Female Heroism on Lake Erie

In my research for stories, I borrow or buy or read many books. A non-fiction Great Lakes book purchased a few years ago, and only read portions of for my TALES OF THE LOST SCHOONER book, is now getting read, not for research, but for personal interest, along with a twist of related books and articles.

I was so impressed with one woman’s heroics that I can’t wait to write about her in a published story or book, although I’m sure there must be many already done.

She lived with her husband, a widower with six children, along a deserted stretch of Long Point, a peninsula reaching out into Lake Erie. The closest neighbors lived fourteen miles away.

On November 23, 1854, while her husband was gone for the day and a winter gale blew wildly across the lake, 6′ tall, 24-year-old Abigail spotted a broken yawl on the beach. Upon investigation, she spotted a schooner beached on the sandbar half a mile out. Seven men clung to the mast riggings in the storm. There had been incidents of sailors frozen solid overnight to the decks and riggings of stranded vessels. She was the only one who could help.

She rushed back to the cabin to tell her children she’d be gone for a while. She grabbed blankets and a tea kettle. She built a large fire on the beach for encouragement and direction to the sailors, and shouted, “Swim! I’ll fetch you to shore. But swim!”

One man listened, the captain, who’d told his mate that if he made it to shore to follow, otherwise to wait out the night for rescue. The captain nearly made it when he went under. Without hesitation, Abigail, who could not swim, waded chin-deep into the freezing water to bring the captain to the fire and blankets. Her own wet dress freezing to her body. She also stood barefoot in the snow, the family unable to afford shoes.

The first mate next attempted the swim, but also floundered in the water. The captain went in after the mate. When they both sunk, Abigail brought them to safety…and saw the other five crew members to shore as well.

The Canadian woman was given a gold lifesaving medal, a gift Bible, as well as 100-acres of farmland by the Canadian parliament, and $1,000 in gold from the Lifesaving Association of New York (because two of the rescued men were American). The owner of the shipwrecked vessel paid her a visit, measured her feet and those of her children, and a few weeks later sent a chest full of shoes for all.

It didn’t stop there, not in her rescues, not in her subsequent rewards and honors, nor even of her children. Besides the six from her husband’s previous marriage, they had an additional five. When her husband died, she remarried and had three more children, raising a total of seventeen.

Abigail Becker is called the Guardian Angel of Long Point Bay. She is called heroine to me.

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