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Celebrating Boston Light’s 300th Anniversary

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Boston Light in 2002. Photo by Candace Clifford

As most of you in the lighthouse community know–September 14, 2016, is the 300th anniversary of the establishment of Boston Light on Little Brewster Island. I’m delighted the anniversary is receiving so much media attention. Sally Snowman, Boston Light’s official civilian keeper, has become a celebrity. For those of you who missed it, here is a link to the recent CBS News feature that highlights Sally. For those of you who follow the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s Facebook page, there was an abundance of information to share. (Full disclosure – I now maintain that page.)

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Sally Snowman (second from right) and her husband Jim Thomson (far right) served in the USCG Auxiliary when I toured the light station in 2002

In looking at my own archives for Boston Light, I found an interesting February 1939 article in the Lighthouse Service Bulletin (Vol. 5, No. 38). The article reprints portions of the July 20, 1715, Act “for building and maintaining a lighthouse upon Great Brewster (called Beacon Island) at the entrance of the Harbour of Boston.”

Whereas the want of a lighthouse at the entrance of the harbour of Boston hath been a great discouragement to navigation by the loss of lives and estates of several of his majesty’s subjects; for preservation thereof–

Be it enacted by His Excellency the Governor, Council and Representatives in General Court  Assembled, and by the authority of the same.

[Sec. 1] That there be a lighthouse erected at the charge of the province, on the southernmost part of the Great Brewster, called Beacon Island, to be kept lighted from sun setting to sun rising.

[Sec. 2] That from and after the building of said lighthouse, and kindling a light in it, usefull for shipping coming into or going out of the harbour of Boston, or any other harbour within Massachusetts Bay there shall be paid to the receiver of impost, by the master of all ships and vessells, except coasters, the duty of one penny per tun, outwards, and no more, for every tun of the burthen of the said vessell, before they load or unload the goods therein. . . .

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Image of first tower at Boston Light reproduced in the 1884 Annual Report of the Light-House Board

The Act goes on to direct that a keeper be hired “to diligently attend his Duty at all Times in kindling the Lights from Sun-setting to Sun-rising and placing them so as they may be  most seen by Vessels coming in or out.”

According to the Bulletin article, “The act of Colonial Legislature was the culmination of a discussion which had been going on for some little time, for as early as 1713 the merchants of Boston had laid before the same General Court proposing the building of a lighthouse at the harbor entrance.”

The Boston Light was originally lit with candles. Fire was reported to have damaged the tower in 1720 and 1751. The wooden lantern was subsequently replaced with a metal one. The tower was burned and later blown up during the Revolutionary War, leaving the area dark for the next seven years. The tower was replaced in 1783, and Snowman reports, in her new book on Boston Light, that there is evidence of the earlier tower in the current tower’s foundation. Although modified, the 1783 tower still serves as an active aid to navigation.

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There were USCG personnel still living on the island when I visited in 2002. I believe, the man in the full blue uniform, the park ranger, and the duck were all from off island. Photo by Candace Clifford

Boston Light is now part of the Boston Islands National Recreation Area. Tours are offered every weekend from late June through early October.

The U.S. Lighthouse Society has partnered with Lands End, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard to rehabilitate the boathouse.  A video about this project can found on the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s website.

The current issue of The Keeper’s Log features Boston Light. I contributed some letters from the National Archives to illustrate the station’s early history. As you many of you know, I am now the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s historian. I haven’t figured out how to “blog” on their website but I would love to bring these posts to a wider audience and perhaps have some you, my colleagues in the lighthouse community, contribute pieces on various aspects of lighthouse history and preservation once in a while. I’ll keep you “posted”!

Submitted by Candace Clifford, September 14, 2016

 

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Lighthouse Author Writes About Civil War

Almon Beneway changed his name to Albert Walton so that his mother could not pursue him and make him return home.

Almon Beneway changed his name to Albert Walton so that his mother could not find him and make him return home.

Mary Louise Clifford is best known in lighthouse circles for writing Women Who Kept the Lights; however she has written other books on a wide range of topics. Most recently she published a book on her grandfather, who at 14 ran away from home to serve as a drummer boy, was later captured at the Battle of Chickamauga, and served out the war in various prison camps.

According to Clifford, this writing project started some eighty years ago:

As a child I listened to my father tell what he remembered of his father’s war stories. Years later my army husband obtained Almon’s Military Service Record and Civil War medal. In the 1970s I tried to trace his childhood on microfiches of the 1850 and 1860 census, without success. I did obtain the history of his regiment from the Virginia State Library, and found there the story of Almon’s enlistment.

First page of Albert Walton's compiled military service record from the National Archives

First page of Albert Walton’s compiled military service record from the National Archives

The censuses are now online, and my professional researcher daughter began bringing me not only the census records, but pages from city directories, marriage license registers, newspapers, etc. with my grandfather’s name listed. She took me to the National Archives and introduced me to the Military Service and Pension Records, and, using the regimental history rosters, I began hunting through the members of Almon’s company and regiment who were either wounded or captured at Chickamauga. When I found a letter written by my grandfather in one of the folders, I knew it was time to sit down and start the book.

Then I found a second-cousin-once-removed who is the custodian of some of Almon’s memorabilia, including a 24-page hand-written memoir of his Civil War experiences that he didtated to his daughter. It deals mainly with those months he spent as a prisoner of war.

I was aided enormously by an 1879 book by John McElroy, who was imprisoned in the same four Confederate prisons as Almon and described his experiences in very vivid prose. Even more useful was a journal written by a member of Al’s regiment, William Bluffton Miller, published in 2005, for it told the day-to-day activities of the regiment as it marched from Louisville to Chickamauga.

Putting all these bits and pieces together has been challenging and enormously satisfying.

The book is intended for high school age readers but has appealed to many adult Civil War enthusiasts. Autographed copies are available for $19.17 ($15.95 plus $3.22 media mail) to those ordering directly from the publisher through their ordering website. For more information visit the book’s website.

The USLHS web site redesign goes online, with grant program

American Lighthouse Council

After months of hard work by a U.S. Lighthouse Society design team, the new USLHS web site went live late yesterday. You owe it to yourself to check it out, because it’s as comprehensive a lighthouse site as we’re likely to see. And, it’s important to note, it also rolls out the USLHS preservation grants program.

It’s at http://www.uslhs.org , the same address as the old site design it replaces.

As a board member and one of the beta testers, I had a glimpse of just how much work went into this revamping of the Society’s internet presence. That workload was amazing, and the site reflects that.

The grants program accessed through the site will start out modestly and build as the fund behind it grows and more investment interest is available for distribution. But if you have a project in need of funding this season, check this out —…

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