U.S. Coast Guard Celebrates 225th Birthday

According to Acting U.S. Coast Guard Historian Scott Price, the U.S. Coast Guard considers August 4th, the date the U.S. Revenue Marine Service was created in 1790, as their official birthday not the January 28 date when their name was changed in 1915 (see Scott’s January 28 blog). The U.S. Coast Guard acquired its new name when the federal government combined the U.S. Life-Saving Service with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. Originally called the U.S. Revenue Marine Service, this early “U.S. navy” was “tasked with coastal surveys and exploration, saving life and property at sea, defending United States territorial waters, enforcing …

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Lighthouse Keeper Records Prison Riot at Alcatraz

Harry Davis became keeper of Alcatraz Lighthouse, marking the entrance to San Francisco Bay, in 1938. I was recently copying his logs in the National Archives as part of a research project for the U.S. Lighthouse Society. Davis’s log followed the two-page-for-every-month format, devoting one or two lines to each day’s weather and activities. He and his three assistants spent most of their time maintaining the property and the two fog signals. Then the format changed for May 1946 with a narrative written across two pages: May 2: 1430 hrs. Convicts on the loose with submachine gun, entire prison held at bay. Shooting …

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Maritime Heritage Grants Available – Apply NOW!

Maritime organizations received over $2.6 million from the 2014 National Maritime Heritage Grants cycle. (See recipient list.) The National Park Service is currently accepting proposals for another $1.7 million in funding. Education projects can request $15,000 to $50,000 and preservation projects can request $50,000 to $200,000. A one-to-one match from non-Federal sources is required. Federal entities cannot apply but their partners or friends groups can. I recently spoke with NPS maritime historian Anna Holloway who is overseeing the current grants program. She encouraged everyone to start the grants process early. The application requires that you use the federal grants website and apparently it …

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Lighthouse Author Writes About Civil War

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 …

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Alexander Hamilton and Lighthouses

While working in my digital research library, I recently revisited several letters written by the Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton. As you know, the Secretary of Treasury oversaw lighthouses in the early years of the new republic, with frequent oversight from President Washington. These letters were written to Benjamin Lincoln, the first customs collector in Boston, who, as the letters indicate, became the first superintendent of lighthouses for the state of Massachusetts. Copied from Record Group 26 during a 2001 visit to the Boston Regional Branch of the National Archives, the first letter is dated March 10, 1790, and the second July 14, …

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U.S. Revenue Cutter Service/U.S. Coast Guard Celebrate 225th Anniversary

As most of you know the U.S. Coast Guard is an amalgamation of five agencies–the Revenue Cutter Service, the Life-Saving Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, and the Bureau of Navigation. Established as the Revenue-Marine Service in the Department of the Treasury under Secretary Alexander Hamilton on August 4, 1790, the Revenue Cutter Service collected taxes and tariffs, enforced maritime laws, and suppressed piracy. The Revenue Cutter Service also frequently worked with the early Lighthouse Establishment. Before acquiring vessels to tend lighthouses and other aids to navigation (primarily buoys) the Lighthouse Establishment often relied on revenue cutters to assist them in …

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Los Angeles Lighthouses

I recently attended the Council of American Maritime Museums conference hosted by the Los Angeles Maritime Museum. Upon arrival in Los Angeles I went directly from the airport to the Point Fermin Lighthouse, where historic site manager Kristen Heather gave me a delightful tour. The visit was especially meaningful because the first keepers of Point Fermin Light, when it was established in 1874, were sisters Ella and Mary Smith. Although I realize these women had challenges living in such a remote location, I think it would have been a rather plum assignment when compared to many other light stations of that …

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Researching Lighthouse Keepers

I receive a number of queries about researching lighthouse keepers so I’d like to devote a post to some of the resources available in the National Archives. Since it’s still Women’s History Month, I will illustrate this piece with records used in creating Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers. (Please note that you can click the images to enlarge them for easier reading.) Unless noted, all of these records are located at the downtown Washington, D.C. facility. Registers of Keepers It is fairly easy to compile lists of keepers for lighthouses between 1848 to 1912 by using …

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Ice and Lighthouses

On February 11,1936, H.D. King, Commissioner of Lighthouses, wrote the Secretary of Commerce: The extremely critical conditions due to prolonged and severe cold and resulting ice conditions along the North Atlantic seaboard have placed in serious jeopardy many aids to navigation, both fixed and floating, particularly in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries . . .  King goes on to mention that the Janes Island Lighthouse, near Crisfield, Maryland was destroyed; however, the keepers had previously abandoned the station for their safety. Personnel were evacuated from Tangier Island, Point No Point, Ragged Point, Tue Marshes, Love Point, and York Spit Lighthouses. …

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