, even to the third and 
fourth generations. A great-grand- 
daughter, Mme. Bernice de Pasquali, 
daughter of Captain William W. 
James, was honored by being selected 
as the only soloist to sing before the 
Prince of Wales and other dignitaries 
at the State concert in commemoration 
of the founding of Quebec, in July, 
1908, and upon the recent retirement 
of the celebrated Madame Sembrich, 

13 



JOSHUA JAMES 

succeeded that prima donna in the 
Metropolitan Opera Company, New 
York City. 

Joshua, who was the ninth of 
twelve children, was born November 
22, 1826. He was a most amiable 
and affectionate child, always thought- 
ful of others, scrupulously conscien- 
tious and singularly careful of every- 
thing placed in his charge. He was 
spoken of in the family as a " great 
caretaker." His sister Catherine, 
five years his senior, who tended him 
from babyhood and upon whom, at 
the age of fifteen, fell the care of the 
family upon the death of their mo- 
ther, and who, therefore, probably 
better understood his character and 
temperament than anyone else, often 
declared he was unlike other boys. 

14 



JOSHUA JAMES 

She used to say there was a certain 
thoughtfulness and reserve about him 
that distinguished him from other 
children, and his unerring judgment 
and ability to deal with perplexing 
situations made him a leader among 
them. He was beloved by his broth- 
ers, idolized by his sisters, and was 
the favorite of his father, who often 
remarked that God had especially 
blessed him in the gift of such a noble 
son. That the boy was father to the 
man in his spirit of unselfishness and 
generosity is shown by the fact that, 
when a mere lad, he was not only will- 
ing to share anything he had with 
others, but often gave them all, stren- 
uously insisting, however, that the di- 
vision among them should be " share 
and share alike." This self-sacrific- 

i5 



JOSHUA JAMES 

ing spirit and insistence upon fair 
play were manifested throughout his 
life. 

On April 3, 1837, when he was but 
ten years of age, Joshua was called 
upon to bear the first and perhaps the 
greatest sorrow of his life in the 
tragic death of his mother and baby 
sister. Mrs. James was returning 
from a visit to Boston in the schooner 
Hepzibah, a paving-stone vessel 
owned by her son Reinier. As they 
were passing through the treacherous 
Hull Gut a sudden squall threw the 
vessel on her beam ends, and she filled 
and sank before Mrs. James and her 
baby, who were in the cabin, could be 
rescued. His sister Catherine states 
that Joshua bore his great sorrow he- 
roically. He could not shed a tear, 

16 



JOSHUA JAMES 

although his young heart was burst- 
ing with grief. It made a great and 
lasting impression upon him, and un- 
doubtedly had an important influence 
in shaping his subsequent career as an 
indefatigable life-saver; for " ever 
after that," said his sister, " he 
seemed to be scanning the sea in quest 
of imperiled lives." It is a singular 
circumstance that the vessel in which 
Mrs. James was drowned belonged to 
the son whom she had saved from 
drowning in the well in his infancy. 
Had she not succeeded in saving him, 
perhaps her own life had not been 
lost in this tragic manner, and her son 
Joshua might never have been led to 
consecrate his life to the rescue of 
others from a similar fate. 

Joshua was a great reader even in 

i7 



JOSHUA JAMES 

his boyhood days, his choice being 
books of a historic and scientific char- 
acter; notably, and perhaps very natu- 
rally, those on astronomy, so intimate- 
ly associated with a sailor's profession. 
His preference for practical literature 
may have been due in some part to 
his mother, who prohibited the read- 
ing of novels and fiction of all kinds. 
She forbade the neighbors lending her 
children novels, and on one occasion 
destroyed a beautiful and expensive 
copy of " The Children of the Ab- 
bey," which she found in the hands of 
one of her daughters. The father's 
strict religious views also no doubt 
largely guided the children in their 
choice of reading. 

At a very early age Joshua began 
to go to sea with his father and elder 

18 



JOSHUA JAMES 

brothers. His fondness for astron- 
omy here stood him in good turn, and 
he soon became an expert navigator. 
His father in later years was fond of 
relating an incident illustrative of 
Joshua's good seamanship and the 
confidence reposed in him by other 
sailors. During a voyage in unfa- 
miliar waters the helmsman lost his 
bearings one night. This fact was 
not known to the captain for several 
hours, and when he learned of it he 
was unable to determine the position 
of the vessel, which had sailed a long 
distance off her course. As a last re- 
sort, Joshua, who had been asleep 
through it all, w r as called on deck and 
the situation laid before him. He 
carefully scanned the heavens for a 
minute through his sleepy, half-open 

19 



JOSHUA JAMES 

eyes, then confidently laid down the 
course, remarking that in two hours 
a certain light would be made, and re- 
turned to his bunk in a most matter- 
of-fact way. In one hour and fifty-five 
minutes the light he had mentioned 
was sighted. How Joshua's casual 
examination of the stars could enable 
him so accurately to judge of the dis- 
tance and location of the lighthouse 
may not be obvious, but his good 
guess (if such it was) might very 
naturally have been attributed by the 
skipper to his superior scientific ac- 
quirements. On another occasion, 
when he was sailing a yacht into Bos- 
ton, all bearings were apparently lost 
in a dense fog. Someone asked him 
where they were, and he promptly and 
positively replied, " We are just off 

20 



JOSHUA JAMES 

Long Island head." " How can you 
tell that? " asked his incredulous ques- 
tioner. " I can hear the land talk," 
was the terse reply. Shortly after, 
when the fog lifted, his judgment was 
found to be correct, as they were then 
directly off the island. This illus- 
trates his marvelous knowledge of the 
topography of the coast and harbor, 
and the conditions prevailing at differ- 
ent points, acquired by observant eyes 
and quick ears. It is the same acute- 
ness of the perceptive faculties that 
characterized the celebrated Maine 
steamship captain who for more than 
twenty years is said to have regularly 
navigated his vessel in the thickest 
fogs and darkest nights through the 
tortuous reaches, thoroughfares, and 
channels of the " inside passage " 

21 



JOSHUA JAMES 

along the coast of Maine, without ac- 
cident. When asked for an explana- 
tion of his remarkable record he re- 
plied, " I knew the bark of every dog 
and the crow of every rooster on the 
line, and often steered by them." 
That is one way the land " talks " to 
the coastwise sailor, as well as by the 
varying sounds of the surf beating 
on the shelving beaches, the ledges, or 
the precipitous rocks that mark dif- 
ferent localities. A good interpreter 
of the language of the shore possesses 
one of the prime qualifications of 
what sailors call a " natural pilot " 
— and Joshua James was a " natural 
pilot " in an unusual degree. 

Captain William James continued 
in the paving-stone trade between 
Hull and Boston until cobblestones 

22 



JOSHUA JAMES 

were generally supplanted by the 
more modern paving materials. He 
at one time had a large contract for 
filling in the west end of the city of 
Boston, and owned a fleet of twelve 
vessels of from 50 to 125 tons bur- 
den. It was his practice to give 
each of his sons, on reaching his ma- 
jority, a complete outfit for the busi- 
ness, including a new schooner. 
Joshua, therefore, with his deep love 
of the sea, his early training on his 
father's and brothers' vessels, and 
with such an outfit provided, very nat- 
urally entered the same business, going 
into lightering and freight-carrying 
for himself at the age of twenty-five. 
Captain James, as he now came to be 
called, continued in his chosen pro- 
fession until his appointment as keep- 

23 



JOSHUA JAMES 

er of the Point Allerton life-saving 
station upon its establishment in 1889. 
In 1830 John Lucihe, an Austrian 
gentleman of more than ordinary cul- 
ture and business ability, settled in 
Hull and soon after became the agent 
of the Tudor Ice Company of Boston. 
He married Eliza T. Lovell, a third 
cousin of the subject of this sketch, 
and a descendant of the early English 
settlers of Hull. When Joshua was 
sixteen years of age there was born to 
this family a daughter. Little Lou- 
isa, as she was named, soon became 
a favorite with her sturdy fourth 
cousin, and their mutual love and 
friendship increased with the years as 
the baby girl grew to womanhood. 
She attended the village school and 
later the East Greenwich (R. I.) 

24 



JOSHUA JAMES 

Seminary, a Methodist institution, 
while Joshua passed from boyhood to 
mature manhood, prospering in his 
chosen calling and winning unheeded 
laurels as a life-saver. In 1858, when 
Louisa was but sixteen years of age, 
and Joshua was twice that number, 
they were married, and, as the fairy 
tales have it, " lived happily ever 
after " — in this case the actual truth. 
When the writer expressed some sur- 
prise at the disparity in their ages, 
Mrs. James, now a feeble grand- 
mother, smiled as she naively ex- 
plained that Joshua had always had 
his eye on her, and waited for her to 
" grow up." And well he might, for 
Louisa Lucihe possessed unusual 
beauty of face and figure, as well as 
rare sweetness of disposition and 

25 



JOSHUA JAMES 

marked intelligence. Her mental 
graces she still retains, to the great 
comfort and blessing of her children 
and grandchildren, and notwithstand- 
ing her advancing years, her face is 
still beautiful, and her sweet, captivat- 
ing smile and charming manners en- 
dear her to all who know her. They 
were a remarkably well-matched 
couple, for Joshua was an exception- 
ally handsome, well-built man, with a 
genial face and a fund of good-humor 
that made it a pleasure to be in his 
company. Another thing they had 
in common; they were both life- 
savers. Two years before their mar- 
riage, when Louisa was bathing in the 
ocean with a number of other girls, 
one of them who was visiting in Hull 
and evidently unfamiliar with the 

26 



JOSHUA JAMES 

beach, went beyond her depth and 
would have drowned but for Louisa 
Lucihe, who saw the danger and 
bravely plunged in and rescued her. 
Captain James was an ardent lover 
and a true and affectionate husband 
and father. About a year after their 
marriage he purchased the house 
which is still occupied by his widow 
and three daughters. Ten children, 
eight girls and two boys, came to bless 
their home. Three of the daughters 
and one son died in infancy and early 
childhood. The other son, Osceola 
F. James, born in 1865, grew to be a 
sturdy man and followed in his fa- 
ther's footsteps both as a sailor and 
a life-saver. He is now master of 
the steamer Myles Standish, plying 
between Boston and Nantasket Beach 

27 



JOSHUA JAMES 

each summer. He is also captain of 
the Hull volunteer life-savers, with a 
record approaching that of his father, 
whom he succeeded as keeper of the 
Humane Society's boats when the lat- 
ter became keeper of the Government 
life-saving station. Two of the 
daughters, Louisa Julette and Edith 
Gertrude, are married, while the three 
younger, Bertha Coleta, Rozelle 
Francesca, and Genevieve Endola, 
have remained with their mother. 

As was to be expected, the home 
life of this family was a happy one, 
marred only by the death of the four 
little ones, whose loss was deeply felt 
by Captain James and his good wife. 
Next to the tragic death of his mother 
in his early childhood Captain James 
mourned the loss of his baby son and 

28 



JOSHUA JAMES 

three little girls to the end of his 
days. 

Captain James, like his father, was 
a lover of music, as were all the chil- 
dren. At one time the James Or- 
chestra, composed of members of the 
family, flourished. The youngest 
daughter is an accomplished violinist, 
and is also organist of the Methodist 
church in Hull. In addition to music 
Captain James was fond of chess and 
checkers, and many a winter evening 
was agreeably spent in these absorb- 
ing games. With these amusements 
and his insatiable love of good read- 
ing, in addition to his out-of-doors ac- 
tivities, Captan James' life was a full 
and well-rounded one. The family 
was noted for its hospitality, and with 
five attractive and accomplished young 

29 



JOSHUA JAMES 

ladies in the home, it is easy to believe 
that there was no lack of company. 
The James home was doubtless a so- 
cial center in the little fishing village, 
around which gather many pleasant 
memories. 

Joshua James was not professedly 
a religious man, although brought up 
in the Methodist church. He be- 
lieved in a God as the supreme ruler 
of the universe, but did not accept a 
revealed religion. The Fatherhood 
of God and the Brotherhood of Man 
sufficed for him as a creed. 

Space will not permit more to be 
said of Captain James' family life; 
nor is it necessary. The intimate de- 
tails, embracing joys and sorrows, tri- 
umphs and disappointments, successes 
and reverses — in short, all the little 

30 



JOSHUA JAMES 

incidents which go to make up the 
sum of daily life, and which are usual- 
ly of only fleeting interest even to the 
members of each little family group, 
are repeated in every true home with 
only the variations due to environ- 
ment and circumstances. It is enough 
to know that this was a typical home 
of the " common people " of its day 
and place, its inmates neither rich nor 
poor, neither high nor low — of that 
honest, sturdy manhood and woman- 
hood which constitute the bulk and 
strength of every nation. 

Joshua James' career as a life-saver 
began in the lifeboats of the Massa- 
chusetts Humane Society at the early 
age of fifteen, when he was one of a 
crew that rescued the sailors from a 

3i 



JOSHUA JAMES 

shipwrecked vessel. Very little can 
be learned of this incident. It ap- 
pears that the vessel, of a name long 
since forgotten, was wrecked early in 
1842 on Harding's Ledge, a danger- 
ous collection of bare rocks about four 
miles eastward of Hull. The life- 
boat, as usual, was manned by volun- 
teers, and after it had put off for 
the wreck, the boy Joshua was found 
to be among the crew. It is not 
known what part he took in the rescue 
of the shipwrecked sailors, but the 
eagerness to be of service which led 
him to go in the boat justifies the as- 
sumption that he gave a good account 
of himself. 

Unfortunately, the archives of the 
Massachusetts Humane Society were 
destroyed in the great Boston fire of 

32 



JOSHUA JAMES 

1872, and a complete account of Cap- 
tain James' services in the Society's 
boats is not, therefore, accessible. 
The authenticity of this story of his 
first rescue, notwithstanding the 
scantiness of the family traditions, is 
substantiated, however, by a medal 
and certificate awarded him many 
year9 later (1886) which acknowl- 
edges his services in the Society's 
boats from the age of fifteen. The 
absence of any account of this and 
other rescues in subsequent lists of 
rewards granted by the Society prior 
to the fire is doubtless due to the neg- 
lect of Captain James and his family 
to respond to the invitation to report 
errors and omissions. In a " History 
of the Humane Society," published in 
1877, are found the following items: 

33 



JOSHUA JAMES 

" 1844. To Moses B. Tower, John 
W. Tower, William James, and five 
others, for their humane and heroic 
exertions in saving, by the Life-Boat 
of the Society stationed at Hull, the 
officers and crew of the brig Tremont, 
of New York, wrecked on Point Al- 
derton Bar in a violent gale, on Mon- 
day, Oct. 7th, ten dollars in money to 
each, together with the Society's gold 
medal to Capt. Tower, in token of 
the approbation of the Trustees of his 
and their meritorious conduct." 

" 1845. To nine of the first crew 
of the Society's boat at Hull, for their 
gallant though unsuccessful attempt 
to rescue those on board the ship Mas- 
sasoit, wrecked on nth of December, 
at Point Alderton, . . . $90. 

" To seven of the crew of the So- 
ciety's boat at Hull, who made a sec- 
ond gallant and successful attempt 
and succeeded in rescuing Captain 
Berry and eleven others, from the 

34 



JOSHUA JAMES 

ship Massasoit, wrecked at Point Al- 
derton, Dec. nth, . . . $105. 

Joshua probably participated in one 
or both of these rescues, in connection 
with one of which his father is espe- 
cially mentioned. It is known from 
other sources that he took a very ac- 
tive part in the rescue of a ship- 
wrecked crew in 1845, which was 
probably that of the Massasoit; but it 
seems that already his proclivities in 
this line had become so much a mat- 
ter of course to his family that none 
of those now living is able to recall 
particular occasions. It is well estab- 
lished, however, that during his youth 
and early manhood he saved and as- 
sisted to save many persons from 
drowning. 

35 



JOSHUA JAMES 

His first medal was one of bronze, 
inscribed 

to JOSHUA JAMES 

FOR 

MERITORIOUS EXERTIONS IN RESCUING 

THE CREW OF THE FRENCH BRIG L'ESSAI, 

WRECKED AT 

NANTASKET BEACH, APRIL I, 185O. 

This was followed by a certificate 
embellished with the pictures of the 
members of his crew, for saving the 
crew of the ship Delaware, in 1857, 
which reads as follows : 

to JOSHUA JAMES 

FOR HIS PERSEVERING EFFORTS IN 

RESCUING THE OFFICERS AND 

CREW OF SHIP DELAWARE 

ON TODDY ROCKS 

MAR. 2, 1857. 

In 1864 he assisted in the rescue of 
the crew of the brig Swordfish, but 
the report for that year is not at hand. 

36 



JOSHUA JAMES 

The next item is one in the report for 
1 87 1, as follows: 

" At the meeting on the 6th Jan- 
uary, 1 87 1, the case of the schooner 
William R. Genn was attended to by 
awarding the Captain, J. G. Small, 
$15, and $10 to each of the crew of 
the lifeboat, consisting of nine men. 

" The schooner was stranded on 
Nantasket Beach on the evening of 
the 23d December, in a snowstorm. 
About 7 o'clock the Long Beach Life- 
Boat put off ; she was once filled with 
water and obliged to return to the 
beach: was again put off, after clear- 
ing her of water, and succeeded in 
rescuing the crew, including the Cap- 
tain and four men. An attempt had 
been made to land in their own boat, 
but she got adrift and was thrown 
up on the beach with one man in her. 
Considering the severity of the weath- 
er and the fact that the crew of the 
lifeboat went off without their life- 
belts and without inflating the floats, 
there was great risk in the operation." 

37 



JOSHUA JAMES 

The Captain Small referred to was 
evidently the master of the wrecked 
vessel, for a complete roster of the 
lifeboat crew given in lists of awards 
published in subsequent reports, shows 
that Captain James was in command 
of the boat. 

In March, 1873, Joshua was one 
of the boat's crew which rescued the 
crew of the schooner Helene, as ap- 
pears from the following account in 
the " History " : 

" To James Lowe, George Augus- 
tus, William James, Jr., Samuel, 
John, and Washington James, Andrew 
Calender, Lewis and Nicholas Siro- 
vick, Alonzo Mitchell, and Andrew J. 
Pope, crew of the Society's Stony 
Beach Boat, and to James W., Eben 
S., and B. I. Pope, Joshua, W. W., 
and Phineas James, Jr., and W. B. 
Mitchell, crew of the Society's Point 

38 



JOSHUA JAMES 

Allerton Boat, for their gallant and 
successful efforts in rescuing the cap- 
tain and crew of the schooner c Hel- 
ene/ wrecked on Point Allerton Bar, 
twenty dollars each, . . . $380 " 

In 1876 the Society recognized the 
services of Captain James by appoint- 
ing him Keeper of four of their life- 
boats located at Stony Beach, Point 
Allerton, and Nantasket Beach (2), 
also of a mortar station at the first- 
named place, to which was later added 
a boat at Gun Rock Cove, Cohasset. 
This position he held until his ap- 
pointment as keeper of the Govern- 
ment station at Point Allerton. 

In the 1882 report the following 
entry speaks for itself: 

" Boat No. 21 was launched about 
2 a.m., February 1st, 1882 (during 
a very heavy gale and thick snow- 

39 



JOSHUA JAMES 

storm), and took off the crew of the 
schooner ' Bucephalus,' which had 
gone ashore on Nantasket Beach. At 
8 a.m., the same day, Boat No. 18 
saved the crew of the schooner ' Nel- 
lie Walker/ ashore on Toddy Rocks." 

Subsequent lists of awards giving 
a roster of the boats' crews, show that 
Captain James was in command at 
both of these wrecks. The work per- 
formed was evidently regarded by the 
Society as exceptionally good, as the 
men were awarded the unusual sum 
of $25 each. 

The report for 1886 contains the 
following items: 

" On Dec. 1, 1885, the brig ' Anita 
Owen ' went ashore on Nantasket 
Beach and was lost. Capt. Joshua 
James and crew of ten men launched 
the Life-Boat No. 20, about midnight, 
and with great difficulty rescued the 

40 



JOSHUA JAMES 

crew in two trips. Ten persons were 
saved. Captain James and each of 
his crew were awarded $10." 

" The ' Millie Trim ' went ashore 
on Calf Island the morning of Janu- 
ary 9, 1886. All the crew were lost 
but the captain, who landed on the is- 
land, and was cared for by the people. 
Capt. Joshua James, seeing a signal on 
the Island, launched the Life-Boat 
No. 17, and got the captain, putting 
him on a tug for Boston. The crew 
of the Life-boat were awarded $6 
each." 

Captain James' own description of 
the wreck of the Anita Owen, as given 
to a press correspondent many years 
after, is so characteristic of the man 
and so typical of the inherent mod- 
esty of life-savers in general that it 
is given in full herewith. 

" While trying to make Boston 
harbor in a northeast gale December 

41 



JOSHUA JAMES 

i, 1885, the brig lost her bearings 
and came to anchor just outside the 
breakers off Nantasket Beach. She 
was safe as long as her anchors and 
chains held fast, but about midnight 
she parted her cable and came into the 
breakers. It was blowing a gale with 
thick snow and very dark. At that 
time I was in charge of the Massa- 
chusetts Society's boats on Nantasket 
Beach. We had seen the vessel come 
to anchor just before dark, and, real- 
izing her possible danger, made every- 
thing ready to go to her assistance, 
one of our crew keeping watch on the 
beach in order to give the alarm 
should she come ashore. Before 
parting her chains she lay about 300 
yards off shore, where, through the 
darkness, we could catch an occasional 

42 



JOSHUA JAMES 

glimpse of her lights swaying to and 
fro as she pitched about. A few mo- 
ments after she took bottom we were 
abreast of her on the beach, with the 
lifeboat. We answered a signal torch 
from the wreck, then ran our boat 
into the surf and jumped in. When 
about halfway out we shipped a big 
sea that filled the boat to her thwarts, 
at the same time forcing her back on 
the beach. We hauled her up, cleared 
her of water and launched again. 
This time we got quite close to the 
vessel, and found her awash with the 
sea breaking over her forward and 
amidships. It seems that the captain 
had cut away the foremast as soon as 
she stranded, to minimize the danger 
to the crew and lessen the chances of 
her breaking up, and as we came up 

43 



JOSHUA JAMES 

close a torch on board showed the bro- 
ken mast and yards hammering her 
sides, and, fortunately, enabled us to 
keep clear of them. The cabin house 
aft was out of water. Here the 
crew had taken shelter. It seemed 
almost impossible to get alongside, as 
there was a heavy sea running around 
her stern, causing our boat to ship 
large quantities of water, which made 
it necessary for two of our men to be 
constantly bailing. The captain 
hailed us and shouted that there were 
ten persons on board, among them his 
wife. I called back that we could take 
off but five, and told him to keep a 
light burning. Then I directed him 
to lower one person at a time by a 
rope, with instructions to drop when 
we were in the right position. We 

44 



JOSHUA JAMES 

watched our chance and made a dash 
for the ship. The captain's wife was 
the first to swing over, but she did not 
let go when the signal was given, and 
the next instant the boat was swept 
out of reach. The second attempt 
was successful, although she did not 
drop at the right moment and came 
near falling between the boat and the 
wreck. Luckily, as she fell one of 
us caught her and pulled her into the 
boat. We took four others off in the 
same manner, and then came the 
danger of landing. There is always 
great danger in getting back to shore 
under such circumstances, as the res- 
cued persons interfere with the work 
of the oarsmen. As we backed to- 
ward the beach, keeping head to the 
sea, a big breaker struck us, filling the 

45 



JOSHUA JAMES 

boat to the thwarts and driving her 
swiftly up the beach, but without 
worse mishap to us than a thorough 
drenching. The second trip was 
more perilous than the first, owing to 
drift wreckage and the loss of the 
boat's steering oar. While taking 
off the first load we were greatly as- 
sisted by the ship's torches, which en- 
abled us to keep out of the way of the 
debris beating her sides, but the seas 
that now washed over her made it im- 
possible to keep anything burning on 
board, and the darkness prevented our 
seeing the men distinctly. By perse- 
vering, however, we came alongside 
again without injury to the boat, but 
we were kept busy dodging the wreck- 
age. The balance of the crew had to 
lower themselves as best they could, 

46 



JOSHUA JAMES 

making flying jumps, and trusting to 
luck for the rest. One of the men 
taken off, a tall negro, was working 
his passage as assistant cook. In his 
leap to the boat he held tightly in one 
hand an umbrella and a walking stick. 
These articles were the only personal 
effects saved, and when we reached 
shore he walked up the beach clinging 
to them as though they were of more 
value than life, presenting a ludicrous 
picture in the midst of grave sur- 
roundings." 

Just a matter-of-fact account of the 
difficulties of the work, giving the fine 
points of the game, as it were, such 
as one might employ in the description 
of a baseball game or other athletic 
sport. In telling the story nearly six- 
teen years later, the point that seemed 

47 



JOSHUA JAMES 

to stand out most prominently in his 
mind was the incident of the negro 
cook with his umbrella! The cour- 
age and self-sacrifice, the skill and in- 
genuity, the almost superhuman en- 
deavors of these fearless men as they 
freely took their lives in their hands 
to save those others out there in the 
darkness, amidst the thunder of the 
surf breaking with terrific force on 
the beach and hidden rocks, the dash- 
ing spray that froze as it touched their 
skin and clothing, forming a sheath- 
ing of ice on boat and men, the float- 
ing spars and wreckage momentarily 
threatening their boat with destruc- 
tion — these are hardly suggested. 

In 1886 the Society presented Cap- 
tain James with a large silver medal 

48 



JOSHUA JAMES 

struck especially for him, bearing the 
following inscription : 

TO 

CAPT. JOSHUA JAMES 

FOR BRAVE AND 
FAITHFUL SERVICE 

OF MORE THAN 

4O YEARS IN THE 

LIFEBOATS OF THE 

HUMANE SOCIETY. 

1886. 

The Humane Society's report for 
1888 contains the following minute 
with reference to the award of this 
medal: 

" Dec. 19, 1885. To Captain Josh- 
ua James, the silver medal of the Soci- 
ety and $50, in recognition of his con- 
spicuous bravery and ability during 
his connection with the Society's life- 
boats from the year 1842, when he 
was only 15 years of age. During 

49 



JOSHUA JAMES 

this time he assisted in saving over 
ioo lives. The Society in sending 
him the above reward desires to offer 
its congratulations and thanks for ex- 
ceptionally gallant service." 

In 1889 Captain James received the 
gold medal of the Society, inscribed as 
follows : 

TO 

CAPTAIN JOSHUA JAMES 

FOR HIS HUMANE EXERTIONS 
IN RESCUING THE LIVES 

OF 

TWENTY-NINE PERSONS 

FROM 

FOUR VESSELS 

ON NOV. 25 AND 26, l888. 

For this service Captain James and 

ten members of his volunteer crews 

also received the gold medal awarded 

by the United States Government for 

exceptional daring in saving life from 

shipwreck. 

50 



JOSHUA JAMES 

Considering the disheartening con- 
ditions under which most of their suc- 
cesses were achieved, the record made 
in that memorable storm by Captain 
James and his brave volunteers in at- 
tending upon five wrecked vessels scat- 
tered over nearly eight miles of beach, 
and saving the lives of twenty-nine 
persons, without the loss or serious 
injury of a single member of his crew 
or any of the shipwrecked sailors 
whom it was within human power to 
save, is one that has rarely been sur- 
passed. 

A connected narrative of the oc- 
currences at each successive scene of 
disaster — although no pen can fit- 
tingly describe them — will convey 
some idea of the nature of the work 
the life-savers performed and the 

5i 



JOSHUA JAMES 

hardships they endured on this occa- 
sion. 

The storm embraced in its course 
the entire Atlantic seaboard and swept 
up the coast with the suddenness and 
violence of a tropical hurricane, leav- 
ing in its wake a chain of wrecks from 
the Carolinas to Maine. It struck 
Massachusetts Bay on Sunday, the 
25th, unheralded by the usual storm 
warnings of the Weather Bureau, and 
came in the guise of a northeast gale 
and snowstorm, accompanied by ex- 
tremely high tides and a tremendous 
surf. Subsequently it ceased snowing, 
sleet and rain succeeding. So terrible 
a storm in November had never be- 
fore been known in Hull. Early in 
the day Captain James and a few 
hardy beachmen, having climbed to 

52 



JOSHUA JAMES 

the top of Telegraph Hill for observa- 
tion, saw through the driving snow, 
before the air became too thick to 
make them out, several schooners an- 
chored in the offing, which they felt 
sure must sooner or later yield to the 
growing fury of the storm and drift 
ashore in spite of their dragging an- 
chors. He therefore notified his vol- 
unteers to be ready for service, and 
about two o'clock ordered a patrol all 
along the ocean shore. The patrol 
had hardly begun when a large three- 
masted schooner which proved to be 
the Cox and Green, was discovered 
broadside on the beach just north of 
the Toddy Rocks. The gale was now 
intense, and it was with much difficulty 
that the Hunt gun, breeches-buoy ap- 
paratus, and lifeboat were dragged 

53 



JOSHUA JAMES 

against it half a mile from the Stony 
Beach station to the scene of the 
wreck. In the meantime the vessel 
had been forced near enough inshore 
by the heaving surges to readily admit 
of the use of the breeches-buoy ap- 
paratus, rendering this first task of the 
life-savers a comparatively easy one. 
Without delay Captain James pro- 
ceeded to fire a line aboard, which 
was soon followed by the whipline, 
hawser, and breeches-buoy; and al- 
though the process of rescue under the 
prevailing conditions was necessarily 
difficult and tedious, the nine men 
were, one by one, safely landed on the 
beach, whence they were taken to a 
nearby cottage and ministered to by 
sympathizing hands. 

It had now become quite dark, but 

54 



JOSHUA JAMES 

another three-masted schooner, the 
Gertrude Abbott, could be dimly dis- 
cerned upon the rocks an eighth of a 
mile farther up the beach, and to this 
point Captain James and his men la- 
boriously transferred their boat and 
apparatus. This wreck gave them a 
far more serious problem to deal with. 
A brief survey of the situation showed 
that the vessel lay too far from shore 
for the use of the breeches-buoy ap- 
paratus, and that to attempt a rescue 
with the lifeboat under the present 
appalling conditions of wind and sea 
was an undertaking which, to all ap- 
pearances, invited certain death. 
Captain James warned his crew that 
the chances were they would never re- 
turn from an attempt to save the ship- 
wrecked men, but asked who were 

55 



JOSHUA JAMES 

willing to go with him and make the 
effort. Without a moment's hesita- 
tion every man offered himself, and 
they ran the boat into the water and 
started for the wreck. In the mean- 
time the people, by tearing down 
fences, had gathered material for a 
great bonfire on Souther's Hill, which 
lit up the scene in spite of the storm, 
greatly assisting the boat's crew in 
their desperate struggle, and carrying 
renewed hope to the despairing fel- 
lows on board the wreck. The boat 
was repeatedly filled as the huge 
waves swept over it, disputing every 
inch of the way and often forcing it 
back into imminent peril of being 
dashed to pieces on the rocks. Two 
men were constantly occupied in bail- 
ing. At length the powerful strokes 

56 



JOSHUA JAMES 

of the crew brought the boat under 
the schooner's bow, a line was thrown 
aboard and made fast by the sailors, 
and as the boat rose high on the crest 
of a wave one of them dropped into 
the outstretched arms below. This 
was repeated until all of the eight men 
were successively taken into the boat. 
But the hardest part of the struggle 
was yet before them, and the danger 
of which Captain James had warned 
his men now became terribly apparent. 
To reach the shore with their heavy 
load through the riot of waters raging 
between was a task which called not 
only for all their strength and endur- 
ance, but also the utmost skill and self- 
possession. As they approached the 
shore the crowd which had gathered 
there expected momentarily to see the 

57 



JOSHUA JAMES 

frail craft tossed upon the rocks and 
crushed like an eggshell. The men, 
however, stuck desperately to their 
posts, and watched for a chance to 
make a landing, although repeatedly 
drenched by the overwhelming seas. 
When within two hundred yards of 
the beach the boat struck a submerged 
boulder, filled and rolled one side un- 
der water. The occupants quickly 
shifted to the other side, which right- 
ed the boat, but one man had been 
thrown overboard, whom, fortu- 
nately, his comrades caught and 
hauled in before the sea could sweep 
him beyond reach. Captain James 
admonished the men to stick to the 
boat as long as possible. It struck 
the rocks a number of times, the crew 
just managing to keep it headed for 

58 



JOSHUA JAMES 

the shore with the few oars that were 
left, so that the sea might heave it 
in. Finally a monster wave lifted it 
high in the air and dashed it upon the 
rocks, completely wrecked. By for- 
tunate chance, however, all th,e men 
got ashore, half wading and half 
dragged by the eager hands of the 
spectators who rushed into the surf as 
far as possible to assist them. 

It was nine o'clock when the last 
man was safe on shore. Captain 
James and his men at once resumed 
the patrol of the beach, which they 
continued throughout the bitter night, 
unmindful of the tempest raging 
about them. Often they had to wade 
deep gullies, with difficulty avoiding 
the wreckage that was thrashing about 
in the surf, and now and again they 

59 



JOSHUA JAMES 

had to run for their lives to escape an 
exceptionally high sea that chased 
them up the beach and threatened to 
engulf them. 

About three o'clock in the morn- 
ing they discovered the third three- 
masted schooner, the Bertha F. 
Walker, ashore about half a mile 
northwest of the Abbott. She, also, 
was beyond the range of the shotline, 
and they now had to go all the way to 
the Strawberry Hill station, four miles 
distant, for a boat to replace the one 
wrecked the night before. This was 
a new boat, recently built from a de- 
sign by Captain James' brother Sam- 
uel, which had not yet been tested in 
actual wreck work. It was a cruel 
trick of fate to thus add to the perils 
of such a storm the anxiety naturally 

60 



JOSHUA JAMES 

felt about the possible behavior of an 
unfamiliar boat; for it is almost an 
axiom upon the coast that surfmen 
will undertake and successfully ac- 
complish a difficult enterprise in a 
boat of a model with which they are 
thoroughly acquainted, when they 
would utterly fail in a strange craft, 
though the latter might be much the 
better boat. With the help of horses 
and many willing hands, the boat was 
at length brought to the scene of the 
wreck, quickly manned by the tireless 
crew, and after a hard struggle with 
mountainous seas, in which the boat 
proved itself entirely satisfactory, the 
seven surviving sailors were taken 
safely ashore. The captain and mate 
of this vessel had been drowned dur- 
ing the night, when the crew were 

61 



JOSHUA JAMES 

forced to abandon their shelter under 
the forecastle deck and take to the 
rigging. They had remained behind 
to see all the others safely aloft, and 
before they could join them, were 
washed overboard by a huge sea and 
never seen again. 

Before the rescue of the Walker's 
crew was completed, a messenger 
on horseback arrived from Atlantic 
Hill, more than five miles away, with 
news of two more wrecks at that 
point. The Hull men had had no 
breakfast, some had had little supper 
the night before, and most had been 
on the beach all night. But they did 
not falter. As soon as their work 
at the Walker was done they started 
with their boat for this new scene of 
disaster. Captain Anderson of the 

62 



JOSHUA JAMES 

Humane Society's station at Crescent 
Beach, and Captain Brown of the 
Government life-saving station at 
North Scituate had also been notified. 
Captain Anderson reached the point 
first with his Hunt gun and appara- 
tus, and turned his attention to the 
lower of the two wrecks, the schooner 
H. C. Higginson, which lay sunk, 
decks under, between two ledges, with 
five men clinging to the rigging. 
After he had fired several lines which, 
unfortunately, parted and failed to 
reach the vessel, Captain Brown and 
his crew arrived, having pulled their 
Lyle gun and apparatus through mud 
and slush a distance of nearly nine 
miles, and immediately fired a line 
which fell across the flying jibstay. 
Almost simultaneously Captain Ander- 

63 



JOSHUA JAMES 

son succeeded in getting a line aboard, 
and as this fell closer to the men in 
the fore rigging, they got hold of it, 
paying no further heed to the other 
line. The poor fellows succeeded in 
pulling the whip and hawser aboard 
and making them fast at the mast- 
head. The outlook was now very 
hopeful, and the breeches-buoy was 
about to be sent out, when a most un- 
fortunate accident occurred. The 
lines, tossed about by the waves, in 
some way fouled with some floating 
wreckage, and, despite the utmost ef- 
forts of the life-saving men, could not 
be freed, thus rendering their further 
use impossible. The life-savers and 
others on shore were in despair, and 
thought they would have to see the 
poor sailors go down to death before 

64 



JOSHUA JAMES 

their eyes. At this juncture Captain 
James and his men arrived with their 
boat, and as nothing further could be 
done with the breeches-buoy appara- 
tus, they at once launched, selecting a 
place slightly sheltered by a project- 
ing point, and started on their third 
trip into the very jaws of death. The 
sea had gained in fury, if such a thing 
were possible, the immense ridges of 
foam-crested surf bristling before 
them and advancing rank upon rank 
like a phalanx to meet them, seemed 
unconquerable, and there was scarcely 
a hope that they would be able to 
reach the wreck, if indeed they them- 
selves escaped alive. The skillful 
maneuvering of Captain James at the 
steering oar and the unsurpassed surf- 
manship and coolness of his crew, 

65 



JOSHUA JAMES 

however, carried them safely through 
the surf, but they fought in vain 
against the heavy seas beyond to 
round the rocky point, and after a 
struggle of three-quarters of an hour, 
they had to give it up and were 
washed ashore with two holes stove 
in their new boat. Patching the boat 
as well as possible, they dragged it to 
another place and launched again. It 
was only after a long and desperate 
battle with the surf, during which 
they were in the direst peril, that they 
reached the vessel. The sailors had 
now been in the tops fourteen hours, 
and in their exhausted and benumbed 
condition could do little to help them- 
selves. Great care had to be exer- 
cised to prevent the boat from being 
dashed against the vessel and crushed. 

66 



JOSHUA JAMES 

Four men in the foretop and one in 
the mizzen were all that were alive 
on board. The body of the steward, 
who had perished from exposure dur- 
ing the night, was lashed to the fore- 
topmast. The boat could come up 
only under the vessel's stern, and four 
of the men were at the other end. 
The man in the mizzentop cautiously 
descended the shrouds until he reached 
a position where he could catch a line 
thrown to him, which he tied about 
his waist, and, at the word of com- 
mand, jumped into the sea and was 
quickly hauled into the lifeboat. 
" Now for the men in the foretop ! " 
was the cry, and the crew strained 
every muscle to the utmost in repeated 
attempts to force the boat as far 
forward as the foremast. But their 

6 7 



JOSHUA JAMES 

most strenuous efforts could bring 
it no farther than abreast the main- 
mast. It was therefore necessary 
for the sailors to get across the inter- 
vening distance. There were but two 
ways that this could be done. One 
was to come across hand over hand on 
the spring stay, a distance of twenty 
feet, and this was hopeless in their 
exhausted condition. The other, 
hardly better, was to slide down the 
hawser which had been sent aboard 
and made fast in the attempt to set 
up the breeches-buoy apparatus, and 
which was now trailing toward the 
mainmast, and gain a footing in the 
main rigging if possible. Quickly 
they chose the latter course, and one 
of them commenced the perilous de- 
scent, taking the desperate chance for 

68 



JOSHUA JAMES 

life. It appeared every moment as 
if the swaying form would lose its 
hold and be swept away by the hun- 
gry waves which seemed to be leaping 
and stretching upward to seize him 
and plunge him into the sea below. 
Slowly he came down, but surely, and 
at last caught the main rigging. 
Here a rope was thrown to him, and, 
tying it about his body, he jumped 
overboard and was hauled into the 
boat. In like manner, fortunately with- 
out mishap, the three remaining men, 
to whom, as in the case of their ship- 
mate, the crisis seemed to lend super- 
human strength, made their way down 
and were taken off. When the last man 
was safe in the boat a mighty shout 
went up from those on shore, and 
still a mightier and more victorious 

69 



JOSHUA JAMES 

one when, after a long and desperate 
struggle, requiring the most skillful 
maneuvering to prevent a capsize in 
the surf, the boat came within reach 
of the eager hands stretched out to 
drag ashore the shipwrecked seamen 
and their heroic rescuers. Carriages 
were at hand to take the poor sailors, 
all but dead from their terrible ex- 
perience, to the homes in the vicinity, 
which were freely thrown open to 
them, and a physician among the spec- 
tators rendered medical assistance. 
The body of the steward was left 
bound to the topmast, presenting, as 
it swayed back and forth through the 
air with every undulation of the sea, 
a ghastly spectacle to the people who 
came to the shore in great numbers to 
view the desolation wrought by the 

70 



JOSHUA JAMES 

storm. It was not until late the next 
day that it was found possible to re- 
move it. 

The other wreck at this point was 
the schooner Mattie E. Eaton, which 
the sea had forced almost high and 
dry upon the beach, so that the crew 
had got ashore themselves at low tide, 
and as no assistance was required, the 
Hull men now took advantage of 
the opportunity to partake of much- 
needed refreshments. Then, having 
rested awhile, they made preparations 
to return to their homes. By this 
time the storm had somewhat abated. 
When about halfway they came upon 
the abandoned brigantine Alice, 
which had parted her moorings at 
Gloucester and been driven across the 
Bay, and after a line had been fired 

7i 



JOSHUA JAMES 

over her by Captain Brown and no 
one appeared to take it, Captain 
James and his men went aboard and 
found her deserted. Two men who 
soon after boarded her in a dory, 
were left on board by their boat 
breaking away, and the life-savers 
went back and took them off. 

When their work was done, Cap- 
tain James and his men had to show 
as trophies of their valor twenty-nine 
human lives, all the rescued being in 
a more or less pitiful plight from their 
terrible experience, it is true — but 
saved 1 

While Captain James was present 
and in command throughout the 
twenty-four hours consumed by these 
operations, only four of his crew took 

72 



JOSHUA JAMES 

part in all the trips, out of a total of 
twenty men engaged. 

The great loss of life and property 
on the shores of Massachusetts Bay 
resulting from this storm, emphasized 
the need of additional Government 
life-saving stations, with full equip- 
ment and regularly enlisted, paid, and 
drilled crews. The numerous dis- 
asters which occurred in the immedi- 
ate vicinity of Hull, as well as the ex- 
ceptionally good work done by the 
volunteer crews of that place, led to 
the establishment, early in the year 
1889, of a station at Stony Beach. 
When the station was nearing com- 
pletion, in the fall of that year, and 
the selection of a suitable man as 
keeper was in order, there was never 

73 



JOSHUA JAMES 

a doubt as to the right man for the 
place. Captain Joshua James, whose 
long and distinguished record had 
reached a fitting climax on that mem- 
orable November Sunday, was the 
first and only choice, notwithstanding 
his ineligibility under the regulations 
of the Service, which prescribe the age 
limit for keepers at the time of their 
appointment as forty-five years. His 
appointment at the age of sixty-two 
is the only instance in the history of 
the Service in which this regulation 
has been waived, an exception which 
was amply justified by his magnificent 
record during the subsequent twelve 
years of his service. On October 22, 
1889, he took the oath of office as 
Keeper of the United States Life- 
Saving Station at Point Allerton. 

74 



JOSHUA JAMES 

When the station was fully completed 
and equipped and ready to go into 
commission, on the first of March 
following, he chose for his crew seven 
able and fearless men, who, like him- 
self, had been tried and proven in 
many a perilous adventure. 

Captain James maintained at his 
station a standard of discipline and a 
degree of efficiency which stood him 
in good stead on many trying occa- 
sions. It may here be mentioned that 
the saving of property is a duty im- 
posed upon the crews of life-saving 
stations. This, of course, is second- 
ary and subordinate to the saving of 
life, but its importance is shown by 
the fact that the amount of property 
saved annually far exceeds the entire 
cost of maintaining the Service. The 

75 



JOSHUA JAMES 

official records show that eighty-six 
casualties occurred within the field of 
operations of the Point Allerton sta- 
tion while under Captain James' 
charge. There were on board these 
vessels 556 persons, and the estimated 
value of the vessels and their cargoes 
was $1,203,435. Of this property 
approximately three-fourths was saved. 
Of the $56 persons imperiled, but 16 
lost their lives. All of these were 
lost from wrecks which occurred 
during one terrible night under cir- 
cumstances which placed them beyond 
the reach of human aid and which 
precluded even an attempt being made 
to assist them. This was the fateful 
night of November 26-27, 1898, 
which will be referred to hereafter. 
To give in this brief sketch a com- 

76 



JOSHUA JAMES 

plete and chronological history of 
Captain James' work as keeper of the 
Point Allerton station is impracticable. 
Each separate occasion on which he 
rendered service had its own distinc- 
tive features more or less interesting, 
but here the story of only a single in- 
stance can be given. 

On the morning of December 16, 
1896, the British three-masted 
schooner Ulrica, bound from Hills- 
boro, Nova Scotia, to Hoboken, 
New Jersey, with a cargo of plaster, 
was stripped of her sails during a 
northeast gale and thick snowstorm, 
and left to drift helplessly about for 
several hours, dragging her anchors. 
She finally stranded about eight 
o'clock, nearly three miles south of 
the Point Allerton station. The pa- 

77 



JOSHUA JAMES 

trolman on his beat promptly discov- 
ered her, and immediately ran to a 
farmhouse nearby and engaged a 
team of horses to haul the Humane 
Society's lifeboat Nantasket, which 
was housed not far away, to the 
scene of the disaster. Giving the 
necessary instructions to the owner of 
the team, he hastened back to his sta- 
tion to report the wreck and call out 
the crew. In the meantime word had 
reached Captain James by telephone, 
and while the crew were making ready 
to start, the electric train from Boston 
arrived. The trainmaster, upon 
learning the situation, promptly put 
the cars at their service, and took 
Captain James and several of the 
surfmen to the wreck, while a portion 

78 



JOSHUA JAMES 

of the crew stayed behind to bring up 
the beach-apparatus. The team with 
the boat arrived simultaneously with 
Captain James and his men, and no 
time was lost in launching, half a 
dozen volunteers from the Humane 
Society's crews making up the neces- 
sary number of oarsmen. About five 
hundred yards off shore, fast settling 
in the soft sands, at the mercy of the 
sea, loomed the naked spars and white 
hull of the doomed vessel, the flood- 
ing seas constantly sweeping her fore 
and aft, reaching high up in the rig- 
ging, again and again drenching the 
seven half-frozen men of her crew, 
and covering everything with a thick 
coating of ice. Two or three of the 
sailors could be seen clinging to the 

79 



JOSHUA JAMES 

icy ropes, while the rest were huddled 
on top of the cabin as far as possible 
out of reach of the sea. 

The lifeboat had scarcely been got- 
ten afloat when a great wave tossed 
her like a feather far up the beach, 
spilling part of her crew. Nothing 
daunted, they repeated the attempt, 
and a second time they were flung 
back. The third time they were 
more successful, and amid the lusty 
cheers of the crowd gathered on the 
shore, they pulled away, the sea con- 
testing every foot of the advance. 
They had made perhaps half the dis- 
tance to the wreck when a tremendous 
sea bore down upon them and, seizing 
the boat, raised it almost to a vertical 
position, wrenched the steering oar 
from the hands of the captain, and 

80 



JOSHUA JAMES 

pitched him headlong into the sea, 
where the boat passed completely over 
him. The crew, by a desperate effort, 
kept their places, and the next in- 
stant they were irresistibly swept back 
to the beach, dragging with them the 
captain, who, as he came up, had 
grasped a surfman's oar, and man- 
aged to keep his hold upon it. 

Without a moment's hesitation, as 
if such an experience were a regular 
part of his day's work, Captain James 
coolly resumed charge and directed 
the further maneuvers of his men. 
The beach-apparatus had now arrived, 
and realizing that further attempts to 
use the boat would be futile, Captain 
James promptly fired a line which fell 
squarely across the vessel, but high up 
in the rigging, where the poor, be- 

81 



JOSHUA JAMES 

numbed sailors were unable to reach 
it. Another quickly followed, but 
with the same result. The third line, 
fortunately, fell across the mizzen 
topping-lift, and one of the sailors, 
summoning all his strength, shook the 
lift, to which he was clinging, until 
the line slid down within his reach. 
The crew then hauled aboard the 
whipline and made it fast just above 
the dead-eyes in the mizzen rigging. 
The hawser was sent out, and was 
fastened a little higher, but still too 
low to make the passage to the shore 
in the breeches-buoy safe, as the oc- 
cupant would be hauled the entire dis- 
tance through the sea and almost cer- 
tainly drowned; and the poor sailors 
were too exhausted to carry the lines 
high enough in the rigging. But 

82 



JOSHUA JAMES 

Captain James was equal to the 
emergency. He again ordered the 
men to man the boat, and using the 
hawser as a sort of trolley or ferry 
line, and with another line to the 
shore astern, they pulled out through 
the breakers and soon reached the 
wreck. Now another difficulty pre- 
sented itself. The men on board were 
too benumbed and exhausted to get 
over the side of the vessel and into 
the boat unaided, and some of the 
life-savers had to climb into the 
shrouds and help them down, one at 
a time. The danger involved is dif- 
ficult for landsmen to comprehend. 
The wreck was pounding heavily, the 
seas were sweeping over her constant- 
ly, and the lifeboat was bouncing 
about like a cork in imminent danger 

83 



JOSHUA JAMES 

of being crushed against the ship's 
side. But at last the men were all 
got aboard, the signal was given, and 
with a wild shout the crowd on shore 
ran up the beach with the rope, and 
pulled the rescued and rescuers safely 
ashore. The shipwrecked sailors 
were badly frostbitten, the captain's 
hands being so seriously frozen that 
he had to stay at the station nine 
or ten days under medical treatment. 
This account of the wreck of the 
Ulrica affords a fair idea of frequent 
experiences in rescue work, but by no 
means an adequate one of the dan- 
gers, toil, and exposure which life-sav- 
ers incur in such tempests as that of 
November 25-26, 1888, or in the 
terrible storm which occurred just ten 
years later, about to be mentioned. 

84 



JOSHUA JAMES 

The crowning achievement of Cap- 
tain James' entire career as a life- 
saver was the heroic work performed 
in the great storm of November, 
1898, which is said to have been the 
worst that ever visited the New Eng- 
land coast, not even excepting the one 
which tore the Minot's Ledge light- 
house from its foundations, in 1851. 
It was certainly the most disastrous 
to shipping of which there is any rec- 
ord. It will perhaps be longest re- 
membered as the one in which the 
steamer Portland went down off 
Highland Light, Cape Cod, with all 
her passengers and crew, numbering, 
according to best accounts, one hun- 
dred and twenty-nine. It was in this 
storm that the loss of the sixteeen 
lives charged to the account of the 

85 



JOSHUA JAMES 

Point Allerton life-saving station, oc- 
curred. A rigid investigation, how- 
ever, proved conclusively that not a 
single one of those lost was at any 
time within the reach of human as- 
sistance. The following description 
of the storm, from the annual report 
of the Life-Saving Service, will help 
the reader to appreciate how appar- 
ently insurmountable were the ob- 
stacles encountered and what heroism 
must have marked the endeavors of 
the life-savers in effecting rescues re- 
garded by the witnesses as impossible. 

" When the Portland steamed away 
from her pier in Boston harbor, about 
7 o'clock p. m., scores of sailing ves- 
sels between Gay Head and Cape Ann 
were hunting for harbors of refuge. 
Forty took shelter in Vineyard Haven 
(Holmes Holl), of which number 

86 



JOSHUA JAMES 

more than half suffered injury. 
Many found anchorage in Province- 
town and Gloucester, while others 
were crowding every stitch they could 
bear to reach port. Those already 
there passed additional stout lines to 
the dock or dropped another trust- 
worthy anchor. 

" That stormy weather was threat- 
ening during the afternoon and early 
evening of November 26 is not 
within dispute, for besides the warn- 
ings of the Weather Bureau, the con- 
ditions were unmistakably proven by 
the flight of many vessels into port, 
But that the storm which followed far 
exceeded the apprehensions, both of 
the most timid and the most intelli- 
gent, is equally clear. Snow began 
falling early, and the wind increased 
until by 10 o'clock it was blowing a 
gale from the northeast with sleet and 
snow so thick that one could not see 
one hundred yards at best. At mid- 
night it was a hurricane. The cap- 
tain of a large steel trans-atlantic 

87 



JOSHUA JAMES 

steamship, at the time in Boston har- 
bor, states that he could scarcely see 
across the ship. The expanding force 
of the cyclone swept in with the ris- 
ing tide, causing the waters to flood 
the beaches far beyond well-defined 
storm limits, and to tear through the 
sand ridges and submerge the marshes 
for miles around. In the track of 
this overpowering deluge were havoc 
and destruction. It washed away 
large portions of the bank or sea-wall 
in the rear of the beaches, and scooped 
out the latter in many places to a 
depth of five feet. Bulkheads con- 
structed to protect roadways near the 
shore were battered down by the re-, 
sistless shocks of the waves, and roads 
were buried and obliterated beneath 
piles and windrows of sand and stones. 
Houses were blown from their foun- 
dations, and in many instances hope- 
lessly shattered, in some wholly de- 
stroyed. At Scituate Point the whole 
village, numbering upward of one 
hundred dwellings, was almost ruined, 

88 



JOSHUA JAMES 

while many of the inhabitants nar- 
rowly escaped with their lives. In 
one instance a woman was drowned 
while her husband was trying to assist 
her to escape from their dwelling. 
The boathouse of the Massachusetts 
Humane Society near Scituate Light 
was swept to the south side of the har- 
bor, the boat going one way and the 
boat carriage another. The wind at 
this time is said to have been ' some- 
thing terrific — its intensity could not 
be described, nor could words convey 
an approximate idea of its terrifying 
effect.' 

" In the town of Hull, which in- 
cludes Nantasket Beach, damage was 
inflicted estimated at upward of two 
hundred thousand dollars. There was 
hardly a building, says one witness, 
that escaped some injury. The rail- 
road sea-wall, constructed of heavy 
granite stones, was ruined for a mile, 
and the beaches were lowered two or 
three feet in some places, and nar- 
rowed ten or fifteen feet. On Mon- 

89 



JOSHUA JAMES 

day, November 28, when the storm 
had spent its fury, the shores and sur- 
roundings were a stretch of wreck and 
ruin. 

" Against such an indescribable 
pandemonium of wind and sea as the 
foregoing fragmentary review sug- 
gests, few craft, steam or sail, could 
successfully contend on a lee shore, 
and the deplorable consequence was 
that the coast, rocks, and islands from 
Gay Head to Cape Ann were strewn 
with wrecked or disabled vessels, 
while an uncertain but considerable 
number foundered not far away at 
sea." 

Judging from the ruin created on 
shore, and the number of vessels 
which met with disaster in the im- 
mediate vicinity of Point Allerton, it 
seems certain that here the storm 
reached the height of its power. 
The terrors and suffering which the 



90 



JOSHUA JAMES 

surfmen endured as they maintained 
their patrols throughout that dread- 
ful night are beyond description. 
The force of the wind was so great as 
to literally take away their breath, so 
that they were frequently compelled 
to turn their backs and crouch close 
to the earth for relief, while the 
great seas rolling far up the rock- 
strewn beaches constantly threatened 
to overwhelm them and repeatedly 
forced them to flee with all speed to 
higher ground. 

In the morning, after taking to the 
station two survivors — all that were 
left of thirteen men composing the 
crews of two vessels that had been 
dashed to pieces on Toddy Rocks dur- 
ing the night — and a family driven 
from their home by the encroachment 

9i 



JOSHUA JAMES 

of the sea, the life-saving crew, with 
much difficulty, took off seven men in 
the breeches-buoy from a three-mast- 
ed schooner. The next task was the 
rescue of five men from a barge by 
fighting their way far out into the 
surf, at great personal risk, to snatch 
the men from the grasp of the treach- 
erous undertow as they came shore- 
ward on the floating deckhouse. Un- 
der the adverse conditions prevailing 
these operations consumed the entire 
day. The second day, after anoth- 
er night's patrol, more terrible than 
the first, if possible, they started as 
soon as there was sufficient light to 
the wreck of a schooner which could 
be faintly discerned on Lighthouse Is- 
land, lying about a mile and a half 
to the northeast of Hull in the 

92 



JOSHUA JAMES 

open bay. The sea was still so high 
that it was necessary to transfer the 
lifeboat to Pemberton Landing into 
more quiet water and enlist the serv- 
ices of a tug to tow it to the vicinity 
of the wreck, and, after the rescue 
was successfully effected, to tow it 
back. Three men were found alive 
on this wreck, while one had died 
from exposure and two had been 
washed overboard during the night. 
On their return from this expedition, 
the life-savers immediately started 
with their boat to the rescue of three 
men who had been cast up on Black 
Rock, some six miles to the south- 
ward, with wreckage from a schooner 
foundered in that vicinity. 

It is unnecessary to attempt to de- 
scribe in detail the experiences of the 

93 



JOSHUA JAMES 

life-saving men at these disasters. 
They were much like those already re- 
counted with respect to other occa- 
sions except that the hardships, dan- 
gers, and difficulties involved were 
vastly greater on account of the 

greater intensity and destructiveness 
of the storm. While the number of 
lives saved in this tempest did not 
equal that of the great storm of 
1888, the period of incessant exertion 
was nearly twice as long as on the 
former occasion, and the work of the 
life-savers during this period repeat- 
edly called forth the highest heroism 
and taxed their skill and endurance to 
the utmost. Perhaps the result of 
their brave work throughout the 
storm may not be better expressed 
than in the words of Keeper James 

94 



JOSHUA JAMES 

himself, who says in his testimony, 
" We succeeded in getting every man 
that was alive at the time we started 
for him, and we started at the earli- 
est moment in every case." 

The extraordinary labors perform- 
ed and the hardships endured under 
the leadership of Captain James on 
this occasion were the more remark- 
able when it is remembered that he 
had now exceeded the scriptural al- 
lotment of three-score years and ten. 
But years seemed to have little effect 
upon his vitality. In the annual 
physical examinations to which all 
keepers of life-saving stations over 
the age of fifty-five are subjected, and 
which must prove them to be not only 
physically sound but in every respect 
fully capable of performing all the 

95 



JOSHUA JAMES 

duties of their position, Captain 
James was on each occasion found by 
the exacting tests of the Government 
surgeons to be fully qualified, both 
mentally and physically. The certifi- 
cate of his last examination, held in 
July, 1 90 1, when he was nearing the 
seventy-fifth milestone on the journey 
of life, shows that he was still in 
every way fit for the responsible po- 
sition of keeper. He still retained 
the quick, elastic step, the strength 
and skill to handle the boat in tem- 
pestuous weather, and the intuitive 
mental perception of the man in his 
prime. His wonderful physical en- 
dowment and his exceptional mental 
equipment for coping with sudden 
and desperate emergencies made him 
still invaluable to the Service. Up 

96 



JOSHUA JAMES 

to the very day of his death, March 
19, 1902, there was no apparent indi- 
cation of failure in body or mind such 
as might be expected in a man of his 
age. 

On March 17, 1902, the entire 
crew, save one, of the Monomoy 
Point life-saving station, lost their 
lives in a brave attempt to rescue the 
crew of the barge Wadena, stranded 
on the shoals off the Point. The 
tragedy created a profound sensation 
along the entire Atlantic seaboard. 
The feeling was especially tense in 
Boston and its immediate neighbor- 
hood, where the sum of nearly fifty 
thousand dollars was promptly raised 
by voluntary subscription for the re- 
lief of the families of the victims of 
the disaster. Captain James was 

97 



JOSHUA JAMES 

deeply affected by the catastrophe, 
and seemed to realize as never before 
the perilous nature of his calling. 
Two days later, with a northeast gale 
blowing, he called out his crew to 
boat drill in the self-bailing lifeboat 
at the unusually early hour of seven 
o'clock in the morning, as if to reas- 
sure himself of its capabilities in a 
high surf and rough sea, as well as of 
the proficiency of his crew. They 
launched the boat, and Captain 
James, taking the steering oar, ma- 
neuvered in the surf and boisterous 
sea for more than an hour — an exer- 
cise which more severely taxed his 
own strength and endurance than those 
of any of his crew. The drill was 
very satisfactory, and the Captain ex- 
pressed his great gratification both 

98 



JOSHUA JAMES 

with the behavior of the boat in free- 
ing itself of the torrents of water 
which boarded it, and with the skill 
of the men. At length he gave the 
orders for landing, and when the boat 
grounded upon the beach opposite the 
station he sprang out upon the wet 
sand and, glancing at the sea a mo- 
ment, remarked to his men, " The tide 
is ebbing." These were his last words, 
but little did he know how true they 
were for him, for as he uttered them, 
he fell dead upon the beach. As the 
exact moment of the turn of the tide 
is all but imperceptible, so neither 
Joshua James nor those about him 
perceived that the tide of his life had 
turned until his noble spirit had taken 
its flight. And so the last anxiety of 
this gentle, loving man, whose whole 

99 



JOSHUA JAMES 

life had been devoted to service and 

sacrifice for others, was that he and 
those under his charge might be 

thoroughly prepared to render the 
most efficient aid to their fellow-be- 
ings in distress whenever occasion 
should arise. 

Thus ended the career of probably 
the best-known life-saver in the 
world. Not the greatest, as he has 
sometimes been called, if the words 
are held to imply that he wrought 
more heroic achievements or per- 
formed more marvelous feats in 
wreck-craft than any other; for the 
annals of the Life-Saving Service are 
replete with instances of rescues made 
under fully as desperate and appar- 
ently hopeless circumstances, and in- 
volving as high a degree of skill and 

ioo 



JOSHUA JAMES 

bravery as any in which he partic- 
ipated. In these respects he only 
truly typified the leaders among 
American life-savers, but his sixty 
years of rescue work gave him a 
longer term of service and a more di- 
versified experience in battling with 
the sea than any of his contempora- 
ries. In this regard he might be 
called the greatest among them. 

However, Captain James cared lit- 
tle what he was styled. He found 
ample compensation in the conscious- 
ness of duty well performed and the 
gratitude of those whom his valor 
saved from death. These were more 
to him than popular applause or pub- 
lic honors. Here and there may be 
found men in all walks of life who 
neither wonder nor care how much or 

101 



JOSHUA JAMES 

how little the world thinks of them. 
They pursue life's pathway, doing 
their appointed tasks without osten- 
tation, loving their work for the 
work's sake, content to live and do in 
the present rather than look for the 
uncertain rewards of the future. To 
them notoriety, distinction, or even 
fame, acts neither as a spur nor a 
check to endeavor, yet they are really 
among the foremost of those who do 
the world's work. Joshua James was 
one of these. 



102