One November night in 1854, the heavily-laden schooner Conductor was driven aground and smashed during a fierce storm over Lake Erie. The seven surviving sailors clung to the rigging until morning when they were sighted by Abigail Becker from her cabin on nearby Long Point Island.
The situation seemed hopeless. Mrs. Becker was alone with two young children, her trapper-husband having gone to the mainland in the household’s only boat. Besides, the lake was still wild with the storm. Her first thought was to build a huge fire as a sign that help was at hand. Then, completely disregarding her own safety, she waded out into the icy thrashing lake as far as she dared, beckoning the sailors to swim towards her.
One by one, the exhausted men worked up enough courage to try, and one by one, she lugged them to shore. On one trip, she had to drag in both a sailor and her crippled son who had been swept under while trying to help. By day’s end, all buy one non-swimmer were comfortably drinking hot tea in Mrs. Becker’s house. The remaining crewsman was rescued by raft after the storm died down.
That dramatic day made Mrs. Becker into a celebrity – “the heroine of Lake Erie.” There were magazine stories, medals, and large rewards, including ₤50 from Queen Victoria. But the day-by-day heroism of Mrs. Becker’s routine life passed unrecognized. Counting the two children she adopted, the eight she bore and the nine she acquired by marriage, Abigail Becker raised a family of eighteen.
“Becker, Abigail,” Canadiana Encyclopedia.
Herrigton, W.S., Heroines of Canadian History, William Briggs, Toronto, 1910, pp 53-58.
Morgan, Henry James, Types of Canadian Women, William Briggs, Toronto, 1903, p. 290.