Pea Island Lifesavers Commemoration Papers, PC.5065


Pea Island Lifesavers Commemoration Papers, PC.5065


On 5 March 1996, Richard Etheridge and his crew of six from the Pea Island Lifesaving Station, the only African American U.S. Life-Saving Service crew in the nation's history, were honored posthumously with a Gold Lifesaving Medal of Honor. Kate Burkhart, a middle school student from Washington, North Carolina, campaigned to raise awareness of the Pea Island lifesavers by writing an award-winning essay addressing about them and lobbying members of Congress and President Bill Clinton to formally honor them. The collection, created by staff at the Outer Banks History Center, documents these commemoration efforts and includes correspondence, invitations, speeches, magazines, newspaper clippings, programs, photographs and a video.

Descriptive Summary

Pea Island Lifesavers Commemoration Papers
Call Number
Outer Banks History Center
0.40 cubic feet
Outer Banks History Center

Series Quick Links

  1. Collection Contents

Restrictions on Access & Use

Access Restrictions

Available for research.

Use Restrictions

Copyright is retained by the authors of these materials, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law (Title 17 US Code). Individual researchers are responsible for using these materials in conformance with copyright law as well as any donor restrictions accompanying the materials.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], PC.5065, Pea Island Lifesavers Commemoration Papers, Outer Banks History Center, Manteo, N.C., U.S.A.

Collection Overview

This collection of material consists of correspondence, invitiations, speeches, magazines, newspaper clippings, programs, photographs and a video.

Historical Note

In 1878, the Pea Island Lifesaving Station was established near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina along one of the most treacherous shorelines on the east coast, known as For the first ten years, the Pea Island station had an all-white crew or a crew of black men with white surfmen, whose jobs ranged from patrolling the sands to assisting ships in distress. In 1880, Richard Etheridge, who served in the Thirty-sixth Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troops division during the Civil War, took over as keeper and commanded the first all-African American lifesaving station in the country.The lifesavers at Pea Island quickly gained the reputation of being among the best. Their most heroic effort was rescuing nine people, including the captain's wife and daughter, from the sinking on 11 October 1896. The three-masted schooner had run aground during a hurricane, and Etheridge and his crew, which consisted of Benjamin Bowser, Lewis Wescott, Dorman Pugh, Theodore Meekins, Stanley Wise and William Irving, braved the darkness and rough water to bring the passengers to shore. Etheridge ordered two of his men to tie themselves together with thick line. Carrying another line, which was held by their comrades on shore, the men would struggle swim two-by-two through strong wind, waves, and currents. Upon reaching the ship, they secured the line and began carrying the passengers one by one to shore.Kate Burkart was an 8th grade student from Washington, N.C. when she became interested in the Pea Island Station and its crew for a history club project. In her research, she was astonished to learn that the men had never been honored for their heroic rescue. At the insistence of her parents, Burkart wrote letters and sent her paper to President Bill Clinton and U.S. Senator Jesse Helms asking for their help to honor the men involved in the rescue of the . She also discovered that Stephen Rochon, an African American Coast Guard Commander, was working towards the same goal. On 5 March 1996, almost 100 years later, the men of Pea Island were remembered with honor and distinction. Richard Etheridge and his crew of six from the Pea Island Lifesaving Station were awarded, posthumously, with a Gold Lifesaving Medal of Honor.

Contents of the Collection

Collection Contents
Audiovisual: Pea Island Lifesaving Station Gold Lifesaving Medal Ceremonies, 5 March 1996
Research Material
Commemoration Memorabilia

Subject Headings

  • Bowser, Benjamin J.
  • Burkart, Kate
  • Etheridge, Richard, 1842-1900
  • Irving, William
  • Meekins, Theodore
  • Pugh, Dorman
  • Rochon, Stephen W.
  • Wescott, Lewis
  • Wise, Stanley
  • E. S. Newman (Schooner)
  • United States. Army. African Brigade (1863-1865)
  • United States. Army. Colored Infantry Regiment, 36th (1864-1866)
  • United States. Life-Saving Service
  • African Americans--North Carolina--History
  • Lifesaving stations--North Carolina--Pea Island--History
  • Shipwrecks--North Carolina--Pea Island
  • Pea Island (N.C.)
  • Acquisitions Information

    Various donors: various patrons brought articles or papers pertaining to the event to the Outer Banks History Center over a period of months or years. OBHC staff gathered those materials into this artificial collection.

    Processing Information

  • Processed by Christine A. Dumoulin, 2006
  • Encoded by Stuart Parks II, November 2008