United States Coast Guard - 200th Anniversary


Surfman Rasmus S. Midgett single-handedly rescues ten people from the grounded Priscilla. He was later awarded the Gold Life-Saving Medal, the highest award bestowed by the Secretary of the Treasury. The United States Life-Saving Service can be traced to an 1848 congressional appropriation providing for lifesaving equipment for the coast of New Jersey. Thirty years elapsed before it became a separate agency of the Treasury Department, but during this time, the number of stations had increased to include most of the Atlantic Coast and parts of the Great Lakes. From 1878 until the service became part of the Coast Guard in 1915, the men of the U.S. Life-Saving Service performed many daring rescues. They saved thousands of lives and provided the basis for the Coast Guard's search and rescue organization.

In August 1899, the 643-ton barkentine Priscilla, bound from Baltimore to Rio de Janeiro, was struck by a hurricane north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Driven before the storm's 100 mile an hour winds, the ship grounded three miles south of Gull Shoal U.S. Life-Saving Service Station before sunrise on August 18. Surfman Rasmus S. Midgett, making an early morning patrol, noticed flotsam from the vessel and heard cries of the desperate crewmen. When Midgett arrived at the scene, he found the ship broken in two and the survivors clinging to the wreckage. Midgett made a critical decision to make the rescue alone rather than make the three mile trip back to the Life-Saving Station for assistance. The surf was extremely rough and Midgett had to time the surges and take advantage of the lulls to rush into the surf to accomplish the rescue. Advancing as far as practical, Midgett shouted orders for the men to jump one-at-a-time. Midgett guided each man through the surf and dragged them to safety. This method allowed seven of the passengers to escape the wreckage.

Three of the crewmen were too weak to hoist themselves out of the ship or to swim through the surf Midgett decided that he would have to personally rescue them. Struggling to the ship, Midgett placed a crewman on his shoulder and carried him through the pounding surf. He repeated this action two more times until all were safe.

The tradition of humanitarianism established by such rescues is carried on in the Coast Guard's modern network of search and rescue facilities.

Artist: Hodges Soileau

Hodges Soileau, a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana, has worked for many of the major publishing houses in New York. Unicover Corporatton commissioned him for Portraits of the Amedcan tndian' which consisted of Philatelic First Day Covers and limited edition prints of 50 famous Indian Chiefs.

He has received many Citations of Merit from the Society of Illustrators and was selected to do the Society's 29th Annual Call for Entries and Exhibition Poster'. His paintings are in the US Air Force and numerous other collections.