|History | Long Point Heroine
|The following article
is based on an article published on page 1 of the 31
Jan 1901 The Simcoe Reformer.
The Heroine of Long Point
Born Abigail Jackson on 14 Mar 1831, she died Mrs. Henry Rohrer on 21 Mar 1905, having raised three families, scratched a hand-to-mouth existence from the land most of her life, and having endured four broken arms.
During her first marriage, Mrs. Abigail Becker received letters from Queen Victoria and the Queen's General Governor, gold medals from American Associations, free land from a grateful government, financial rewards and other honors, as the Heroine of Long Point. She was celebrated in poems and newspaper articles.
A tall, slender, fair lass when she married the first time, by her late 60s Abigail Jackson Becker Rohrer weighed over 200 lbs. Perhaps her physical size along with her bravery, account for her heroism in the winter of 1854.
She was in her early 20s at the time, the second wife of Jeremiah Becker, a farmer-turned-trapper twice her age, and step-mother to his six children.
Shortly after their marriage, Jeremiah became discouraged over his prospects as a farmer and moved his family to a shanty on Long Point where he hoped to do better hunting and trapping.
Jeremiah was away from home on the cold, wintry night of November 24. Just after midnight Abigail went down to the shore of Lake Erie to fetch a pail of water, and heard sails flapping in the gusting northwest wind.
The Conductor, a schooner out of Buffalo, New York, had run aground on a shallow sandbar hours before. Its crew of eight now clung to the rigging, praying for rescue, shivering in the icy cold as waves pounded their wreck.
Gathering her children together, Abigail marched them up the beach to the site of the Conductor, where she built a fire to signal the crew there was help on shore, to keep her children warm, and to boil water for tea for crew and children alike.
The sight of fire cheered the exhausted crew, who had assumed the shore was deserted. But they were half frozen, and icy water was the only route to the fire's warmth.
Realizing his crew's choices were to hang in the rigging until they froze or risk surviving the icy swim, the Conductor's captain plunged into the lake, telling his men he would go first, that they should follow if he survived.
The waves carried the captain down the beach away from the fire. His strength was fading. Realizing he was in trouble, Abigail ran down the beach, waded into the lake, and pulled him out. She dragged the captain back to the fire, gave him tea, then beckoned the others to come ashore.
The mate was the second to make the attempt. Abigail's lame teenage son Edward, wanting to help, hobbled along the beach on his crutches as the mate too was carried down beach by the waves, then waded into the lake to pull the mate out as his mother had the captain.
But the lake was to rough for Edward, he could not stand against the waves. Abigail had to drag them both out.
One by one they came ashore, some of them not as easily. Some nearly perished and had to be dragged to the fire unconscious and helpless. Eventually, all but the cook who could not swim, made it ashore.
Concerned that their rescue was far from complete, one by one Abigail wrapped crew members in her own shawl and limped them back to the Becker cabin where they could get warm, dry their clothes, and finally get some much needed sleep.
But Abigail herself could hardly sleep, worrying about the cook still in the rigging.
At first light she roused the crew in hopes of saving the cook. By then the lake had calmed somewhat.
The crew made a raft and put out for the wreck. The cook had lashed himself to the rigging; otherwise the waves would have washed him away.
There were still signs of life in his frozen, unconscious body and they brought him ashore. Back at the cabin, Abigail put his frozen feet in cold water to draw out the frost, but it was several weeks before he recovered.
That's the abbreviated version of the story of Abigail Becker's historic rescue. But that's not the end of her story. Other rescues, resulting fame, and financial betrayal all lay ahead for the young mother and soon-to-be widow. Others were quick to try profiting from the story of her adventure.
Decades later, in an attempt to set the record straight, Rev. R. Calvert recorded the account of Abigail's step-daughter, Margaret Becker (by then Mrs. Henry Wheeler) in The Story of Abigail Becker, published by William Briggs, Toronto, 1899.