Cape Cod Lifesaving Stations


An appalling number of fatalities from maritime disasters that occurred along the Atlantic coast during the winter of 1870 and 1871 resulted in the formation of the United States Lifesaving Service. The service replaced the Massachusetts Humane Society, founded by the Rev. James Freeman, which had maintained shelters along the coast in an effort to assist shipwrecked sailors. The Society had originally held their meetings at The Bunch of Grapes Tavern in Boston, the same location as the first meeting place of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

The stations were to be manned by the most expert surfmen and boathandlers to be found and the patrol of the coast at night and during thick weather by day was inaugurated. Provincetown men were actively recruited for their demonstrated ability in boathandling.

The stations were manned ten months a year, from the first of August until the following June. The keeper remained on duty throughout the year. In most cases the stations were plain structures designed to serve as a home for the crew and to provide storage for the boats and other apparatus. They were set back as far as possible from the high water mark and painted red so that they might be distinguished from a long distance at sea. There was a lookout or observatory from where the surfmen would keep an account of shipping traffic during the day and a sixty foot flagstaff used to signal passing ships by International code. Nine Lifesaving stations were built on Cape Cod in 1872. None survive. Those stations manned by Provincetown men and the members of King Hiram's Lodge were Race Point and Peaked Hill Bars at Provincetown; Highlands at North Truro; Pamet at Truro and Cahoons Hollow at Wellfleet.

Race Point Station

RACE POINT STATION From the time it was first manned in the winter of 1873 until 1902, ninety two vessels of all descriptions met with disaster on the sunken rips which lie along the coast of Race Point. The station was supplied with three surfboats which went to the aid of more than six hundred seafarers during the period it was in operation. Member Captain Samuel O. Fisher was one keeper of the station. He was the son of another member, Isaac "Ike" Green Fisher a former whaling captain and the keeper of the Peaked Hill Bars Station in 1881. Before entering the Lifesaving Service at nineteen years old, Sam Fisher was a sailor on a coastal vessel. On November 30, 1880 when the sloop C.M. Trumbull was stranded on Peaked Hill Bars, Fisher almost lost his life when the surfboat attempting the rescue of the imperiled crew was capsized, throwing all hands into the sea. Captain David Atkins of the station and his crew, Frank Mayo and Elisha Taylor, all members of the Lodge were lost. Fisher managed to reach shore. He was once forced to retire for two months due to injuries received while working on a wrecked schooner the Julia Bailey. He owned a horse that was used to drag the heavy beach apparatus and boats through the sand. Other members of the Race Point Station crew and King Hiram's Lodge were Edwin B. Tyler, George H. Burch who joined the station when he retired from whaling, Frank Brown, John B. Bangs, Martin Nelson and Eugene R. Conwell.

The HIGH HEAD STATION, located three and one half miles northwest of Highland Light and five miles from Provincetown was commanded by member Captain Charles P. Kelley. It was Kelley who discovered the C.M. TRUMBULL stranded on Peaked Hill Bars. He was in the lifeboat that claimed the lives of Capt. Atkins and his crew. During the second trip through the breakers to the sloop to rescue the remaining two sailors the sloops boom caught the lifeboat under the belt, and capsized it throwing the crew into the sea. Captain Atkins was never seen again while the others perished after repeated attempts to get back into their boat. Kelley, Sam Fisher and Isaiah Young reached shore after a great struggle and were pulled out of the surf by the members of the crew who had remained on shore. During the twenty years that Charles Kelley was keeper at High Head Station crews were rescued from the schooners LAURA BROWN, OLIVER AMES, PLYMOUTH ROCK, RED ROVER, LUCIA PORTER, ABBIE H. HODGMAN, JOB H. JACKSON and CARRIE RICHARDSON all vessels were totally wrecked. Two other Lodge members that served on the crew of the High Head Station were Fred Franzer and Benjamin Kelley. Both men had gone to sea on whaling ships before joining the service.

The Wood End Lifesaving Station was considered one of the new style stations, built with spacious quarters for the keeper and crew, a large boat room and lookout. It was built in 1896 and manned in 1897. Located one - eighth of a mile east from the Wood End Lighthouse and three and one-half miles across the sand dunes from Provincetown. Capt. Isaac (Ike) Green Fisher was appointed keeper and allowed to pick his own crew of surfmen, having gained recognition for his skill as the former keeper at Peaked Hill Bars Station. Ike Fisher was born in Truro in 1838 and until joining the service in 1871 was engaged in whaling serving as third mate on the J. TAYLOR in 1869 when the crew deserted at St. Vincents, Barbados and later as first officer on the Provincetown built schooner ALCYONE. He left the service for one year in 1891 to act as Capt. Antone Rose's first officer on another Provincetown brig the D.A. SMALL, built by member Joseph Whitcomb in 1868. Ike Fisher retired from the service at his own request in June of 1901 and died the following September. Resolutions were adopted by the Lodge in October of 1901 describing his fearlessness in rescuing hundreds of shipwrecked seafarers and his marvelous dexterity with the steering oar. The Wood End Station was commanded by a succession of members from King Hiram's Lodge after Fisher's retirement. The next was George H. Bickers who joined the service at 33 years old after following a career aboard coasting schooners and whaling ships. He was a member of the Race Point Lifesaving Station crew prior to being appointed keeper at Wood End. Among the schooners assisted and refloated by Capt. Bickers and his crew was the Joseph P. Johnson in 1901 and the rescue of two men, members of the crew of the schooner TWO FORTY, who had been adrift in an open boat for fourteen hours. Thomas Lowe, Master of the lodge in 1883 and 1884 was a crewmember at Wood End in 1875 when he joined the Lodge. Other members included Francesco Silva, born at Fayal, Azores in 1863 he arrived in Provincetown as a crewmember aboard a whaling ship. Frank C. Wages was a sailor and Provincetown fisherman before joining the station in 1897. James E. Worth, served as a crewmember aboard the Grand Bank fishing schooners then entered the merchant service, travelling to the West Indies and South American ports. Returning to Provincetown aboard a whaling ship he became a baggage master on the newly arrived Old Colony Railroad. He was employed at the Provincetown Cold Storage Plant before he joined the Wood End crew at 33 years of age. Charles Derby became the keeper of nearby Long Point Light after spending most of his life on whaling ships. He came to Provincetown in 1798 aboard the whaling vessel Polly as the ward of owner Jonathan Cook the second Master of King Hiram's Lodge in 1799.

The Pamet River Station was another of the original nine stations built on Cape Cod in 1872. It was located three and one-half miles south of Cape Cod Highland Light. An area noted for sand bars and shallow waters it was the sight of three wrecks, the POW WOW, MILES STANDISH AND E. PAVEY which came ashore at the same time on (?). Of the thirty four crewmen aboard those ships twelve were lost. Ephraim S. Dyer a member of King Hiram's Lodge and a surfman at the station when the three ships came aground was nearly drowned when in a rescue attempt he became entangled in the wreckage and a rope twisted around his legs, dragging him to the bottom. Dyer gained the distinction of being the oldest surfman in 30 years of service among the lifesavers of Cape Cod. Through the year 1902 the station was commanded by members of King Hiram's Lodge, the first being Jonathan Lee in 1873. Lee was succeeded by Capt. Nelson W. Weston a former whaling captain. George W. Kelley and John Rich were the next keepers of Pamet River Station followed by George W. Bowley. Bowley came from a family of mariners and lifesavers traceable in the records of the Lodge back to 1803. His father was a surfman at the High Head Station in Provincetown for 18 years before being forced to retire on account of ill health caused by his long term of service.

Captain Daniel Cole joined King Hiram's Lodge in 1867. He was born in Wellfleet in 1844 and entered the Lifesaving Service as a surfman at the Cahoon's Hollow Station when it was manned in 1872. Cole first went to sea as a cabin boy aboard a Grand Banks schooner at nine years old. He spent two years fur trading on the Great Lakes before joining the 12th Illinois Regiment, Company K, Second Brigade, 15th Army Corps when the Civil War broke out. Participating in several engagements in the campaign in Tennessee under General Thomas, he was assigned to Gen. William T. Sherman on his "march to the sea." He returned to Provincetown after his discharge from the army and engaged in the Grand Banks and West Indies Trade until joining the Lifesaving Service. When William Newcombe, another member of King Hiram's Lodge, retired as keeper at Cahoon's Hollow in 1879 Cole was placed in command. Disasters were frequent along the shore near this station. One of the worst occurred on December 31, 1890 when the schooner SMUGGLER became a total loss. The vessel had struck during a gale and was discovered by one of the surfmen at 4'o'clock in the morning two miles from the station. Alerting Capt. Cole and the crew they started for the wreck at the height of the gale. The beach apparatus was in a wagon drawn by the station horse which refused to go at times because of the blinding sand. When they arrived the fifteen crewmen aboard the SMUGGLER had taken to the rigging and the schooner was breaking up and moving down the shore. The breeches buoy was used to bring the crewmembers to safety but as the last man left, the stranded vessel went to pieces. He was pulled through the surf by the Lifesavers and his fellow crewmen to the shore. Daniel Cole was a member of the J.C. Freeman Post G.A.R., No. 55 of Provincetown and one of the founders of the Surfmen's Mutual Benefit Association. He demitted from King Hiram's to join Adam's Lodge A.F. & A.M. in Wellfleet which had reopened in 1868.

James Lopes and Clarence L. Burch of King Hiram's Lodge were also members of the crew stationed at Cahoon's Hollow. Lopes was a member of a volunteer crew which rescued a crew from a vessel wrecked in Provincetown harbor during the Portland Gale in November 1898. He received a gold and silver medal as a recognition of his bravery. John Lavender of King Hiram's was also part of that crew. He received a Congressional medal of honor for his participation in that rescue. Clarence Burch was a Klondike gold prospector before he joined the Lifesaving Service. He joined the the Lodge in 1908.

Peaked Hills Bars Lifesaving Station Crew, 1901

Left to right: Levi Kelly, James F. Fish, William D. Carlos, Charles Higgins, William E. Silvey, Benjamin R. Kelly.
Seated center: Captain William Wallace Cook.
The entire crew were members of King Hiram's Lodge

One of the most dangerous stretches of coastline in the United States is Peaked Hill Bars. Known as the graveyard of the Atlantic, Samuel Champlain named it in his journal as "Mallebarre" in 1602. From the 64 gun British frigate Somerset in 1778, to the JASON, the last full rigged ship to go aground in 1873, hundreds of ships have been lost there spilling men's lives and ships cargoes onto its shores. Peaked Hill Bars Lifesaving Station was located two and one half miles east of Provincetown was another of the nine original stations built in 1872. When it was first erected there was a long stretch of low beach between it and the shore. By 1902 the building stood less than 100 feet from the high water mark and sand dunes shut off all view of the ocean except from the lookout tower. The station was commanded by Capt. William Wallace Cook following the transfer of Isaac "Ike" Fisher to the Wood End Station in 1897. Cook was the Tyler at King Hiram's Lodge for the fifteen years up to his death in 1923. During William Cook's command at the station the following vessels which struck Peaked Hill Bars became a total loss. The three masted WILLIE H. HIGGINS in 1898 where seven men and one woman were rescued in a surfboat and the schooner THETA when Cook and his crew rescued a crew of seven and the captains wife. The captain and one sailor were washed ashore from the ALBERT L. BUTLER, which was wrecked in November of 1898 during the Portland Gale. Another man was taken off by breeches buoy while two others were taken ashore after the tide went down. The schooner CATHIE BERRY stranded during a gale, the lifesavers launched their boat and went to her only to find the ship abandoned. When the schooner HELEN came ashore the lifesavers went to her in their boat but were unable to rescue any of the crew. The schooner KATE L. JACKSON's crew of seven were rescued in a surfboat as well as two members of the crew of the JENNIE C. MAY. One of the most tragic wrecks was of the Italian bark GIOVANNI where the captain and first mate were discovered by the Lifesavers with their throats cut. The crew was arrested after being brought to shore and taken to jail. Through an interpreter it was learned that the captain and first mate had taken their own lives. The captain had mistaken Highland Light for Race Point and so great was his shame at wrecking his vessel on his first command that he and the mate had committed suicide.

William Wallace Cook was born in Provincetown in 1852 and joined King Hiram's Lodge November 3, 1879. As a boy he joined the fleet of Provincetown whaling vessels that cruised on the north and south Atlantic grounds becoming thoroughly familiar with boat handling. He attributed his great success in the Lifesaving service to using a twenty one foot steering oar when going to a wreck in a surfboat, similar to the kind used by him in his whaling days. Cook was married to Annie Young Snow of Provincetown and they had an adopted daughter. Cook was a great favorite of the Provincetown writers who arrived during the 1920's, particularly Mary Heaton Vorse O'Brien. She relates of bringing a lobster, a particular favorite of Captain Cook's to the station at Peaked Hill Bars and his stories of wrecks and rescues.

One story was the account of how he and his wife came to adopt their daughter. One night on patrol he saw a girl "loomin' out of the fog." He was surprised to see anyone so far from town. The next night he was on patrol and met her once again. This time she said "I'll see you again soon," and disappeared into the fog. Within a few nights there was a wreck of a vessel returning from the Western Islands. On the deck, a child in her arms, was the girl Cook had seen in the fog. She waved to him as the surfboat came alongside the ship. "On the heave of a wave she threw the child to me. Then she jumped, but she missed the boat and was lost under. I realized that it had been her spirit I seen and she had given me the child in trust." The girl proved to be an orphan was adopted by them.

On his retirement Vorse asked him if he would miss the station, He replied " I do and I don't. I miss it someways, but I'm glad to be shunt of drowned corpses for good. I got nineteen wrecks this year and seventeen corpses. Cap'n Sam Fisher got only four wrecks and nary corpse. Then when you're all through with the red tape and finished with them at last, then don't the families write you and ask what were their last words? And they were whelmed by a thirty foot wave maybe!" Vorse told of how Cook would leave a bunch of roses inside her fence as he passed her house in the morning. They were Japanese roses that he had transplanted to his garden from behind the station. He said they had come from a bark from China that had wrecked on the bars years before. In her book TIME and THE TOWN she described with regret William W. Cook's passing on October 15, 1923. " He died with his boots on. On the way to a Masonic reunion, he asked for a drink of water, fell forward and was gone. He will always be a picture of a splendid coast guard captain."

The above is a result of my own research and does not reflect the opinion of King Hiram's Lodge nor the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.
Wor. James J. Theriault
Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999


All the historical content in these pages researched and compiled by Wor. James J. Theriault, curator of King Hiram's Museum and lodge historian. Any comments concerning content may be sent to James J. Theriault, 541A Main Street, Hyannis, MA 02601


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