Martha’s Vineyard resident keeps ancestor’s heroics alive

The face of the Carnegie Commemorative Medal that was awarded to Herb Ward for his efforts in keeping the story of his great-grandfather's heroism alive. — Photo courtesy of Herb Ward

I was born and educated on the Island, attended college at Bridgewater State, and spent a number of years working in Boston, New York City, and Long Beach, California. In 1993 I returned to the Island, and it was at this time that I became interested in my family history. My mother, Doris Cleveland, had kept scrapbooks and newspaper articles for her family. In going through her collection, I found a brochure published in 1940, by the Blair Manufacturing Company, entitled “To the Rescue,” written by Phillips N. Case. It was a written narrative of the rescue of the crew of the Mertie B. Crowley by my great-grandfather, Captain Levi Jackson.

I wanted to know more. I copied articles about the wreck from the New Bedford Standard Times, the New Bedford Morning Mercury, the Vineyard Gazette, and the New York Times.

During a visit to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, I found in their files a photo taken in 1910 of the Priscilla, and a photo of the actual wreck of the Crowley taken days after it went up on Skiff”s Island. More photos for my collection.

I met with my cousin Howard Andrews, and he had photo of Levi Jackson taken in 1910, which he let me copy for my collection. A visit to the Cuttyhunk Museum was rewarded with finding a 1910 newspaper photo of the Five Edgartown Heroes, again, something I did not have.

I realized what I wanted next — a copy of the recommendation to the Carnegie Hero Fund for Levi Jackson and his crew. The Carnegie Hero Fund is easy to locate online, and within a short time, I had what I had asked for, which provided me with more information as to the time-line of what happened on January 23, 1910.

In discussing the story with the Carnegie Hero Commission, I discovered that outside of the recommendation for the award, they did not have a picture of Levi, the Priscilla, or the Mertie B. Crowley, nor did they have any historical story of the event.

As part of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Mertie B. Crowley, I used all the photos and history I collected, and put together a presentation which I gave at the Federated Church, the Martha’s Vineyard Chapter of the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists, the Vineyard Haven Library, and for Ann Bassett for the Vineyard View. As I had so much information, I put it together in a story, and submitted it to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, and they printed the story in their November 2010 issue of The Dukes County Intelligencer.

I then provided the Carnegie Hero Fund with the photos and story that they did not have. The Carnegie Hero Fund asked permission to print a shorter version of the story in the June 2011 issue of their periodic newsletter imPULSE. As a thank you, they sent me a Centennial Commemorative Medal from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. The medal commemorates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Carnegie Hero Fund by Andrew Carnegie, on April 15, 1904. Five hundred coins were minted in 2004 to serve as a reminder that those who act selflessly in behalf of others are to be set apart. The coin is two and a half inches in diameter, and is struck in silver-clad bronze. The face of the coin has the same image of Andrew Carnegie that is on the Carnegie Hero Fund award that my great grandfather Levi Jackson received in 1912.