March 24, 1905
LANGTON, Ontario, March 23 - Abigail Becker, famed in song and story throughout Canada, is dead at her home in Walsingham Centre. Unaided, she saved the crew of the schooner Conductor, wrecked at Long Point, on Lake Erie, in November, 1853. For her bravery the Government gave her a farm. Buffalo shipowners $1,000, and the New York Life Saving Association a gold medal.
The events of that fateful day of November 24th, 1853 have been told in poetry and prose. The story of Abigail Becker's heroics celebrated in story and song.
In The High School Reader, Amanda T. Jones' poem, Abigail Becker is told in its entirety. All six and a half pages. All 45 verses.
In the Preface, the authors state:
"The heroic acts described in this poem seem so wonderful, so greatly superior to woman's strength, even to human strength and endurance, to accomplish, that were it possible to doubt its truthfulness, doubt one certainly would. Nevertheless the poem is not only strictly in accordance with the facts, it is even within and below them."
I'd never heard of Abigail Becker before or, if I had, I'd long forgotten the story of her bravery. But on this, the 100th Anniversary of International Woman's Day, I find it fitting to celebrate and commemorate a woman who risked her life to save the lives of seven men clinging to the rigging of the Conductor, a schooner that had run aground in a gale on the night of November 23, 1853. It was in the morning of the 24th that Abigail came upon them. Being unable to swim did not deter her. She waded out into the waters and dragged each of the seven men in to shore.
Called, The Angel of Long Point, there are many tales of Abigail's heroics. Like the time she rescued two men lost in a snowstorm and cajoled and lead them back to her fire to warm up.
She was feted by royalty, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, stopping by to drop off a gift while on a hunting trip to Long Point. Queen Victoria sent her 50 pound which she used to buy her farm -- it wasn't 'given' to her as the New York Times obit stated.
But perhaps Abigail's greatest heroics were found in the seventeen children she raised. She had married her first husband, Jeremiah at the age of seventeen. He had six children and subsequently she gave birth to an additional eight with Jeremiah and then three more with her husband, Henry Rohrer, whom she wed a few years after Jeremiah was lost at sea in 1864. And then she adopted two more.
I'd like to have met this remarkable woman. She sounds no-nonsense. Calm and courageous. Of Dutch descent, she was strong and determined. Her life was hard, no time for schooling. She could not read or write, as the customs collector discovered when he arrived one day to give her a medal struck by the Benevolent Life Saving Association of New York. He needed a receipt, but Abigail could not sign for it. Nonplussed, he took her to a photographer where a daguerreotype was taken of Abigail proudly displaying her medal.
As Amanda T. Jones wrote in the closing of her epic poem, Abigail Becker:
"Billows may tumble, winds may roar,
Strong hands the wreck'd from Death may snatch
But never, never, nervermore
This deed shall mortal match!
Dear Mother Becker dropp'd her head,
She blush'd as girls when lovers woo:
"I have not done a thing," she said,
"More than I ought to do."
She lived and died before International Women's Day was decreed.
She was a woman before her time. A woman who believed that human life was worth saving, and the only limitations a woman faced, were the one's she set for herself.
to Abigail Becker, women's lib was unnecessary.
It is to women like Abigail Becker I say a prayer of gratitude. We've come a long way baby thanks to you!