Schooner CONDUCTOR, ashore at Long Point, Lake Erie, cargo corn, crew saved by heroic conduct of a woman living on the Island (sic). Property loss $10,000.
February 28, 1855 (1854 casualty list)
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WRECKED- The schooner CONDUCTOR, which sailed from Detroit for Toronto, over a week since, laden with 8,000 bushels corn, by Aspinwall & Son, went ashore at Long Point during the snow storm of Sunday morning last. Her captain has arrived at Detroit, and reports both vessel and cargo a total loss. She was owned by Mr. John McLeod, of Amherstburgh, C. W., and was insured in Toronto companies for $4,000. Her cargo was also insured in Toronto companies for $5,000.
The Democracy, Buffalo
Thursday, December 7, 1854
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It is related of the late Captain H.W. Hackett, who died at Amherstburg last week, that he commanded the schooner CONDUCTOR when she was wrecked off Long Point Cut in November, 1854. It was an icy storm and the vessel sunk with nothing but her spars visible, to which the men clung. In this terrible dilemma they were seen from shore by Mrs. Abigail Becker, a perfect giantess, the wife of a trapper, who lived in a temporary shanty near the shore. She gave the signal to the perishing crew and waded out into the lake, and as they, one by one dropped, she dragged each to the land and soon had them all in her cabin and made comfortable. The Humane Society of Buffalo rewarded her for this act with a home near Port Rowan, Canada, besides giving her a considerable sum of money.
Buffalo Daily Republic
February 8, 1886
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A NOBLE HERO -- During the night of November 25th. inst, in a thick snow storm, wind blowing a heavy gale down the lake, the water chilled and making ice fast, the Canadian Schooner CONDUCTOR, Capt. Hackett, struck on the 'bar,' outside of Long Point Cut, on the Island side, beat over and filled immediately, some distance from shore, the sea making a complete breach over her, driving the crew to the rigging, for safety. In the morning, at daylight, they were discovered, clinging to the wreck, by Mrs. Margaret Becker, a trapper's wife, the sole inhabitant of that end of the Island, her husband being over on the main-land. She immediately went down abreast of the vessel, on the beach, and built a large fire of logs, made some hot tea, and prepared some food for them, in case they reached the shore, and to refresh and encourage their drooping spirits by showing them succor was at hand. All that long day, with the tempest raving around her, did the heroic woman watch the poor, suffering seamen clinging to the rigging of the wreck. Just at nightfall, the Captain called to the Mate who was in the other side of the rigging, that they would all perish if they had to remain in the rigging another night, and that he was going to attempt to swim ashore, if he succeeded the rest could follow him; if he drowned, they could cling to the rigging, and run the chance. He leaped overboard and struck out. As he reached the undertow and back-water, his strength failing, and chilled, benumbed with cold, he would certainly have been drowned had not the woman gone to the rescue. She waded in through the surf up to her neck, grasping him and dragging him out safely. Then the balance of the crew followed him, one by one, with the same results -- this noble woman breasting the sea and meeting and dragging out each one of them as they came ashore -- being in the main, instrumental in saving the whole crew. Such noble conduct deserves more than a passing notice. She is a woman of the most humble position in life, but showed herself, on this occasion, a true heroine, and possessed of the noblest qualities of heart and soul.
The above communication comes from a gentleman whose word is truth itself, and whose acts of humanity have heretofore been made known through the public prints. That gentleman proposes to attempt raising, by small subscription, a sum of money, sufficient to purchase an appropriate gift, which will be bestowed upon the heroic woman mentioned in his communication. We are sure that all will approve the act and none will hesitate to contribute to a testimonial for this woman, whose name, had she dwelt upon English soil, would have been associated with that of Grace Darling. --- Bathurst Paper
Wednesday, March 7, 1855
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THE HEROINE ABIGAIL BECKER. -- Many readers will remember the heroic conduct of Abigail Becker, in saving the lives of the crew of the Canadian schooner CONDUCTOR, which was wrecked near Long Point, on the coast of Lake Erie, in November 1856. (sic. 1854) The Canadian Parliament made a grant of fifty pounds for the relief of the noble, but poor woman, and an equal sum was made up at the same time by private subscription. Among those saved were three Americans, and the Toronto Colonist says: - "The matter was subsequently brought under the notice of the Life-Saving Benevolent Association of New York -- a society formed for the purpose of giving aid to shipwrecked persons and employing all the means which science affords of rescuing them from danger -- and a gold medal was sent a few days ago to Mrs. Becker by this association, as a testimony of their sense of her noble and heroic conduct. The medal, which we have had an opportunity of examining, is a very fine one; on one side is an inscription stating the object for which the medal was given, and on the reverse is the device of the association -- a ship in a gale driving on a lee shore, on which is seen a small building in which the life-saving apparatus is kept; and close to it a mortar ready for use, a shot from which carries a line to the vessel, followed by a hawser, upon which the life car is slung. The medal was accompanied by a letter from an officer of the association, expressing, in warm terms, the sense in which the conduct of the humble heroine was regarded.
Buffalo Daily Courier
Tuesday, May 26, 1857
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WRECKS IN LAKE ERIE:-The Detroit Post, of Saturday, remarks, "There are at different points in Lake Erie wrecks which, though many years since they were deposited, are yet in an excellent state of preservation. From Captain Hackett, of Malden, who has just arrived at this port from a wrecking expedition around either shore of said lake in search of lost anchors and other lost property, we are placed in possession of much that is of interest on this point. During the season of 1835 the fine steamer WASHINGTON, commanded by Captain Augustas Waller, was wrecked on Long Point, on the first trip she ever made. She was a fine steamer. Notwithstanding 55 years have elapsed since the event, the boiler and a considerable portion of the wreck lies in the same position, and if recovered would serve in some capacity for years to come. Not far distant from the WASHINGTON, lies the ATLANTIC, which in a still day, is plainly visible, and aside from the disappearance of her upper works, has met with little or no change. At Long Point Cut there are yet remaining a considerable portion of the schooner CONDUCTOR, which was sacrificed in the terrible gale of November 1854. Below the Point are the CORINTHIAN and the ARCTURNS - the former with her decks entirely gone, but otherwise in apparently good condition, the latter much the same as when visited last spring. Further down Lake Erie, and in the vicinity of Point Abino, may be seen the schooner PENNSYLVANIA or what is left of her, which met her fate in the gale of October 1844, with the loss of all hands. Captain Hackett in his peregrinations during the past six weeks, succeeded in rescuing no less than fifteen anchors of large size, and a large quantity of valuable chain, as a reward for his labors in a perilous undertaking.
We hope to be placed in possession of further interesting reminiscences.
Monday, July 27, 1868
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Heroine of Long Point, Lake Erie
BY ROY F. FLEMING
If Abigail Becker had not been endowed with great strength and agility of body as well as with a most courageous spirit, she could never have performed the heroic feats of life saving which she did, on the shore of Lake Erie in late November, 1854.
With her husband and children this woman lived at that time on the east side of Long Point, Lake Erie, about three or four miles from the mainland. This long isthmus of low lying land reaches out from the Canadian shore nearly twenty miles to the south east, and near its terminal stood then the tall wooden lighthouse, erected in 1843, which cast its friendly ray on the Becker home as well as far out over the lake to guide vessels on their way.
Mother Becker was a real pioneer of the shore. Her home was a weather beaten cottage built of logs and driftwood; her nearest neighbors were many miles away; while Port Rowan was far to the east. She shared with her husband many of the duties of making a precarious living, in fishing, trapping, beach combing, and gardening. Standing hearty and strong, six feet tall in her bare feet (for she seldom had shoes to wear) she could delve in the soil, hunt for game, fish in the waters, row, swim, or dive, as she might have need or pleasure.
On that stormy night of November 24, 1854, Abigail slept alone with her children in their little home by the shore. The father had not returned from Port Rowan where he had gone for supplies and remained over night storm stayed. Snow had come too with the storm, dimming out the Long Point light; and the waves could be heard lashing loudly on the beach.
At the first glimmer of dawn the anxious mother arose to tend to her household. She lighted a fire on the hearth, and then with bucket in hand went down to the shore to draw water. On looking up she noticed to her surprise an upturned yawl boat by the shore, driven in during the night.
Some ship has been wrecked in the storm, she said to herself. Then on looking out on the bay, the truth of her remark became evident, for there about a half mile from where she stood was a wrecked schooner sunk on a sandbar with its decks awash and its masts and tattered sails swaying in the wind. On closer inspection she could see several men lodged in the rigging, hanging on as the masts swung back and forth in the gale.
Something must be done, she said, to save those poor sailors from drowning or from freezing to death.
With all haste she returned to her cottage to arouse her little ones Sped Mother Becker, 'Children, wake; A ship's gone down, they're needing me; Your father's off on shore; the lake is just a raging sea
Abigail then went down the shore opposite to the wreck, and waved her arms to the marooned sailors to show them that she saw them. They waved back to show that they understood.
"Courage! Courage!" she called to them through her trumpeted hands; "hang on, and I'll try to get you help. "The woman then examined the yawl to see if it could be used, but found on turning it over that one side was staved in, rendering it useless. She looked along the mainland to the east to see if her husband might be returning with the boat, but there was no sight of him. She thought of seeking help from the lighthouse, but she knew that meant a journey of fourteen miles. She was alone, and could see no way of saving the men.
However, with the sense and instinct of a pioneer of the shore, the good woman hauled some logs and branches together on the beach and lighted a fire. This was to encourage the men and provide warmth for them in case they could get ashore. She thought of making a raft to aid in the rescue but there was little at hand with which to construct it. She then walked up and down the shore hoping the storm would ease and that perhaps some help might come from somewhere.
On viewing the sailors in the rigging, she was glad to note they had on their great coats giving some protection from the wind and cold.
Keep up your courage; hang on; hang on; she shouted many times to the poor unfortunates. "Help will come yet, the storm may go down."
Noon came; two o'clock came; four o'clock; evening was fast approaching; the wind had lessened some, but no help had arrived.
"They cannot live another night on that ship," the woman said to herself, "they will all be dead by morning. Their only chance for life is for them to try to swim for shore."
As described in Amanda T. Jones' poem,
"She sought the men, she sought them far,
Three fathoms down she gripped them tight,
With both together up the bar
She staggered into sight."
The powerful able woman hauled the two helpless figures out of the surf, bringing them safely on shore; then helped them to the fire to revive and get warm. This brave Amazon of the lakeshore had matched her strength against the raging elements and had won.
As the other men on the ship saw that their officers had made shore, they too made ready to swim. Through the gathering darkness but with lessening wind, the men made headway through the water. As each one came in, Abigail went out a piece in the water to meet him. And soon all seven mariners were safe on land.
The good woman next helped the rescued ones into her little home where food was given them. All gave thanks to God for their delivery from the jaws of death.
Two days later the revived mariners left to go to the lighthouse to be picked up by a passing vessel. "May God keep you and bless you," they said in farewell, "to you, the Guardian Angel of Long Point Bay, we owe our lives." "I have done nothing more than my duty," was Abigail's humble reply.
The noble deeds of Abigail Becker, in saving the lives of the crew of the schooner CONDUCTOR at that isolated part of Lake Erie's shore would have perhaps passed unknown to the outside world, had it not been that a certain benevolent gentleman passed that way soon after. This was Captain E. P. Dorr of Buffalo, New York, who came to the Long Point lighthouse seeking information of his lost ship. There he learned from the keepers the story of Mother Becker's saving the crew of the CONDUCTOR.
So on his way back the visitor called at the Becker cottage to learn further of this wonderful rescue of the men. The captain was so impressed with the worthiness of the good woman and the humble part she ascribed to herself in the life saving that he determined her good deeds should not pass unrecognized.
Noting the poverty of the home and the entire absence of shoes to wear, he measured the feet of the mother and children, and departed. Some weeks later a great box of clothes and shoes arrived at the Becker home; and in a special wrapping there was a beautiful Bible inscribed in letters of gold:
"TO ABIGAIL BECKER,
Life Saver of Long Point, Lake Erie,
But not content with this kindly act, the Captain did still more. A few weeks after that, Mrs. Becker and her eldest daughter were brought to Buffalo for further honors. At the American Hotel with the aid of the proprietor, Mr. Hodge, a dinner was given by the Seamen's Union in honor of this Canadian life saver of Long Point. A purse of one thousand dollars in gold was presented to her and also a life saving medal by the Life Saving Association of New York. (This honor was given by this Association because of Mate Jerome and one sailor of the CONDUCTOR being Americans.) May we note with satisfaction the great bond of sympathy and fellowship that united the brotherhood of the two shores of the international Great Lakes of North America.
Canada also helped in paying tribute to our heroine. That winter before the Canadian Parliament then meeting at Quebec City, a member read to the assembly a newspaper item telling of the honors done to Abigail Becker in Buffalo. A motion was passed by which a hundred acre farm in Norfolk County near Long Point was given to the woman in recognition of her noble work of life saving.
Abigail Becker lived to old age, with her second husband Henry Rohrer, on the farm she had been given and in the house bought with part of the purse of gold. And when the good woman died in 1905 this Grace Darling of Lake Erie was honored with a civic funeral. Her portrait hangs today in the Abigail Becker Ward of Simcoe Town Hospital, with her lifesaving medal on her breast and Captain Dorr's gift Bible resting on her lap.
The story of Abigail Becker's life is told in a booklet by her daughter Eleanor Rohrer; the tale of her life saving was written for the Atlantic Monthly by John G. Whittier; and the spirited poem descriptive of the event by Amanda T. Jones is contained in several collections of American poetry in our libraries.
October 1946 p. 219-223
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