Beavertail Lighthouse Records Discovered In US. Archives
During a search
at the US National Archives Center in Waltham, MA, this past August, a trove of
various records kept by Light Keepers who manned Beavertail Light Station were
The Department of Commerce, Lighthouse Service who operated all the nations light
stations prior to the US Coast Guard required Keepers and their Assistants to
maintain detailed daily records of every aspect of their duties. These Logs and
Journals eventually found their way into the National Archives. The Beavertail
records are only partially available at the New England Center. Others may be
stored in the National Archives center in College Park, MD.
Four series of Journals were found dating back to 1880 in addition to US Coast
Guard inpection records dated during the 1950s. One of the early Journals included
Passing Vessel Logs where the Light Station Keepers had to enter the
date and type of any vessel (Full Rigged Ship, Bar, Brig, Schooner, Sloop or Steamer)
that passed in sight of the lighthouse. As an example on 10 August 1881 a total
of 56 vessels were logged.
Keepers and Assistants were not allowed to leave the light station site at any
time without entering their name, time they left and the time of return to the
site. The Journal was called an "Absences Report", "to get provisions",
"to get haircut", "to go to church", "to get some clams",
"to get the mail", "to get fresh milk", "to buy new shoes",
"to get a pane of glass".
A more detailed log was also required to identify the daily consumption of lamp
oil, wicks and chimneys used in the light lens lamp. The 1888 log book meticulously
lists the exact minute of each day the light was lit and number of hours and minutes
it remained lighted. In addition, an oil consumption rate for each day also had
to be included, when wicks were trimmed or replaced. The log of December 1888
shows a total of 26 gallons of oil consumed during the month in the lamp of the
Third Order Fresnel Lens and an additional 3 gallons of oil used in the quarters
for illumination. The June 1887 log sheet graphically shows the reduction of oil
use since the summer darkness hours were much less.
Site inspections were conducted unannounced. After 1929 the USCG took control
of the Beavertail light station and continued detailed checks of the condition
of the light station. Its supplies and unit quantities of tools and spare parts
were examined against the allowance tables established by the USCG. Interestingly,
the February 11, 1952 report shows the inclusion of two Standby Illuminant lamps,
one incandescent and one oil-vaporized in case the main light malfunctioned.
Fog signal records cover the period of 1882 through 1914 show the various signals
that were tested or deployed including sirens and steam whistles. Inspection reports
cover the period of 1914 to 1945. Mysteriously, there are no entries or weather
reports during the month of September 1938, the year of the famous 38 Hurricane.
The logs and Journals at the New England Archives Center were not complete. Only
a few of each type are on file. The Center does allow archives to be researched
after application to use the records is approved. Copies of pages can be reproduced
but they do not allow any of their records to be loaned to leave the archive repository.
Varoujan Karentz and his daughter Deneb who visited the Archives Center and researched
the file did make sample page copies from the Beavertail Journals and logs. They
in turn will be copied to a computer disk for use in the museum at some future
Speaker, Paul J. Perkins
The Wreck of H.F. Payton
and its cargo of Granite Stones
On March 3, 1859,
our speaker began, the H.F. Payton went ashore at Beavertail Point, during a blinding
snow storm, strewing its wreckage and its cargo of 140 cut granite stones, along
the east shore of Beavertail, located at the southern end of Conanicut Island,
Jamestown, Rhode Island.
Up until the 1950s, much of Beavertail Point was US Government property and closed
off to the public. Even long time residents of Jamestown, knew very little about
Research at the Jamestown Historical Society revealed little more than the ship
was heading for Washington D.C. perhaps for a specific building.
Mr. Perkins told us that the captain of the Payton was Asa Whelden Nickerson,
born in 1823 in South Dennis, MA and that he had spoken with people with the same
last name, possible descendants in the area, hoping to add to his knowledge. He
searched libraries and several coastal town records looking for the ships logs
and provided a slide show of various points of interest.
He then, turned his attention to the rocks themselves and became deeply interested
in the Fleur-de-Lis designs engraved on them. He noted many different versions
of those designs and after much research came to the conclusion that because of
the particular design of the Fleur-d-Lis on the stones, they were likely intended
to be used for a mausoleum in the D.C. area. His research established that the
stones probably came from the Cape Ann and Chelmsford MA area, which was somewhat
substantiated by the fact that 22 ships chronometers were also a part of the cargo,
and believed to have come from Chelsea, Mass. Mr. Perkins told us of his search
through many and varied sources, hoping to uncover the answer to the mystery of
the Granite Rocks of Beavertail, and learned quite a bit. The sea has, so far,
refused to give up its mysteries, but perhaps the book has not yet been closed
on the Beavertail Rocks.