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The Wreck of the Pendleton Sisters
Metomkin Island, Virginia,1882
by George and Suzanne Hurley

Metomkin Island, Virginia
The Metomkin Island Life-Saving
station was commissioned in 1889.
This photograph shows the extensive
damage caused by the Storm of 1933.
The buildings no longer exist. This
station responded to four major shipwrecks.
Photograph collection of Lawrence Jester.
The Pendleton Sisters was a three-masted, 798-ton American schooner, hailing from New York and carrying a crew of nine men, including her captain, John Davies. On December 1, 1905, she sailed from Port Arthur, Texas for Noank, Connecticut, with a cargo of square pine timbers stacked on her deck. She had worked her way up the East Coast with favoring weather until the night of December 14, when she was about fifteen miles to the north of Chincoteague, Virginia. The vessel encountered a heavy northeast wind and rainstorm. Apprehensive of trouble, and fearful that in the heavy seas the deck load might shift, Captain Davies ordered that the vessel turn to the south and run with the seas until it was off the lower end of Assateague Island. There he dropped anchor in several fathoms. During the night the storm increased in violence, and the pitching schooner strained so hard against her chains that before morning she had loosened her two anchors and begun to drag. All day on the fifteenth she was beaten helplessly southward along the low-lying treacherous Virginia coastal islands. Her hull would strike bottom at intervals as she crossed shoals, holding momentarily and pounding, but working free again in the heavy seas to be swept further along on her perilous journey. For some time, the dragging anchors retarded her progress and kept her to some degree heading into the seas. Early in the day, however, the chains parted and she was completely at the mercy of the sea. Soon the schooner began to leak and fill with water, which caused the seas to begin washing across her decks. The heavy timbers were moved about, and many were carried away.

Realizing that all hope of saving the vessel was gone, but thinking that there might be some chance of saving the crew, Captain Davies decided to beach the schooner, and ordered the sails to be run up to hasten the stranding. The steam hoisting gear had been flooded and was out of order. Owing to this, and the difficulty of trying to raise sails amongst the threshing timbers of the deck load, the men were unable to raise enough canvas to accelerate the movement toward the beach, and the schooner continued to drift southward. She finally grounded 300 yards offshore, five and one-half miles north-northeast of the Metomkin Island Life-Saving Station. She was three miles beyond the normal limits of the beach patrol of that station.

At the time of the stranding the storm was still raging, and the weather was so thick that the shore could barely be made out from on board. Davies was unable to determine his location and could only hope that the vessel would soon be discovered and assistance would arrive before she began to break up. The schooner continued to pound on the bar throughout the long hours of the freezing December night, her hapless crew huddled on deck under the poor shelter afforded by a small piece of sail that the storm had failed to carry away.

That night the beach patrol was maintained on Metomkin Island until 8:00 p.m. After nightfall, the surfmen had made two trips to the keypost, which was two and one-half miles to the north of the station. By early evening the ocean covered a large part of the beach, and by 8:00 p.m. the flood tide was inundating the narrow neck of sand that separated the ocean from Metomkin Bay, making it impossible to keep the patrols through the night.

By the next morning, the tide had receded enough to allow Keeper Lynn Taylor to hitch a horse to a cart and set out northward along the beach to ascertain whether any craft had come ashore during the night and to inspect the key post. A heavy fog covered the beach, but within a short time it began to lift, and soon he was able to make out the topmast of a vessel in the surf to the north. Lumber strewn along the beach verified his suspicion that she was aground, and he turned back to the station to summon his crew.

When the fog lifted, the schooner was also observed from the lookout tower, and a signal was fired to alert the keeper of the discovery.

Because of the flooded condition of the beach, Keeper Taylor deemed it impossible to pull the heavy apparatus cart up the surf bank for five miles. He chose instead to launch in Metomkin Inlet and row up the bay behind the island to a location opposite the wreck, and then to have his men pull the boat across the island to the surf bank adjacent to the wreck.

Upon arriving at the scene of the wreck it was found that the sea was filled with timbers from the deck load of the schooner, which made using the surfboat virtually impossible for fear that it might be stove in by the timbers. Keeper Taylor immediately dispatched a part of his crew to return to the station on foot to pull the heavily laden apparatus cart with the line-throwing gun to the wreck site. The balance of the crew would stay at the site in case a launch could be made.

Soon afterward, Taylor made the decision to attempt a launch, knowing that the seamen aboard the vessel might succumb to exposure unless they were reached soon. Fortunately, four hunters were nearby on the beach, one of which had once belonged to the U. S. Life-Saving Service. Two of their number volunteered to help the surfmen make the launch and attempt a rescue.

The first three attempts at launching proved unsuccessful, due to the heavy surf and the strong undertow and drifting timber. On the fourth attempt the surfboat succeeded in getting past the first line of breakers, and by strenuous and skillful maneuvering amongst the debris-filled waters, managed to come alongside the schooner. With great difficulty the lifesavers got a line to the vessel and were able to get the mate and three seamen into the surfboat. They brought them safely to shore.

The apparatus cart, drawn by the station horse and pushed along by the surfmen, arrived back at the wreck at 3:00 p.m., shortly after the successful boat trip. The Lyle gun was quickly set up and the very first shot carried a line across the vessel. When the block and hawser had been made fast by the men aboard the schooner, the breeches buoy was hauled out, and in a short time the remaining sailors were brought, one at a time, to shore. It was learned that the ship's cook had died of exposure and washed overboard during the night. It was necessary to resuscitate two of the seamen; then all of them were escorted down the beach to the station where they remained until they could be transported to the mainland.

The estimated value of the Pendleton Sisters was $40,000, while her cargo was $13,000. The vessel was a total loss.

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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