By: Joan Collins, Board Member & Secretary, Pea Island Preservation Society, Inc.
Manteo - The Pea Island Preservation Society, Inc., otherwise known as “PIPSI,” invites the Dare County community to participate in celebrating the 123rd anniversary of U.S. Life-Saving Service Station Pea Island’s most famous and epic saga — the heroic rescue of all nine persons on board the schooner E.S. Newman during a hurricane along North Carolina’s coast on October 11, 1896. The United States Life-Saving Service (1871-1915) was a direct predecessor of today’s U.S. Coast Guard. The miraculous rescue performed by Keeper Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island lifesavers eventually resulted in the posthumous award of U.S. Coast Guard Gold Life-Saving medals to the Station Pea Island crew 100 years later. The rescue of nine souls – the ship’s captain, his wife and three-year-old son, and six crewmen during horrendous conditions – is considered one of the most unique and inspiring rescues in the history of the U.S. Life-Saving Service as well as today’s U.S. Coast Guard.
Two free events celebrating this remarkable history will be held on Friday, October 11 and Saturday, October 12, 2019. These free community events are educational and entertaining, which include live presentations, unveilings, student contests, food, prizes and raffles.
The first event takes place at the Dare County Arts Council in downtown Manteo at 7:00 p.m. on Friday October 11, 2019, the actual 123rd anniversary of the rescue. That evening, the performance of the popular program Freedmen, Surfmen, Heroes will be presented live. This program was first introduced to the community in February 2017 during Black History Month at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island. On numerous occasions since then, the program has continued to be presented to a variety of enthusiastic crowds. For the past two years, Freedmen, Surfmen, Heroes has also been presented to fourth graders at all Dare County elementary schools. Additionally, the program was the featured event at the dedication ceremony of the Captain Richard Etheridge Bridge held in February of 2018 where it received rave reviews. Using vivid imagery, sound effects, historic interpretation and audience participation, PIPSI presenters bring to light the history of Station Pea Island in a compelling and creative way. The Dare County Arts Council will graciously host the October 11th Anniversary Event of the E.S. Newman rescue. As a bonus, a new painting by renowned local artist, James Melvin, will be unveiled. Mr. Melvin has created a series of paintings depicting the story of Keeper Richard Etheridge and Station Pea Island, including paintings on display at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island and at the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum.
The second event, the first, “PIPSI Proud Day,” will be held Saturday, October 12th at the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum from 12 noon to 3:00 p.m. The Cookhouse Museum is located at the round-about on Sir Walter Raleigh Street in Manteo. The schedule of events will include presentations by Dare County middle and high school students participating in the “PISPI Proud” essay contest. Students were asked to prepare a short essay explaining why the history of Station Pea Island continues to be important to our Dare County community. Six finalists will be announced at the Saturday event where they will present their essays to the audience as well as to a community panel of judges. During this October 12th event, PIPSI will also unveil four new outdoor exhibits made possible through a grant awarded by the Outer Banks Community Foundation. A free lunch will also be served!
PIPSI’s primary mission is to bring attention to the story of Keeper Etheridge and the Pea Island lifesavers including the African American history of Roanoke Island. Etheridge was born and raised as a slave and grew up on Roanoke Island. Later, he became the nation’s first African American keeper in the U.S. Life-Saving Service at Station Pea Island. It became the only station in the history of the Service manned by African America crews. For 67 years, from 1880 when Etheridge took command until 1947, when the station closed, Station Pea Island continually gained a reputation as being one of the best along the North Carolina coast. The story of Etheridge and Station Pea Island contains important messages about diversity and inclusiveness that remain valid today. PIPSI wants to spread the knowledge of the history of Station Pea Island in the community and beyond so that everyone is able to proudly say and without any hesitation what the three important words, “Freedmen, Surfmen, Heroes” represent.