Wednesday, September 05, 2018


The first lighthouse erected to protect shipping in Ocracoke Inlet (it was built on a small shell island between Ocracoke and Portsmouth) was not illuminated until 1803. When the channel shifted this lighthouse became ineffective for navigation. On May 15, 1820, funds were appropriated to station a light ship in Ocracoke Inlet. This also proved inadequate for its purposes, and after two more years $20,000 was approved for the construction of the present Ocracoke Lighthouse which was built in 1823.

Recently I discovered that another lightvessel was stationed in Ocracoke Inlet, between 1852 and 1859.  It was anchored about 300 yards off the south end of Ocracoke Island. During her years in service, this ship was referred to exclusively by her station name. In 1938 the lightship was retroactively assigned the designation "TT." (See

In 2016 I wrote about life aboard a lightship. This is what I wrote:

In 1891 Gustav Kobbe wrote an article for Century Magazine, titled "Life on the South Shoal Lightship." The South Shoals vessel (No. 1) was positioned 24 miles off Sankaty Head, Nantucket Island.

Kobbe wrote movingly of life aboard a lightship, a vessel "as much at the mercy of the waves as a vessel stripped of sails or deprived of motive power in mid-ocean. Even in smooth weather the motion is entirely different from that of a ship under way. For a few minutes she will lie on an even keel, and then without warning she will roll so that the water streams in through her scuppers."

Kobbe explains that "the emotional stress under which [the] crew labors can hardly be realized by any one who has not been through a similar experience. The sailor on an ordinary ship has at least the inspiration of knowing that he is bound for somewhere; that in due time his vessel will be laid on her homeward course; that storm and fog are but incidents of the voyage: he is on a ship that leaps forward full of life and energy with every lash of the tempest. But no matter how the lightship may plunge and roll, no matter  how strong the favoring gales may be, she is still anchored [on the shoal]...."

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of Mrs. Godfrey's ghost who haunts the Island Inn/Odd Fellows Lodge. The story is taken from Chapter Three of my book, Digging up Uncle Evans. You can read the account here:


  1. Anonymous9:01 AM

    I guess they were in no mood to weave baskets. The famous Nantucket Lightship baskets woven by sailors aboard a light ship are very collectible from what I understand. It was in the sixties , the wife of some guy said "put a Lid on it," and presto change-o a handbag; original versions once again, very pricey.

  2. Anonymous12:38 PM

    The lights on all of these lightships and old lighthouses; I was just wondering what ever happened to them. There must not have been much value placed on them at the time. Or maybe there was. If so it would be great if there were records indicating where they were stored or perhaps reused somewhere.....those would be a wonderful find! thanks Philip for another interesting story.