At the age of 27, Ida Lewis, the petite keeper of Newport’s Lime Rock Light was already recognized internationally for her bravery and strength in numerous solo rescues of capsized boats in Newport Harbor.
Following her father’s illness and death she had assumed his responsibilities for the lighthouse and became noted for many rescues in the harbor. One of her most notable was the rescue of two soldiers from Fort Adams whose rowboat had capsized in a snowy gale. Without even a coat she brought them to safety in her tiny boat.
In recognition of her bravery, the people of Newport endeavored to raise the money and honor her with a new skiff at a time when it was considered unfeminine for women to row.
The commission went to Thomas Dring Stoddard, a well-known catboat builder on Newport’s Long Wharf. The new pulling boat, Rescue, is a Whitehall design, clinker-built, and copper riveted. It is 13 feet 10 inches overall with a beam of 4 feet 3 inches. Said to have cost more than $250, it was presented to Lewis by then Rhode Island Governor Seth Padelford and the people of Newport on July 4, 1869.
Courtesy Newport Historical Society
Small in stature, Lewis was renowned for her strength and bravery in countless rescues in her tiny skiff.
It is not known whether or not Lewis ever rescued anyone with the new boat whose lines made for a tender hull, but it is likely that Rescue is the boat that Lewis rowed across the harbor to meet President Ulysses S. Grant in August 1869.
Rescue remained at Lime Rock for 43 years. Lewis died of a stroke at the age of 69 and her estate gave Rescue to the Newport Historical Society in 1912. The boat remained there until the 1980s when it was loaned to Newport’s Museum of Yachting until 2007. Since then the boat has been in storage.
In 1928 the Lime Rock Light was decommissioned and became home to the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. In 2012 the club signed an agreement with the Newport Historical Society to preserve Rescue as an important part of Newport history and through the efforts of the club’s preservation committee is currently reviewing options for the skiff’s protection, preservation, and eventual future display.