John Maxson crouched low over the reloaded mortar. Shoving the blowing sand and snow away, he carefully repositioned the artillery piece for a second shot. The northeast gale had carried Maxson's first shot to leeward of his target, the English bark Aryshire. Squinting through the heavy weather, Maxson adjusted his aim to the left. Satisfied, he touched the glowing end of a slow match to the mortar's vent and ducked aside as a bright flash erupted from the muzzle simultaneously with its report. A 4??-inch iron ball arced toward the ship. The shot fell true.
Maxson's actions on the stormy night of 11-12 January 1850 were not designed to sink the ship but rather to save her passengers and crew. As fate would have it, he was leading the first shipwreck rescue originating from a U.S. government lifesaving station. Stranded in heavy surf about 200 yards off Squan Beach, New Jersey, the Ayrshire was crowded with 202 people, mostly Scottish and Irish immigrants. Their lives depended on the efforts of Maxson and his volunteer rescuers.