Diamond City, NC Lifesaving Stations

They Watched The"Crissie Wright" Go Down

By Sally G. Moore

The day started brightly as Abner Buthrie took his family back to visit the old home on Shackleford Banks, but then the storm hit Monday, January the 11th, l886 arrived on the Outer Banks and the weather was warm and wonderful - close to 70 degrees. Everyone on Shackleford Banks was anxious for some activity. Sundays were nice to have for rest, but to sit all day and listen to a "hell-fire and damnation" preacher was more tiring to active bodies than hard labor, so this Monday morning everybody was busy.

Young girls could be heard out in the woods, cutting and hauling up wood for the cook stoves and fireplaces. Back Sound and Core Sound were dotted with boats as the younger men and boys searched for scallops, clams, and oysters. The older men were along the shoreline, mending nets and net spreads, caulking and painting boats; some could be seen whittling on handles for harpoons and sharpening whaling irons, getting everything ready so that when the whales arrived in late February and early March, all necessary equipment would be in top shape. Some of the men were barefooted, and those mending nets were using toes to keep the net tight, as fingers worked automatically with net needles patching holes. One old fellow noticed that the gannets were in from off-shore and remarked "there is apt to be a blow before long".

At the Rice Path

Further south over on Bogue Banks, at the Rice Path (present day Emerald Isle) in the household of big Abner P. Guthrie, all was confusion and excitement. Big Abner was taking the family to Wades Shore and Moores Landing over on Shackleford Banks for a week to visit grandparents and other relatives.

Small Tom was ten years old and his excitement showed in his fast little feet as he ran from his house to shore with necessary supplies. It was fifteen miles to Beaufort Inlet, then about five miles up to Shackleford Banks to Wades Shore and Moores Landing, and small Tom could just "barely" remember such a trip. He vaguely recalled moving from that distant place, but then he was so young and had slept most of the way.

Father Abner and mother Hancie Jane had moved several years before from Shackleford Banks to the new community called the Rice Path on Bogue Banks. Now, over at Wades Shore, Grandma Lottie was "ailing and feeling poorly", so Papa Abner thought it best to spend several days on Shackleford visiting. Also Hancie Jane had a "hankering" to visit at Moores Landing and see all of her kinfolks, particularly mother and father, Mary and Tyre Moore.

Hancie Jane had her hands full trying to get everything ready, but finally all were loaded aboard the sailing sharpie named "The Rattlesnake" and Big Abner headed her out into Bogue Sound. Big Abner could not help the gleam of pride that twinkled in his eyes. He had labored for a long time to get "The Rattlesnake", but it was worth it. Life was good these days; he had seven fine children, a wonderful wife, his own home, and now his own sailing sharpie. The decision to move to the Rice Path had been hard, but he knew it had been the right thing to do. The big blows in the fall were getting much worse on Shackleford and most of the younger families were moving. Big Abner was happy and satisfied.

Up on the bow of the boat small Tom was amazed. The world seemed so very big, and as they came abreast of the little village of Morehead City, small Tom could hardly believe his eyes. So many houses all together he had never seen before and off in the distance was the big city of Beaufort. Papa Abner had told the kids that they had many relatives in Morehead City and Beaufort, and small Tom yearned to visit there to see all of the strange sights he reckoned were there to see.

Big Abner's Tales

As "The Rattlesnake" tacked in towards the eastern tip of Bogue Banks, just before crossing Beaufort Inlet, all of the kids gathered around Papa Abner as he pointed out old Fort Macon and proceeded to relate how the Federals had invaded Carteret County during the War Between the States. Big Abner was a good story teller. He gave a vivid account of the Yankees crossing Bogue Sound approximately eight miles back, then marching up the beach to capture the fort. He described the booming of the guns and told how the people on the banks stood on the shore and watched, not knowing just what to expect. Finally, with a faraway look in his eyes, he told them about being one of the Assistant Lighthouse Keepers at Cape Lookout when the Confederates came to blow up the lighthouse.

Young John Allen's pride in his father showed as he stated that when he was grown, he too would live at Cape Lookout and join the Service. The years were to prove him correct; although he was not in the Lighthouse Service, he did spend his time in the more daring and colorful Lifesaving Service at Cape Lookout.

A Happy Reunion

By mid-afternoon, Big Abner pointed the bow of "The Rattlesnake" in toward land on Shackleford and when she grounded, small Tom was the first on shore, right into the arms of grandfather Samuel. Grandma Lottie was at the house.

Moore's Landing and Wades Shore were located on the sound side of the Banks within yelling distance of each other, so grandfather and grandmother, Tyre and Mary Moore, were coming along the shoreline. It was a happy reunion, with a lot of laughing, hugging, and crying. Even young Charlie Gibson was a part of this reunion. Young Charlie was a small negro boy who had run away from a cruel stepfather in Baltimore, coming to North Carolina aboard a two-masted schooner with a Mr. Bloodgood; and since Mr. Bloodgood could not keep him, he gave him to kind and gentle Tyre Moore. Charlie grew up in the Moore household, acquiring all the gentleness and kindness of his foster parents. Years later, Charlie was known to get drunk at times and when he did, he was as meek as a lamb and if anyone would lend him an ear he would you about Uncle Tyre and Aunt Mary with great big tears running down his face and a deep yearning in his voice.

After this happy reunion, things began to settle down to normal. The women began preparing the evening meal as the men gathered at the shore to appraise and admire Big Abner's fine new boat. The sun was sinking - suddenly all became aware of an eerie glow from the sun and even the women came outside to see this strange sunset. It was a sight they had never seen before and all who saw it, including small Tom, would never forget it. As the sun went down the entire sky turned blood red, but since the evening meal was ready, they did not tarry long.

Crissie Wright Aground

About the time the evening meal was finished at twilight, all heard excited voices and, going outside, were told the news that a large ship had run ashore on the beach right in back of the house. Men, women, and children rushed over to the ocean and there saw the three-masted schooner, the "Crissie Wright" keeled partly over on the outer reef.

The tide was almost low and all knew she would refloat in a few hours on high water and since there was no distress signal, they did not worry. Just in case though, the bankers decided to gather driftwood and light a fire to let the sailors know that there were people ashore if they needed help.

There were seven men aboard the "Crissie Wright", including one cabin boy, and there seemed no cause for alarm. The "Crissie Wright" had lost her rudder and, being out of control, had grounded on Shackleford Banks directly opposite Moores Landing and Wades Shore. Men started work improvising a rudder so that when the tide came in they could sail on, but fate did not so decree.

The Wind Shifts

On the turn of the tide a couple of hours later, the wind shifted suddenly into the southwest and pushed tremendous waves ahead of it, striking with gale force. The "Crissie Wright" was then at the mercy of the sea and this was one time the seas would show no mercy. Mountainous waves with battering ram force would break over the decks. As a giant wave would hit, it would lift the stranded vessel and then slam it down onto the sand bottom with a jarring impact causing the entire ship to shudder and timbers to break. To get ashore was impossible, so the captain ordered all hands into the rigging. With the shift of wind, the temperature began to drop and in less than one hour it dropped from around 70 degrees to below freezing.

Between waves the men scrambled into the rigging, becoming soaked to the skin in the effort and their only protection against the elements was to wrap up in the canvas of the sails.

They survived the first night, but the sight of large fires on shore became unbearable torture. Daylight showed huge masses of ice along the edge of the ocean and on the back side of the banks Bogue Sound, Back Sound and Core Sound were frozen solid. The wind and sea continued to rage and there was no hope of a rescue. The banks people kept the fires going, not only for warmth for themselves, but to reassure these desperate men that as soon as possible they would help - not realizing that they were adding greatly to their prolonged agony.

A Gruesome Sight

Aboard this stricken vessel men were freezing and all day, as the spectators on shore watched helplessly, first one, then later another, would fall from the rigging and drop overboard - either frozen or no longer able to hold on. Onshore it was a gruesome sight; women cried in sympathy and men choked with rage - to be so utterly useless. Night fell once again and at daylight of the second morning, the people on shore saw that there was only one man left in the rigging.

About 4:30 that afternoon the wind shifted into the southeast. The Hook of Cape Lookout forms a protective arm out into the sea to the southeast of Shackleford, so with this shift of wind the bankers were able to launch a surf dory, and although the sea was still rough, they were able to rescue the one remaining survivor from this ill-fated ship.

Big Abner was finally able to get his family back home and this was a trip that would be talked about in his household for years to come. Small Tom had learned the horrors of a shipwreck; he learned that ducks became trapped under ice, therefore becoming food for the pot, that fish would freeze and could be gathered along the shoreline, and that boats could not be moved through ice. He would live to make his future home in the town he had longed to visit as a child - Morehead City, and would live into the mid l950's. He was so impressed that at 70 years of age, he would be able to recall every detail as he told children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews of the time the "Crissie Wright" ran ashore.

Never Forgotten

Young John Allen was another who had watched and felt such deep sympathy for the crew of the "Crissie Wright" that years later this was to influence him to join the Lifesaving Service instead of the Lighthouse Service. While a member of the Cape Lookout Life Saving Station, he participated in the daring rescue of the crew of the sailing schooner, the "Sarah D. J. Rawson" which was stranded nine miles out on Lookout Shoals in February l905. For this rescue each member was award the Gold Life Saving Medal of Honor for Heroism.

Five of the nine lifesaving crewmen - Kilby Guthrie, Walter Yeomans, Tyre Moore, Jr., Joseph Lane Lewis, and John Allen Guthrie, were all teenage boys the night the "Crissie Wright" ran ashore and all gathered wood to keep the fires going on the beach--the fires which the lone survivor stated later caused such extreme suffering.

The "Crissie Wright" did not go down in history as a great shipwreck, but it certainly left its mark on Carteret County. It left a memory that will never be forgotten as long as the weather turns cold, because every winter throughout the county you will hear people say "It's colder than the time the "Crissie Wright" ran ashore" and that was cold!

From "Our Shared Past" prepared for the Diamond City & Ca'e Bankers Reunion, August 1999 as a collection of writings, research and recollections to tell the story of the Banks communities.
Copyright 1995, Core Sound Waterfowl Museum
All rights reserved.

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