Cap'n Ban And The
by Nell Wise Wechter
From the "Mighty Midgetts of Chicamacomico ©1974 Times Printing Co., Inc. Manteo, N.C.
Long before the Coast Guard was created from the Revenue Cutter and Lifesaving's services, the Outer Banks of North Carolina were populated by a family named Midgett. Many of them worked as surfmen on the seven lifeboat stations out there. These were heroic men who's family name will never be forgotten in the annals of the USCG and USLSS. Cap'n Bannister "Ban" Midgett was one of these hearty men. He was the "Keeper" of Chicamacomico Station well before and just after the Coast Guard was formed. He was proud of his title and when he was made a Chief Boatswains Mate he resented it because he was no seaman, he was a surfman. Neither was he a "mate" he was a "keeper."
This story has been extracted from the book. If you have an opportunity to read the book you will learn more about this famous Cape Hatteras family - Jack
Cap'n Ban claimed he could neither read nor write which was an untruth.......
"Well, I reckon a legend ain't nothing but a lie that takes on the dignity of age. - Cap'n Bannister Midgett."
However, it is no legend about
one consequence of Cap'n Ban's pretended illiteracy - one consequence which
might have been the cause of delay in the development and adoption of the
internal combustion engine in an important branch of the U. S. government for
the space of ten years. MacNeill, in The
Hatterasman, tells the story:
Bannister Midgett was filled with disgust and dismay. He was a mighty man with an oar, and he had the Islander's inherited distrust of steam. He had seen enough of steamboats during the Civil War to last him a lifetime. He remembered, with gleeful chortling, the particular day when the Yankees had given out of steam and a lot of Confederates in sailboats surrounded the steamless craft and took every man-jack of the crew prisoner and maybe took them off down the Sound somewhere and drowned them like they should have done, if they didn't!"
"By-gollies, give me a man with an oar in his hand!" It is not
unlikely that if he had had only the orders from Washington to contend with, he
would have, as was generally his custom, ignored the box altogether and, at a
suitable time, dumped it into the ocean. But there was his crew's curiosity
about what was in the box and what was in
the accompanying book. Everyday, among themselves and just within his hearing,
they discussed the engine and the book, and they wondered what it would do if
they installed the engine in a skiff and started her up.
When hints and other tactics
came a day when this passive resistance and this not wholly passive insistence
could be tolerated no more. Cap' n Ban bellowed very loudly and blasphemously on
that occasion - something rare for him - for the crew to take up the box and the
book and to follow him to the Sound where a skiff lay on the shore.
They put down the skiff into
the water with its stern protruding into shallow water. The Keeper was a handy
person with tools; therefore, the installation of the propeller and wheel was no
problem. Cap'n Ban worked alone, and nearby the crew sat with
This was one of the very
Toward the middle of the afternoon, the
installation had come down to that section, 'How to Start a Naphtha Engine.'
Foul-smelling fuel oil was decanted into the opening appointed to receive it and
the engine, in so far as the crew could know from reading the book, was ready to
be started when Cap'n Ban asked the final and critical question: 'What
And then the engine started
with such a roar as had not been heard on the Outer Banks since the unlethal
Ahead, fifteen or so miles,
lay the dimly-outlined shore of the mainland, and I the
skiff was headed there stern-first!
Ashore, the crew ran hither
and yon, some wading out into the water, and all shouting. Their words were
shredded by the counter-roar of the godless, implacable engine that was hurling
Cap'n Ban westward at a fearful velocity! He was unable to determine what he
should do next! Or what the book would have recommended. But somehow, that
damnable piece of evil had to be silenced and stopped!
There was an oar in the skiff.
And Cap'n Ban knew the uses of an oar. Even new and not-yet tried uses.
He took up the oar and, with
the butt of it, he beat the naphtha engine into submission!
'The oar survived practically
intact and, with it, Cap'n Ban rowed himself back to the Sound shore where his
crew waited. He beached the skiff and spoke briefly to his men before he strode
away toward the station he had built and commanded over thirty-five years.
of you that can write,' he told
is no doubt about it, Cap'n Ban was a mighty man with an oar. He was a surfman,
and the oar was a part of him and his tradition there above Wimble which, next
to Diamond Shoals, is as dangerous a place as there is on the Atlantic seaboard.
Scores of ships have died there. But because Cap'n Ban, and others like him, had
an instinctive knowledge of the sea and how to use an oar in a boat, hundreds of
men were saved. Cap'n Ban's logbook, in which he wrote most often in private in
his strong, legible hand, is a marvel of heroism, told with a simplicity and
directness that never showed a consciousness of his own heroism. He was a proud
but humble, God-fearing man, not afraid of anything in the sea or out of it.
Return To Coast Guard Stories