It was 1854 when Conductor, a schooner loaded with grain, lost track of Long Point Light in a driving late-November blizzard, and crashed aground off the Canadian shore of Lake Erie.
Abigail Becker was up early that day having helped her husband off to work. By chance she looked out through the morning’s storm and noticed wreckage on the shore. She pulled on her winter wraps and made her way to the beach, gazing out across the waves to a sand bar some distance off the shore. There she saw torn sails whipping in the wind and a cluster of men clinging to a mast rigging swaying in the violent winds.
Mother Becker cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted out words of encouragement through the snow-littered morning air. She raced back to her house to let her children know they would have to fend for themselves.
Abigail stood an even six feet without shoes, and it was without shoes that Mother Becker and her children endured a life of rather extreme poverty. But sturdy she was, and back out she went bare-footed toward the shore and a covey of strangers in dire need. She assembled a large pile of driftwood, and kindled a fire which burned bright as a target upon which the men fixed their attention.
Seeing but one way to salvation, Abigail Becker once again cupped her hands to her face and shouted out, “Swim! You’ve got to jump overboard and swim. I’ll help you get to land. Swim!”
With time she saw movement within the perilous rigging. One of the men pulled off a heavy coat and tossed himself into the ragging surf. Mother Becker shouted out words of support as he struggled slowly toward the fire. A scant few strokes from shore his strength failed and he disappeared beneath the surface. Out she waded in her thin cotton dress, reaching through the icy waters where she located the man and hauled him ashore. She helped him to the fire-side and wrapped him in blankets. It was the captain, Robert Hackett who had braved the swim ashore. He explained that he had instructed the ship’s first officer Jerome to come next if he chose to, or to spend the day within the rigging if they felt that was best. “They’ll be statues carved of Lake Erie ice if they remain in that rigging”, Mother Becker declared. Back to the shore she returned, hands to face shouting, “Swim! I’ll fetch you to shore, but swim!”
Once again there was stirring within the rigging as Jerome tossed aside his coat and attempted the swim to shore. When he began to flounder, it was Captain Hackett who took to the water to rescue his first officer. Abigail watched on as both men struggled and ultimately disappeared. Without hesitation she threw herself into the frigid waves, found and secured both men, hauling them toward the safety of shore and the warmth of the wind-blown fire.
This performance was repeated five more times until all seven of Conductor’s crew were safely around the fire, rewarded all, for entrusting their lives to the promise of a lone woman on a distant shore.
Today a portrait of this Guardian Angel of Long Point Bay hangs in the Abigail Becker Ward of the Simcoe Town Hospital.
May your holiday season be warmed by memories of the promises and heroes of your life.