Friday, February 07, 2014

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

The following paragraph is from the history page of

"In 1773 a teenager named Alexander Hamilton was a passenger on a ship that nearly sank off Cape Hatteras, and he experienced first hand the danger of the cape’s dreaded Diamond Shoals. Seventeen years later, when Hamilton was the second-ranking member of George Washington’s cabinet, he still heard terrifying tales of shipwrecks at Cape Hatteras. In 1789 Hamilton, who is reputedly the one who coined the moniker “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” urged Congress to investigate the possibility of establishing a lighthouse on the Hatteras Sand Banks. The lighthouse wasn’t authorized until 1794, and it wasn’t constructed until 1802. Mariners were not impressed with the lighthouse, which they said was not sufficiently bright or reliable."

In 1868 Congress appropriated funds to construct a new lighthouse at Cape Hatteras. The new beacon, with the iconic black & white spiral design, was first lighted in 1871.

Image by Henry Hartley

In 1872 the original lighthouse was demolished.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is an account of the 2013 Portsmouth Island Christmas Bird Count. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous9:33 AM

    This urban legend has been perpetuated for more than 50 years that the first lighthouse on Cape Hatteras had been the idea of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, ever since he had been a teenager. The story goes that Hamilton conceived the lighthouse following a near-death experience when his ship, Thunderbolt, caught fire and nearly foundered off Hatteras. Hamilton scholars today, including Yale historian, Joanne Freeman, author of Hamilton Writings, have found no evidence of the Hatteras accident. The myth seems to have originated with Ben Dixon MacNeil who began his book, The Hatterasman, by admitting that he was not a historian and his book was not a history, yet successive writers have perpetuated his fantasy as fact. Hamilton did not initiate the idea for a lighthouse at the Cape, but without question, he paid for it.

    The 1803 lighthouse was so poor that one mariner recommended tearing it down because, as he wrote, "we're more likely to run aground looking for it."

    Kevin Duffus
    author, "The Lost Light"

  2. Anonymous3:53 AM

    The Hatteras Guide sounds as if an intern for a summer penned this ditty. and thanks to the decade of the internet Anything goes (undocumented or footnoted)

  3. Anonymous4:04 AM

    Perhaps the American Lighthouse Federation can illuminate us on this subject and don't forget to mark your calendar on August 7th National hug your Lighthouse Day

  4. Anonymous4:42 AM

    Please see the webpage from the government archives that refers to obtaining the land for erecting a lighthouse on Cape Hatteras at this URL:


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