Our History Channel

Published 12:55 am Sunday, August 12, 2012

Little bits of history get lost to time, all the time. Our knowledge of the place we live gets overridden by busy lives, more important things to know.
At the North Carolina Estuarium, the public is invited to remedy that on a regular basis. Last week, “Refuge —Roanoke River,” a nature documentary created by locals Blake and Emily Scott, was shown. The week before, a 16-year-old girl taught children how to capture and identify local wildlife — bugs. But this week, a film about a unique bit of coastal Carolina’s history will be presented: “Rescue Men — The Story of the Pea Island Lifesavers — 1896.”
The Pea Island Lifesaving Station was one of many stations peppering the North Carolina coastline, part of the forerunner to the U.S. Coast Guard, the United States Life-Saving Service (1848–1915). The agency grew from private and local humanitarian efforts to save the lives of shipwrecked mariners and passengers.
But in 1879, the crew at the Pea Island station bungled one too many rescues, the commander and crew were sacked and an LSS inspector did what he had to do. He replaced the commander with the best man available for the job: Richard Etheridge.
Etheridge was considered the best surfman on the Outer Banks. He also happened to be one of only eight black men in the entire LSS when he was promoted from the lowest position of surfman to keeper of the Pea Island Lifesaving Station.
Tuesday, Etheridge’s story, that of his all-black crew and their heroic rescue of passengers aboard the schooner E.S. Newman in the middle of a hurricane, will be told at the Estuarium. The $2 program fee is a small price to pay for a glimpse at a fascinating part of our state’s history.
“Rescue Men” will be shown Tuesday at 1 p.m. For more information, call the N.C. Estuarium at 252-948-0000. The Estuarium is located 223 E. Water St., Washington.