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The Wreck of the Margaret A. May
At North Beach, Maryland, 1884
by George and Suzanne Hurley

North Beach, Maryland
The North Beach Life-Saving Station
on Assateague Island was commissioned
in 1884. This station responded to
eight major shipwrecks.
Photograph collection of Anna L. Callaway.
There was a high surf running and the weather was thick and stormy on the night of December 6, 1884. A moderate gale was blowing from the south, and the schooner Margaret A. May had not been able to get an observation for several days due to the thick weather conditions. The vessel was bound from Brunswick, Georgia to Baltimore, Maryland with a cargo of lumber. Without a sighting, her master, Lemuel Jarvis, was carefully trying to ascertain his position by making a landfall. He suspected that the strong southeasterly gale had driven him well beyond the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. Just how far, he had no way of knowing.

At 9:30 that evening, the schooner suddenly grounded on the bar two hundred yards from shore and about three and one-half miles north of the North Beach Life Saving Station. She laid head on to the beach. In the thick gloom of the winter night, the north patrolman made out her masts, and fired a Coston flare to let the sailors know that they had been found, and hurried southward to alert the station crew.

It was 1:00 a.m. by the time Keeper Adelbert Soper and the surfmen of the North Beach Life-Saving Station responded with the beach apparatus, including the line-throwing gun. On their very first atsitet with the gun, the line went across the vessel, passing between the port fore rigging and the foremast and over the starboard side into the water. In the darkness of the December morning, the sailors saw the flash of the gun, but did not hear its sound. It was fully an hour before they located the line hanging in the rigging. When they finally located it, they were able to shortly haul off the whip line and make fast the gear to a part of the mast. The rolling and swaying of the schooner in the high winds and seas coming across the bar made the operation difficult. In due time, however, all hands were safely brought ashore one by one in the breeches buoy.

Later in the day, when the dawn had come, the surfmen boarded the vessel to secure the personal effects of the sailors. It was found that there was twelve feet of water in the hold, but the vessel was not breaking up. The wrecking tug North America was notified, and the crewmen were housed for two days at the station. On December 12, the tug arrived and on high water was able to float her off and take her in tow to Philadelphia for repairs. The deck load was a complete loss.

Patrolman Truitt, of the Green Run Station to the south, was cited with credit for his action in the event. Upon failing to meet the south patrolman of the North Beach Station on the night of the disaster, he continued on until he reached the scene of the wreck, rendering service to the North Beach crew. He had walked a distance of twenty-two miles by the time he returned to the Green Run station.

On January 5, 1885, the New York Herald published a card of thanks to the surfmen of the North Beach Station for their kindness & attention to the crew of the Margaret A. May

? Copyright 1984 Shipwrecks and Rescues: Along the Barrier Islands of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia by George M. and Suzanne B. Hurley. All Rights Reserved.

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