The Pea Island Cookhouse is historically significant and distinctive as it houses the only lifesaving station in the US to have been manned by an all-black crew. In 1880 Richard Etheridge, a former slave born on Roanoke Island, was named Keeper of the station. Keeper Etheridge was taught to read and write and served with colored troops during the Civil War.
Local black men in the community were hired as part of the lifesaving crew under the leadership of Keeper Etheridge. They were trained to become dedicated and dependable watermen in the service of lifesaving. Many crews were rescued by these men from their sunken ships that had fallen victim to the treacherous waters known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Most known for the rescue of the entire crew of the three-masted schooner, the E.S. Newman, it wasn’t until some 100 years later in 1996 when Keeper Etheridge and his crew were recognized and honored for that historical event and many other rescues by being posthumously awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal.
Keeper Etheridge passed away in 1900 but the Pea Island Station was continually manned by African American Keepers and crew members until it was decommissioned in 1947. Following some renovation, the Cookhouse Museum was opened in 2008 honoring the legacy of Keeper Richard Etheridge, his crew and the dedicated service of all other black lifesavers following in their footsteps serving at the Pea Island Lifesaving Station. Keepers Benjamin Bowser, Lewis Wescott, William Irving, George Pruden, Maxie Berry, Sr., and the last Surfman to remain at this station, Herbert Collins, helped to preserve its history and distinct honor of being one of the best stations along the Outer Banks.
Today the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum houses items such as the signboard for the E.S. Newman along, a Lyle gun used by the crew, memorabilia, artifacts, relics, photographs and other historical information about the Pea Island Lifesaving Station and the all-black crew who served there. Cultural and historical heritage programs are offered through the museum to teach others about the African American heritage in our community and keep it alive for many years to come.
Plans for the future expansion of this historical attraction include a replica of the living quarters at the station, and a second building to be used for educational programs. The buildings are to surrounded by the Dellerva Collins Memorial Gardens. Mrs. Collins served on the Town of Manteo Board of Commissioners for more than 26 years, including several years as Mayor Pro-Tem, and was one of the founding members of the Freedman’s Colony Coalition. She married Frank Collins, who served in the US Coast Guard until his death while serving on active duty. Her ancestors played an important role in the Pea Island legacy.
The Pea Island Cookhouse is located at 622 Sir Walter Street adjacent to the Collins Park and Collis’ Playground, a few blocks opposite downtown Manteo. For more information on available programs, special events and operational hours call (252)573-8332 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sail away to another time and be inspired by the rich history of the Pea Island Lifesaving Station, the only lifesaving station in the US to be manned by an all-black crew. It serves as not only a significant contribution to the history of the US Coast Guard but also a huge part of the history of Manteo and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Lifesaver and Civil Rights Hero Honored in Manteo, North Carolina
An American was honored Saturday, May 8th at 3 p.m. at the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum in Manteo, North Carolina. Visitors to the celebration viewed the unveiling of a life sized bronze statue of Richard Etheridge, the first African-American United States Life-Saving Service Keeper at Pea Island Station.
It was the latest addition to the Collins Park project, dedicated to the late Dellerva Collins, former Manteo Mayor Pro Tem and a founding member of the Freedmen’s Colony Coalition. The statue joins the refurbished Pea Island Cookhouse as part of the preservation and interpretation of the community’s African-American heritage. The cookhouse serves as a museum to honor African-American men who courageously served under Etheridge.
Born into slavery on Roanoke Island, Etheridge was in charge of the U.S. Life-Saving Service Station at Pea Island from January 1880 to May of 1900. The story of Etheridge and the Pea Island surfmen has been immortalized in the riveting book, Fire on the Beach, and recently made into a documentary film, Rescue Men.
Despite living during a time of great prejudice – white lifesavers who refused to work for him and his station was burned to the ground by disgruntled whites - Etheridge’s career was one of distinction. Having been a Sergeant in the Colored Troops of the Union Army during the Civil War, he ran the station with military precision. This resulted in successful missions including the chilling rescue of the E.S. Newman in October 1896 when two of his crew moved through hurricane-force seas to save lives.
While fighting to end slavery during the Civil War, Etheridge also fought for the rights of people on the home front who were being mistreated in the Freedmen’s Colony. He co-authored a compelling letter to the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau and signed it “in behalf of humanity.”
The statue of America’s lifesaving and civil rights hero was crafted by Stephen H. Smith of Marshville who has also sculpted the likeness of Martin Luther King Jr. and Wilbur and Orville Wright. His works are in private, corporate and government collections nationally and internationally. The bronze sculpture will remain a solid reminder of what the human spirit is capable of achieving.
The statue of Richard Etheridge is located in the roundabout across from the Pea Island Cookhouse. Location and map information to the cookhouse can be found at the link below.
Herber M. Collins was born in Manteo, NC on January 1, 1921. It had always been his childhood dream to enter the service -- a dream made true when he joined the U.S. Coast Guard on February 2, 1939. When Collins enlisted in the Coast Guard, the only way for African American men to join was as a Mess Attendant, so this is how his career began -- serving food, shining shoes, making beds, and being a servant to senior officers on a ship.
In March 1940, Collins was transferred to Station Pea Island. Shortly after his transfer, he was reassigned for a brief period to again serve as a Mess attendant on a ship. Within months, however, he returned to the station where he remained for the duration of World War II. While at the station in his personal time, he also earned his private Pilot's license at 26 years old.
Herber M Collins was the last surfman stationed at Pea Island before it closed. Although a Boatswain Mate 2nd class at the time, he is often fondly referred to as the last Keeper of the station. Collins was the last official of the U.S. Coast Guard to lock the doors and turn in the keys when the station was decommissioned in March 1947.
Collins' family holds a remarkable record of combined service in the Coast Guard -- some 400 years -- dating back to his grandfather, Joseph Hall Berry, who enlisted in 1902. Before Joing, Berry served as a temporary surfman under Keeper Richard Etheridge.
The Herbert M. Collins Boathouse is the second phase of the Peas Island Cookhouse project. It houses a surf boat on loan from the National Park Service. This boat is similar to the one used by the Life Saving Station at Pea Island.
Herbert M. Collins Boathouse
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