Thursday, September 20, 2012

Instructions and Directions to Lightkeepers

From "The Light-Houses of the United States in 1874" by Charles Nordhoff:

"There is a printed book of one hundred and fifty-two pages specially devoted to 'instructions and directions to light-keepers'.... The first article of these instructions announces the fundamental duty of the light-keeper: 'The light-house and light-vessel lamps shall be lighted, and the lights exhibited for the benefit of mariners, punctually at sunset daily. Light-house and light-vessel lights are to be kept burning brightly, free from smoke, and at their greatest attainable heights, during each entire night, form sunset to sunrise;' and it is added that 'the height of the flame must be frequently measured during each watch at night, by the scale graduated by inches and tenths of an inch, with which keepers are provided.' Finally, 'All light-house and light-vessel lights shall be extinguished punctually at sunrise, and every thing put in order for lighting in the evening by ten o'clock A.M. daily."

Ocracoke Light

Keeper Enoch Ellis Howard & his Wife Cordelia 

Just the basics of more than 150 pages of instructions for lighthouse keepers.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of midwifery on Ocracoke. You can read it here:


  1. Today's and yesterday's posts, as always... Top. Notch. I sent an e-mail to the info@. Acct. did you receive it? Reply back there if you get a chance, I know you're busy.

  2. Anonymous11:29 AM

    Were lighthouse keepers hazed? Was there a pecking order in the distribution of assignments. Was one lighthouse location deemed better then others and sought after? Were lighthouse keepers deemed unfit if a ship wrecked on their watch? Answers will be appreciated.

  3. I have never heard of any hazing in the Lighthouse Service. Lighthouse keeper was a prestigious position, and keepers were generally well respected in their communities, although some lighthouses were located far offshore and their keepers were extremely isolated. According to another paragraph in the 1874 article quoted in this post "The present pay of light-house keepers varies according to the importance of the light and the responsibility put upon the keeper." The average salary was $600 per annum, with a range of $350 to $1000.

    I can't imagine that a keeper would be deemed unfit if a wreck occurred unless he had neglected to keep the light burning, or was otherwise negligent (e.g. if the lantern glass were so dirty that the light was diminished).