Friday, February 22, 2013

1880: Captain Leander Losee Ousted from Life-Saving Station No. 31.

This morning as I left for work I groused about being the only one in my household that has a stinkin' job. I say it in jest mostly. My father is recently retired after having worked hard for the past 40 years for the local power authority. It hasn't been quite a month yet that he has been home. My step-mother and step-brother, though, are also unemployed for personal health reasons. So of the four of us, I'm the only one who goes to a job.

I am a cataloger at a local University library. Well, there are some days when my 1 hour+ commute does not seem local at all but in modern day terms it is a local University; but I digress. Yesterday the catalog was down and so I was extremely bored. I spent a majority of the day surfing the web and generally goofing off; a behavior which I will deny encouraging. The experience got me thinking about the learned behavior of having a work ethic and it made me think of Leander and the trouble idleness can cause

Leander Losee was the brother of my 4th great-uncle; the brother of my 3rd great-grandfather, John M. Losee Sr. There was a third brother who gets a lot of press in my blog; Benjamin Franklin Losee, me beloved Civil War Soldier. Leander too, though, served in the Civil War; in the U.S. Navy.

The sea plays a great role in my family's history. The thought of being on the ocean or in it makes me queasy. But I do live on an island and I come from a great line of Long Island baymen, seafaring Newfoundlanders, early-American settlers who arrived by ship, ancestors who died at sea, and grandpas who were WWII Navy men. I feel nausea just thinking about it.

It is Leander who brings together the noble occupation of captaining a life-saving boat station and the less than respectable work ethic of slacking off. 

A search of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle online many years ago revealed an article entitled "Life Saving: Punishing Abuses in the Service on the South Coast of Long Island: Station 31 Investigated"  from February 3, 1880.

Life-saving Stations dotted the coast of Long Island at this period in time. It was quite an honor to be named the captain of a Life-saving Station then; and it was an honor bestowed upon the Civil War Naval veteran, Leander Losee who was a resident of the well known port village of Freeport. Baymen were plentiful in the community and Losees, Raynors, and Smiths, of whom Leander and I are descended, were instrumental in the rescue and recovery of many a noteworthy shipwreck near Freeport Inlet including the sinking of the ships the Bristol and the Mexico which occurred on January 2, 1837. 

The article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reveals that Oliver J. Smith, one of the crew members of which I am pretty certain was a cousin of Leander's, accused Leander of permitting gambling on the job as well as drinking and a general neglect of duties. Another man, William Raynor testified as well as to having participated in gambling activities at the Station as did Leander's own brother-in-law; Alexander Padgett. Leander plead not guilty but when questioned under oath he admitted that there was gambling and the consumption of alcohol at the Station; but he denied that the crew was ever "too drunk for duty." 

"Too drunk for duty." I am rolling my eyes and shaking my head.

Poor ole Leander was ultimately removed from the keepership of the Life-saving Station Number 31 in Freeport.  The article states it was likely that the new Captain would weed out the old crew with the hope of strengthening the service. Due to this incident, other Long Island Life-saving Stations would also undergo investigations.

The articles never revealed if any lives were ever lost due to the dereliction of duties which would have been an absolute shame and horror. I am certain that much like volunteer firefighters today, the crews of these Life-saving Stations were comprised of good-hearted men with the best of intentions to save, to rescue, those in danger. In a position, though, that is much like manning a reference desk, a lot of time is spent sitting around waiting for something to happen; waiting to be needed. And what is that saying? Idle hands are the Devil's play things. Vices take hold when waiting is your workshop.

I like to imagine, though, that Leander Losee was just that, a good-hearted, well-intentioned man who suffered from too much time on his hands and a weakness for "the drink." Through his Civil War pension records I know that alcoholism played a role in the decline of his health. 

He may have brought a shame upon his family back in 1880 but I find no shame in his admittedly human-nature now. He tried, he failed, he struggled, he suffered from himself, he soldiered on, and ultimately, like all of us will, he passed from this life. He left a legacy of service really. My relatives are helpers, ready always to lend a hand to those in need. I see volunteering and good-heartedness in the blood of my family as well as my own. And maybe there too is still a drop of the drink.

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