Profile of Surfman
Obituary of Benjamin Rich, USLSS
29 June 1901
Cauldron Of Seas Cast Men of Heroic Mold
Captain Rich Who Served As Volunteer For
Humanity's Sake Rest on Eastern Shore
The first organization devoted to the rescue of those imperilled by maritime storm and stress, was the Humane Society of Massachusetts, established in 1786 and Benjamin Rich, a relative of Captain Benjamin Rich, was the Society's president for fifteen years. On the list of those who preceded him in office are names illustrious in our early national life, James Bowdoin, Thomas Russell and Aaron Dexter while among its members were numbered Paul Revere, John Hancock, John Adams, Josiah Barlett and Robert Treat Paine.
Superintendent Benjamin Rich was the eldest son of Captain Mulford Rich, a master mariner who was able to retire when he reached early middle life but who was soon placed in charge of the first life-boat station when it was established by the Humane Society at Cahoons Hollow, near Wellfleet in 1841. His son, Benjamin acted as No. 1 man in the boat's crew.
The lifeboat station of that day was a different building from the substantial, thoroughly equipped Coast Guard Station of today. A rough building, 20 by 8 _ feet, shingled on the roof and battened on the sides with a crew recruited from volunteers among the coast people, men who knew the sea in every mood and who were unafraid. Their services were "considered as granted voluntarily for humane and charitable purposes, and whenever any meritorious act was performed in rescuing lives, the volunteers in the boat were suitably rewarded on a full presentation of the same to the society." Nothing said about pensions, retirement on two-thirds pay or bonus.
In 1849,Young Rich was the first to discover the immigrant ship FRANKLIN which was intentionally wrecked, with the loss of many lives and it was he who picked up on the beach later, a small box containing papers which disclosed the criminal purpose of those involved in the wreck. His find prevented pocketing gains from the insurance companies.
Captain Mulford Rich was in charge of the rescue operations on the Franklin and on one of the trips ashore young Benjamin kept alive against his body, an infant whose mother had perished. The child lived and became one of the first matrons of Cape Cod. Captain Mulford Rich and his son were awarded silver medals of honor by the Humane Society for their part in saving the lives of 21 persons of the sixty six aboard the Franklin.
Like most of his breed, Captain Benjamin Rich commenced his seafaring early, shipping "before the mast" when he was nine years old, but holding to summer voyages while he attended school in winter. He added to his education in Boston and Hartford schools and acquired a wide range of knowledge refreshed through life by extensive reading.
He followed the sea, serving in every position on shipboard from cabin boy to master, until 1857, when he settled in Virginia and engaged in business and farming enterprises.
When the Fifth, now the Sixth Life-Saving District was organized, in 1875, Captain Rich was deemed the best man available for superintendent, and accordingly was appointed to the position on the 7th of August. To the end of his life he was vigilant and resolute in aiding the Department in keeping his district clean and in the first rank of efficiency.
The district which covers the coasts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, an extremely dangerous stretch of seaboard and outlying shoals, has been the scene of many pitiful wrecks and heroic rescues. During his incumbency there were more than 800 disasters, jeopardizing the lives of 6,292 persons of who only 45 were lost. Also, while property valued at $12,104,157 was imperiled almost $9,000,000 worth was saved.
As a citizen Captain Rich was highly respected and beloved by all, of a quiet, genial disposition, friendly to all and always ready and willing to do any kind act in his power. His record is in the hearts of those who knew him best.
As a Christian he was of a very high type. Converted in young manhood he united with the M.E. Church, South, about half a century ago and nearly ever since has held an official position in the church. He did not talk much about his experience, but his every day life spoke for him. His end was peaceful and with a firm trust in his acceptance through the blood of Christ, he passed away at the Maryland University Hospital in Baltimore on June 21st, 1901, his death being the result of a surgical operation from which he had not sufficient strength to rally.
He leaves a widow, one son, Captain Newell B. Rich, and two daughters, Mrs. R. W. Harding and Miss Addle Rich.
He was buried with Masonic honors with over one hundred or more in attendance at the Mt. Holly Cemetery in Onancock, Virginia.
Editor's Note: Newell B. Rich, the son of Benjamin Rich, also saw outstanding service in the USLSS. He was the first Keeper of the Parramore station 1884-1892 and Keeper of Assateague Beach station 1897 until 1902.
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