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Abigail Becker - The Heroine of Long Point

This is the content of a small booklet originally printed in 1899 and then reprinted by the Norfolk Historical Society, Simcoe in 1987. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without prior consent in writing from the Norfolk Historical Society, Eva Brook Donly Museum and Archives, 109 Norfolk St. S., Simcoe, Ontario N3Y 2W3

The Story of Abigail Becker - As Told By Her Step-daughter

Mrs. Henry Wheeler, of Walsingham Centre, whose maiden name was Margaret Becker, is the daughter of Jeremiah Becker, the trapper, and step-daughter of Abigail Becker, the heroine of Long Point. She was present on the Island at the time (1854) of the wreck of the Conductor, taking charge of the home and the younger children, and afterwards assisting in the care of the men. She bears the highest testimony to the kindliness of heart and the noble self-sacrifice of Abigail Becker as a step-mother. She is able to tell some things of too private a nature to be published, of the unselfish mother and step-mother that would prove to her many admirers how far an unselfish nature can forget itself in devotion to others. The following facts from Mrs. Wheeler's lips will be of interest to many. (Rev. R. Calvert, B.D. - Riceville, Ontario, June, 1899)

I was not aware that the life story of my stepmother had been written until I read it in the Port Rowan News some time ago. I remember the time of the wreck of the Conductor well. I was then fourteen years of age. I will try and tell the story and correct the mistakes regarding it that have been made, as far as I am able.

Father was away from home at the time. The north-west wind had been blowing very high all night. Early in the morning mother went down to the lake to get a pail of water. Her attention was first called to a vessel ashore by the noise of the sails flapping in the wind.

She came back to the house at once and said, "Children, there is a vessel ashore about a mile up the beach. Edward, you go and see if we can help them".

He went, and on returning said, "If they cannot get to shore they will all perish."

She said, "I will go up behind the sand hills and see what condition they are in."

When she got opposite them she went to the top of the hill. There were eight men in a suffering condition, clinging to the rigging.

Returning she said, "We will go down on the beach at once and see if they will come ashore."

The sailors saw her coimg down the hill and gave a cheer, and said to one another, "If we can get to shore we shall be all right, for there must be a family living on the island."

She and the little boys built a fire on the beach and put water to heat for making tea. She beckoned for them to come ashore and signalled that she would help them out. The men were stiffened and half helpless with the cold

The Captain said, "If we stay here we shall be lost. I will go first; if I get to shore safely the rest can follow."

He pulled off his coat and shoes and plunged into the water. The waves carried him down the beach quite a distance. He was becoming exhausted and mother, who was tall, waded in and caught him by the hand. She dragged him to the fire and gave him some hot tea, and then backoned for the rest to come.

The mate was the second to make the attempt. Edward, my brother, who was lame and walking with crutches, wanted to help, and he tried to go in to his mother's assistance, but the sea was so heavy he could not stand; and she had to get them both out of the water.

One by one they came ashore, but some of them not so easily as the first ones. Some were nearly perished and had to be dragged helplessly to the fire, being unconscious for some time. She took off her shawl and shoes and put them on the men one at a time till she got them all to the house, where I and my younger brothers had a good fire in the large, old-fashioned fireplace. I remember being interested in the men standing around the fire drying their clothes and their paper money. But the poor cook of the Conductor had to hang in the rigging all night as he could not swim. Mother, who had scarcely been able to sleep all night for thinking of the poor fellow, called the men early in the morning to see if they could not get out to the boat and save the man if he had not been swept away by the waves.

They went to the beach and saw that he was still in the rigging. The sea had gone down somewhat. The men made a raft out of the boards that were about, and put out to the wreck. There were still evidences of life in him. The poor fellow had lashed himself to the rigging; otherwise the waves would have washed him away. He was able afterwards to tell of the awfulness of his feelings when he saw his seven comrades rescued and himself left to to pass another night in his position of helplessness and apparently to die. He said that while hanging there he thought he saw a boat coming to his rescue. It was probably the raft he saw.

He was brought to the house, and mother put his frozen feet in cold water to draw out the frost. It was some weeks before he could get around.

The men were very grateful for what had been doen for them. The Captain remarked to mother that it was a good work she had dome that day, for not one of them was prepared to die.

The Buffalo merchants and sailors made up a sum of money - $550.00 - and put it in the hands of the custom's officer of Port Rowan at the time. She wished with the money to buy herself a little home. She decided on fifty acres (not one hundred) where she now resides on the seventh concession, east of the centre road of North Walsingham. The place is cut up with Big Creek and a number of large gullies.

I see from the papers it is stated she received $1000.00 with which to stock the farm. If any such sum was ever raised she never got it. When she wanted the $550.00 with which to buy the fifty acres, she had to go to law in order to get it, and then only received $535.00. The remainder of the money for the purchase she had to furnish herself.

When we moved on the farm we had two cows and a yoke of oxen. One of the cows drank sour sap and died, and the other was killed by a tree falling upon it while browsing in the woods. Mother wove and spun to get money for another cow, She always worked very hard to get clothes for the children. She was always very anxious for me to go to church, and for this I am thankful. I saw she had others to clothe, so went out to work, though this was against her wish. No mother was ever more truely good to her children than our step-mother was to myself and the others.

Father, having nothing to farm with, got discouraged and thought he would earn more at hunting on the Point. He went over there and was there only a few days when a heavy storm came up. He was obliged to leave his shanty. He seems to have hoisted his trunk upon the roof where it was found, and a part of his clothing frozen to it, as if he had been sitting upon it. Afterwards he had apparently tried to make his way to another shanty some three miles distant. He had gone about two miles when he seems to have sat down on a log and frozen to death. His body was not found for nearly three months.

One of her sons, my half-brother, was believed to have drowned in Port Rowan Bay. His body was never found. It has always seemed sad to me that she saved others but her own were lost.

She and her small boys had to do the farm work - yoke the oxen, get ready the year's wood, plant and dig potatoes, and do other things about a farm. One time she tended ten acres of corn for a neighbour, besides doing washing and other hard work. As was stated in the paper concerning her, she was at one time unloading a load of wheat in the barn, and as she was pitching the sheaves in the mow the horses took fright and ran out of the barn, throwing her to the floor, breaking her toes and her arm, which she afterwards set herself. At another time while hunting eggs she fell from the mow upon her head and shoulders. Her arms have been broken four times.

At one time, just after we moved to the Point, father and two of the boys took the sail boat and went over to Port Rowan. There was a heavy storm came up and they could not get away for a number of days. I never knew mother to get so uneasy as at this time. She feared they had sunk to the bottom of the bay. They had gone to obtain provisions for we were nearly out of eatables. There was a row-boat in the water about a half-mile out in the marsh. She said, "I will wade out and get that boat." This she did, wading until the water came up to her arms. She got the boat and tied it to the landing. She intended the next morning to row to Port Rowan, a distance of seven miles; but fortunately, just as the sun was setting we saw them coming.

As already told, before the Long Point incident, she saved a child from drowning in a well, and a man from a similar fate at Nanticoke, by throwing him a plank and holding him up till assistance came.

There was an iron-laden vessel wrecked on Long Point Island, near the lower lighthouse, the crew of six escaping to land. On reaching the lighthouse they found the keeper had gone for the winter to the mainland. As they were starving, they broke into the kitchen and finding a few frozen potatoes, they devoured them and searched for more food, but found none until they reached our place. Only four of the six succeeded in walking to our place; the other two gave out about a mile and a half away. Mother sent the boys with food and raiment for them. A little later they were able to get to the house. This makes twelve lives in all she succeeded in saving.

My brothers, O.C. Becker and Edward Becker, who helped mother attend to the fires and the men of the Conductor, are still living, the former in Saginaw, Michigan, and the latter, who is still lame, lives in Clair, Michigan. As a memento of this incident I have the trunk mother gave to me which she received from the mate at the time of his rescue. He claimed to have been wrecked three times, and each time this trunk had followed him ashore.

When my father married Abigail Jackson, she was a slender young girl. She worked hard and devotedly to make us comfortable, and has often since expressed her pleasure in us. We are, you may be sure, proud of her. She really raised three families, seventeen children in all. It is her boast that she raised her eight boys and not one of them uses tobacco or liquor.

Mother is proud of the gold medal she received from the American Humane Association; and also of a letter received not very long ago from our last Governor-General, Lord Aberdeen; and Queen Victoria's letter.

She is in her sixty-ninth year. Some have believed her dead for some time, but we are thankful to be able to say she is still with us. Last summer we almost despaired of her life through a poisonous spider bite. She is well again and this spring has made her own garden. She is a woman of large build and weighs two hundred and fifteen pounds.

Note: The medal presented to Abigail Becker by the American Humane Association is on display at the Eva Brook Donly Museum and Archives in Simcoe, Ontario.

If you are interested in reading more about Abigail Becker, we have books for sale in our Gift and Book Shop, namely:

Abigail Becker - Angel of Longpoint - by Cheryl MacDonald