History Keepers

The story of lighthouse keepers is a vitally important element of the history of any lighthouse, whether it is the civilian keepers of the United States Lighthouse Establishment/Service or, since 1939, the keepers of the United States Coast Guard. Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse was manned until 1986, when it became the last lighthouse in the Chesapeake Bay to be automated. For one-hundred and eleven years of its existence, its keepers “kept the light”. To our knowledge, Thomas Point was always a “stag” lighthouse – no married couples and no children lived at the lighthouse. Many of its keepers were unmarried at the time they served on the lighthouse.

In the very earliest years, Thomas Point had a Principal Keeper, a 1st Assistant and a 2nd Assistant that manned the lighthouse. By the early 1880s, it was down to the Principal and 1st Assistant. During the Coast Guard era, there were often at least three and sometimes even four “Coasties” manning the lighthouse at any given time. Each keeper, whether civilian or “Coastie” would typically spend three weeks on the lighthouse before being able to spend one week ashore. You had to be able to get along with others for long stretches of time and had to be able to keep your body and your mind engaged and entertained when you were not working, since there was nowhere to even go for a walk. Reading and fishing were the primary pastimes.

We have assembled the attached list of keepers from information available from the National Archives and from the U.S. Coast Guard. We have heard from many Coast Guard keepers and from descendants of U.S. Lighthouse Service keepers, and it is very rewarding to hear about their lives, or the lives of their ancestors, at Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse. We are always looking to make more connections and learn more about the human element of the lighthouse, so please contact us if you are a former keeper or the descendant of one. We would be glad to take you for a complimentary visit to the lighthouse to show you what we’ve done with it. Please contact us at hblr@cox.net and sandy@clunies.net.