Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Big Ike O'Neal

Ocracoke Island native Isaac Willis O'Neal (1865-1954)  joined the United States Life Saving Service in 1904, and served until 1917, at which time the USLSS merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to form the United States Coast Guard.

On July 22, 1939 Surfman Isaac (Big Ike) O’Neal shared his life story with his daughter Elizabeth.

The following story is from that interview:

  • “I also helped land a crew of 444 persons from a ship which was wrecked on Ocracoke Bar. This ship was called the Vera Cruse [sic]. She was a square-rigged ship, and the Crew was colored, and hailed from Cape Verdi [sic] Island. The crew was smuggled and the ship was bound for New Bedford, Mass.. We started landing them in the afternoon and was until eleven o’clock getting them ashore. There were 20 girls on board. I failed to mention that this was before I joined the Life-Saving Service on May 14, 1902 [1904].”

[In 2008 I wrote this about the Vera Cruz VII, a brig that stranded in Ocracoke Inlet at 2:00 pm on May 8th, 1903: "One memorable wreck on Portsmouth Island in 1903, the Vera Cruz, carried 22 crew members and 399 passengers. In this case, although a fresh northeaster and a strong ebb tide had forced the Vera Cruzinto the breakers, the life saving crew was able to use their open surfboat.  It took them 41 trips to bring everyone on shore.  The people of Portsmouth village used four and a half barrels of flour to bake bread for the survivors, most of whom were smuggled Portuguese immigrants who spoke no English."]

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is about Old Christmas in Rodanthe. You can read it here:   


  1. Anonymous8:42 AM

    Wow, they were dreamers back then, who no doubt paid a pretty penny for their passage. Had not the ship run aground illegal aliens would have entered the country and well the rest is history. There would have been no Ellis Island record for descendants to trace back and help a third grade school project of Finding your Roots. It is any anyone's guess as to where they were headed. Tarpon Springs Florida has a large Greek population that at one time were known for deep sea diving to harvest Sponges. Perhaps it was Maine they were bound. When non vaccinated people enter the country the flu and other health issues snowball into problems. Just saying.

    1. Look for more information about the wreck of the Vera Cruz VII tomorrow.