Saturday, August 21, 2010

Joshua James ~ A Celebrated Lifesaver

"Here and there may be found men in all walks of life who neither wonder or care how much or how little the world thinks of them. They pursue life's pathway, doing their appointed tasks without ostentation, 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. Joshue James was one of these."
 ~~Sumner Kimball, Superintendent of the U.S. Life-Saving Service


Joshua James was born 22 Nov 1826 in Hull, Plymouth, MA and died there 19 Mar 1902. He was the ninth of twelve children born to William James and Esther Dill, both of Holland.

He was called a "great caretaker" by his siblings and was reared by his sister, Catherine, after their mother and baby sister drowned in the sinking of the Hepzibah on 3 Apr 1837. Returning from Boston through Hull Gut, the sloop, which belonged to Joshua's older brother Ranier, was engulfed by a sudden squall and thrown on her beam ends by a flat of wind. She filled with water and sank before Mrs. James and her baby daughter, who were trapped below in a cabin, could be rescued.

This event had an important influence in shaping Joshua's career as a lifesaver. "Ever after that," said his sister, "he seemed to be scanning the sea in quest of imperiled lives."

A natural seaman, Joshua started going to sea early in life with his father and brothers.  On one occasion, while he was sailing a yacht in dense fog, all bearings apparently lost, someone asked him where they were. He replied, "We are just off Long Island head." "How can you tell that?" he was asked. "I can hear the land talk," he replied.

In 1958, Joshua married Louisa F. Luchie, daughter of the John Luchie and Eliza Lovell. Louisa was born June 1842 in MA. At the age of 14, she had saved the life of a swimming companion, establishing a tradition of lifesaving that ran through their families. "Little Louisa" was Joshua's fourth cousin. When a writer expressed some surmise at the disparity in their ages, Louisa naively explained that Joshua had always had his eye on her and had waited for her to grow up. Louisa possessed unusual beauty of face and figure, as well as a rare sweetness of disposition and marked intelligence. They were a well-matched couple, as Joshua was an exceptionally handsome, well-built man with a genial face and good humor.

Joshua's lifesaving career began in 1842, when he joined the Massachusetts Humane Society in the rescue of the Harding's Ledge. He went on to become famous as the commander of civilian life-saving crews in the 19th century and was involved in a number of rescues over the years ... so many that a special silver medal was struck for him by the Humane Society in 1886 "for brave and faithful service for more than 40 years." The report said,  "During this time, he assisted in saving over 100 lives.

  • He was awarded a bronze medal on 1 Apr 1850 for the rescue of the crew of the Delaware on Toddy Rocks.
  • In 1864 he helped rescue the crew of the Swordfish.
  • In 1871 he helped in the rescue of a schooner.
  • In 1873 he helped in the rescue of the crew of the Helene.
  • In 1876 he was appointed keeper of four Massachusetts Humane Society lifeboats at Stony Beach, Port Allerton and Nantasket Beach.
  • On 1 Feb 1882 he and his crew of volunteers launched a boat in a heavy gale and thick snowstorm to rescue the crew of the Bucephalus. On the same day, they rescued the crew of the Nelly Walker.
  • An exciting rescue was that of the crew of the Anita Owen on 1 Dec 1885. It was midnight and dark, with a northeast gale blowing a thick snow. Joshua and his crew got to a wrecked vessel under hazardous conditions and found 10 people on board. They could only take 5 at a time. The captain's wife was taken off first, then four others in the first load. On the trip to the beach, the boat was hit by a huge wave and filled, but everyone reached shore. The second trip was more dangerous: the steering oar was lost and wreckage was all about. They managed to get the remaining five crewmen ashore.
  • On 9 Jan 1886, he and his crew rescued the captain of the Millie Trim, but were unable to save the rest of the crew.
  • On 25 Dec 1886 he assisted in the rescue of 9 men from the schooner Gertrude Abbott via breeches buoy.
    Breeches Buoy
  • The most famous rescue of his career, for which he received the Humane Society's gold medal, as well as the Gold Life-Saving Medal from the U.S. Government, took place on 25 and 26 Nov 1888 when he and his men saved 29 people from six vessels: among them the Cox and Green, Gertrude Abbot, Bertha F. Walker, H. C. Higginson, Mattie Eaton and Alice. 
  • On 27 November 1898, during The Portland Gale: he assisted in the rescue of two survivors from two vessels dashed upon Toddy Rocks; rescued 7 men via breeches buoy from a 3-masted schooner; opened the station to a family whose home was threatened by the storm; assisted in the rescue of 5 men from a beached barge; assisted in the rescue of three men from an unnamed schooner; and assisted in the rescue of three men from Black Rock.
During the 13 years he was keeper of the Point Allerton station, he and his crew saved 540 lives and $1,203,435 worth of estimated value of ships and cargo.

Joshua died at the age of 75 while on duty with the U.S. Life-Saving Service and was honored with the highest medals of the Humane Society, the United States and many other organizations. He was buried with a lifeboat for a coffin; a second lifeboat made of flowers was placed on his grave. His tombstone shows the Massachusetts Humane Society seal and bears the inscription, "Greater love hath no man than this -- that a man lay down his life for his friends."

He is honored every year at his gravesite on May 23rd (Joshua James Day) by the Hull Life-Saving Museum and Point Allerton Station. His home, which was built in 1650, still stands and houses the Hull Life-Saving Museum. In 2003 the Coast Guard created the Joshua James award to honor the Coast Guard personnel with the most seniority in rescue work and the highest record of achievement.
Joshua and & Louisa had 10 children. Three daughters and 1 son died in infancy:
  • Osceola F. James was born in MA Nov 1865. He became a sailor and master of the Myles Standish. As captain of the Hull volunteer life-savers, Osceola received a gold lifesaving medal and a record approaching his father's.
  • Bertha Coleta James was born in MA Mar 1870.
  • Rosella Francesca James was born in MA Mar 1873.
  • Genevieve Endola James was born in MA Oct 1879.
  • Edith Gertrude James
  • Louisa Julette James

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