Peter Tufts House, Medford, Massachusetts (2)

The Peter Tufts House at 350 Riverside Avenue in Medford, around 1895-1905. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The house in 2021:

As explained in more detail in the previous post, this house was built around 1677-1680 as the home of Peter Tufts Jr. and his wife Elizabeth. It has an unusual style for 17th century New England homes, as it is built of brick rather than wood, and it has features such as a gambrel roof and end chimneys that did not become common in the region until the 1700s. It was later altered with the addition of dormer windows, and the interior was extensively renovated in 1890, leaving very little original material aside from the frame and the staircase.

The first photo shows the appearance of the house around the turn of the 20th century. Since then, it has undergone a few other changes, most significantly the addition of a small porch at the front door, as shown in the second photo. Overall, though, the house stands as an important colonial-era landmark. It is one of the oldest surviving brick houses in the United States, along with being one of the earliest known examples of a gambrel roof. For many years it was owned by several different preservation organizations, including the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities and the Medford Historical Society & Museum. It is now privately owned, although it continues to be subject to deed restrictions that protect its exterior and interior appearances.

Peter Tufts House, Medford, Massachusetts

The Peter Tufts House at 350 Riverside Avenue in Medford, around 1895-1905. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The house in 2021:

When the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, this house was mistakenly identified as the Cradock House, based on the belief that it had been built in 1634 by Matthew Cradock, one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Company. This would have made it one of the oldest surviving houses in New England, but subsequent research showed that it was actually built several decades later, around 1677-1680. Although not as old as it was once assumed to be, it is nonetheless a very early New England house, and it stands as one of the oldest surviving brick houses in the United States and one of the earliest examples of a gambrel roof.

This house was built by Peter Tufts Sr. (c.1617-1700) for his son, Peter Tufts Jr. (1648-1721). At the time, the younger Peter was married to his first wife Elizabeth (1650-1684), and they had several young children. They would have a total of five children together before Elizabeth’s death in 1684, and he remarried six months later to Mercy Cotton (1666-1715). She was from a prominent family; her paternal grandfather was the famous Boston minister John Mather, and her cousin was Cotton Mather. On her mother’s side, her grandfather was Governor Simon Bradstreet, and her grandmother was Anne Bradstreet, the first published poet in British North America. Mercy and Peter had 13 children who were born between 1686 and 1709, although seven of them died in infancy.

The architecture of this house is unusual for 17th century New England. Houses of this period tended to be built of wood, and typically had central chimneys rather than the chimneys on either end of the house. The gambrel roof was also unusual for this time period, and would not become common in New England until the rise of Georgian architecture in the mid-1700s. Another distinctive feature of the house is its window arrangement, which includes small oval windows here on the front facade and also on the sides of the house.

By the time the first photo was taken, the house was over 200 years old, and it had undergone some exterior changes, including the addition of dormer windows. However, there were even more drastic changes on the interior, which occurred after an 1890 renovation. In the process, almost the entire interior was gutted, leaving only the beams and the staircase from the original structure. Another change, which occurred shortly after the first photo was taken, was the addition of a small porch at the front door, as shown in the second photo.

In the years since the first photo was taken, the city of Medford has grown up around the house. When the first photo was taken, the house was situated on a fairly large lot at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Spring Street. However, most of this property was later subdivided, leaving just a small parcel for the old house. Because it was built long before the modern street network was laid out, the house sits at an odd angle relative to the street and the adjacent houses. Its front facade faces due south, while its neighbors generally face south-southwest.

During the 20th century, the Peter Tufts House was owned by several different preservation organizations. In 1930 it was acquired by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, which later became Historic New England. The house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968, and then in 1982 it was purchased by the Medford Historical Society & Museum, which rented it to resident caretakers. However, by the early 2000s it was in need of significant work that was beyond the capacity of the historical society. As a result, in 2017 it was sold to a private owner, although it continues to be protected by deed restrictions placed on it by Historic New England, which limit the kinds of exterior and interior changes that can be made to the house.

Levi Lincoln Jr. House, Worcester, Massachusetts

The former home of Governor Levi Lincoln Jr. on Elm Street in Worcester, around 1895. Image from Picturesque Worcester (1895).

The scene in 2021:

The house, now located in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, in 2021:

The house in the first photo was built in 1836 as the home of Levi Lincoln Jr., who served as governor of Massachusetts from 1825 to 1834. His nine years in office is still a record for the longest consecutive governorship in the history of the state, and it occurred at a time when governors were elected annually, meaning that he won nine consecutive elections. He came from a prominent political family; his father, Levi Lincoln Sr., served as U.S. Attorney General under Thomas Jefferson and later as lieutenant governor and acting governor of Massachusetts, and his brother Enoch was a congressman who subsequently served as governor of Maine. He was also much more distantly related to Abraham Lincoln, who was his fourth cousin once removed.

Lincoln built this Greek Revival house shortly after the end of his final term as governor. By this point he was serving in Congress, where he represented the 5th Massachusetts district from 1834 to 1841. He would later serve as collector of the port of Boston, and then as a state senator, before concluding his time in elected office as the first mayor of Worcester, from 1848 to 1849. However, he would remain active in politics over the next few decades, including serving as a presidential elector in 1864, when he cast his vote for his distant cousin Abraham Lincoln.

The 1864 election would not be the first time that Levi Lincoln would cross paths with his more famous cousin. The first time that the two men met was in Worcester in 1848, when the future president visited Massachusetts while campaigning for Whig presidential candidate Zachary Taylor. At the time, Abraham Lincoln was not a particularly noteworthy political figure. While Levi Lincoln came from a well-connected family, Abraham had a much more modest background. When he arrived in Worcester in September 1848, he was a small town lawyer from Illinois who was in the midst of his only term in Congress, and it would be another decade before he would begin to gain significant national attention for his speeches and debates.

Abraham Lincoln came to Worcester for the Whig state convention, and while here he delivered a speech at city hall in support of Zachary Taylor. Although Taylor was a southern slave owner, he was opposed to the expansion of slavery into newly-acquired territory. Here in Massachusetts, many Whigs were inclined to support the newly-formed Free Soil Party, which took a stronger stance against slavery. However, the Free Soil Party’s candidate, former President Martin Van Buren, had no chance of carrying the election, so in his speech Lincoln argued that a vote for Van Buren would effectively just be a vote for Democrat Lewis Cass, who supported the expansion of slavery. Instead, Lincoln believed that it was best to vote for Taylor, who had a realistic chance of winning and who shared many of the same beliefs as the Free Soilers when it came to limiting the spread of slavery.

On the same night that Lincoln delivered this speech, he was invited to dine here at Levi Lincoln’s house on Elm Street. The dinner included a number of other dignitaries, among them Henry Gardner, who would later serve as governor. He recalled the events of that evening many years later, as quoted by Abraham Lincoln’s former law partner, William Henry Herndon, in his biography Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life:

Gov. Levi Lincoln, the oldest living Ex-Governor of Massachusetts, resided in Worcester. He was a man of culture and wealth; lived in one of the finest houses in that town, and was a fine specimen of a gentleman of the old school. It was his custom to give a dinner party when any distinguished assemblage took place in Worcester, and to invite its prominent participants. He invited to dine, on this occasion, a company of gentlemen, among them myself, who was a delegate from Boston. The dining-room and table arrangements were superb, the dinner exquisite, the wines abundant, rare, and of the first quality.

I well remember the jokes between Governor Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln as to their presumed relationship. At last the latter said: “I hope we both belong, as the Scotch say, to the same clan; but I know one thing, and that is, that we are both good Whigs.”

Gardner later went on to describe how, in 1861, he visited Abraham Lincoln in the White House. During this visit, the president remembered the dinner in Worcester, and according to Gardner, Lincoln told him:

You and I are no strangers; we dined together at Governor Lincoln’s in 1848. . . . I had been chosen to Congress then from the wild West, and with hayseed in my hair I went to Massachusetts, the most cultured State in the Union, to take a few lessons in deportment. That was a grand dinner—a superb dinner; by far the finest I ever saw in my life. And the great men who were there, too! Why, I can tell you just how they were arranged at table.

In the meantime, Levi Lincoln continued to live here in this house on Elm Street throughout Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, and he died here in 1868, at the age of 85. The 1860 census, the last federal census to be taken during his lifetime, shows him living here with three generations of Penelopes: his wife, their widowed daughter Penelope Canfield, and her 14-year-old daughter, who was also named Penelope. The family also had two live-in domestic servants, Mary Johnson and Angeline Rich, along with a coachman, Philip O’Conell. Five years later, the same people were living here during the 1865 state census, with the exception of a different coachman, Patrick Harmon.

This house was later owned by Levi Lincoln’s son, Daniel Waldo Lincoln, who was living here during the 1880 census with his wife Frances and two servants. He was an accomplished horticulturalist, but he was also involved in politics, serving as mayor of Worcester from 1863 to 1866. In addition, he was the vice president of the Boston and Albany Railroad for many years, and he became president of the company in 1878. However, he had a relatively short tenure as president, because he was killed in a railroad accident in 1880. He had been in New London for the Harvard-Yale Regatta, and was watching the race from the platform of an observation car on a train. At one point during the race, a mishap caused Lincoln and another spectator to be thrown from the car and onto the tracks, where they were both fatally crushed by the wheels.

The house was subsequently inherited by his son, Waldo Lincoln, who would live here for the rest of his life. Waldo was involved in several different manufacturing companies, but he retired from active business at a relatively young age and spent much of his life as a historian and genealogist. For many years he served as president of the American Antiquarian Society, which is headquartered in Worcester, and he also researched and wrote about a wide variety of topics, with publications ranging from family genealogies to a history of American cookbooks, to a history of newspapers in Bermuda.

Waldo Lincoln was living here when the first photo was taken around the 1890s, and the 1900 census shows him here with his wife Fanny, their five children who ranged in age from 10 to 25, and two servants. By 1920, the household had grown even more, and the Waldos were living here with their daughter Josephine, her husband Frank Dresser, their four young children, and four servants.

Frank Dresser died in 1924, but the rest of the family was still living here in 1930, with the exception of Fanny Lincoln. That year’s census lists her as being a patient at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Belmont. She appears to have eventually returned to Worcester, though, because her 1939 obituary indicates that she died here at her Elm Street home at the age of 87. In the meantime, her husband Waldo Lincoln died here in 1933 at the age of 83.

Their daughter, Josephine Dresser, continued to live here until as late as 1950, but by this point the location of the old house was being eyed for commercial development. It was acquired by the Worcester Mutual Fire Insurance Company in the early 1950s, in order to build a new office building on the site. However, rather than demolish the historic house, the company offered it to Old Sturbridge Village. The house was moved and reassembled there in 1952, although it was not placed in the village itself. Such a large mansion would have been vastly out of place in the recreated rural village, so it was instead rebuilt at the entrance to the village on Route 20. It has stood there ever since, as shown in the third photo, and over the years it has been occupied by a variety of commercial tenants.

Isaiah Thomas House, Worcester, Massachusetts

The former home of newspaper publisher Isaiah Thomas, seen from Court Street in Worcester, Massachusetts, around 1895. Image from Picturesque Worcester (1895).

The scene in 2021:

The house in the right-center of first photo was built around 1782 as the home of Isaiah Thomas, the prominent printer and newspaper publisher of the Revolutionary era. It was originally located on Main Street, where the former Worcester County Courthouse now stands, but it was moved back from the road around 1843, in order to make way for the construction of the courthouse.

Isaiah Thomas was born in Boston in 1749, and he trained to become a printer. In 1770, at the age of 21, he started the Massachusetts Spy, which would become one of the most influential newspapers in New England in the years leading up to the American Revolution. Thomas actively promoted the patriot cause in his newspapers, to the point where he fled Boston three days before the Battles of Lexington and Concord, after hearing that he was likely to be arrested. He took his printing press with him and ended up in Worcester, where he continued publishing the Spy.

According to tradition, Thomas had the distinction of being the first person to publicly read the Declaration of Independence, when he obtained a copy of it from a messenger heading from Philadelphia to Boston. This is said to have occurred on the steps of Old South Church in Worcester, on July 14, 1776, although it does not seem to be corroborated by contemporary accounts. Either way, though, Thomas was definitely the first person to publish the Declaration in Massachusetts, when the text of it appeared on the front page of the Spy on July 17.

Near the end of the American Revolution, around 1782, Isaiah Thomas built the house that is shown here in the first photo. Aside from the fact that it was originally located on Main Street, it was also much smaller when it was first completed. It consisted of just the central part of the building, with a square floor plan that had rooms arranged around a large chimney in the middle of the house. On the first floor was a parlor, dining room, kitchen, and bedroom, and there were five bedrooms on the second floor.

The first major expansion came in 1808, when Thomas added two-story wings to either side of the house. Part of the motivation for this was to accommodate his growing library, which would later become part of the American Antiquarian Society’s collections. Thomas founded the organization in 1812 and served as its first president, and it is still active today as the oldest national historical society in the country. For the first eight years of its existence, Thomas kept the collections here in his house, until the completion of the society’s first building in 1820.

Isaiah Thomas died in 1831, and much of his property was subsequently acquired by the county, in order to build a new courthouse. The house was moved to the rear of the lot, and the courthouse was completed in 1845. The courthouse was later expanded many times over the years, including an 1878 addition that is visible on the right side of both photos.

The house, now in its new location, then became the home of attorney Rejoice Newton, who lived here until 1851. He then sold it to carriage manufacturer Moses T. Breck, and the house would later change hands several more times in the 19th century. During this time, it saw further alterations and steadily fell into disrepair, with the interior eventually being divided into different tenements. By the 1910 census, there were five different families living in the house, with a total of 22 people here.

The house was ultimately purchased by the county and demolished in 1923. There were some who advocated for preserving the house, but this was evidently not a feasible option, perhaps because of the poor condition of the house. The county later built a large addition to the rear of the courthouse. It was completed in 1957, and it included the parcel where the house had once stood.

Today, the courthouse is still standing on the right side of the scene, including the 19th century sections and the 20th century addition behind it. However, this building was closed in 2007 after the courts moved to a new facility a few blocks south of here on the east side of Main Street, and the old building here has since been converted into residential units.

Joseph Hooker Birthplace, Hadley, Massachusetts

The birthplace of General Joseph Hooker on West Street in Hadley, Massachusetts, around the 1890s. Image from History of Hadley (1905).

The scene in 2021:

The house in the center of the first photo was likely built at some point during the 1700s, and it stood on the west side of West Street, just north of Cemetery Road. It is best remembered for having been the birthplace of General Joseph Hooker, who was born here on November 13, 1814. Hooker’s father, who was also named Joseph, purchased the house from the Porter family in 1805, shortly before his marriage to Mary Seymour. They had four children who were born here, including Joseph and his three older sisters: Nancy, Mary, and Sarah.

The family would only live here in this house for a few more years, before selling it in 1817 and moving to a house nearby on Middle Street, where Joseph Hooker spent much of his childhood. He attended Hopkins Academy here in Hadley, and he lived with his family in several other houses on West Street before entering West Point in 1833. He graduated in 1837, and that same year his parents left Hadley and relocated to Watertown, New York.

Upon graduating from West Point, Hooker was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the army. He served throughout the Mexican-American War, and after the war he was stationed in California. In 1853, he resigned from the army and took up farming in Sonoma County in California, and from 1859 to 1861 he served as a colonel in the California state militia.

Like many of his fellow West Point peers who had entered civilian life in the 1850s, Hooker returned to the army following the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. He was appointed as brigadier general, and he served in the Peninsula Campaign, where he earned his nickname, “Fighting Joe Hooker.” The nickname originated because of an error in a newspaper dispatch that was intended to have read “Fighting – Joe Hooker Attacks Rebels.” However, perhaps because of his reputation for aggressive fighting on the battlefield, the name stuck with him.

Hooker would subsequently serve in the Second Battle of Bull Run, and at Antietam, where he was wounded early in the fighting. Then, in January 1863, President Lincoln appointed Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing General Ambrose Burnside. After the failures of both Burnside and his predecessor, George B. McClellan, Lincoln hoped that a more aggressive commander like Hooker would have greater success against Robert E. Lee. As it turned out, though, Hooker’s one major battle as commander was Chancellorsville, where he suffered a severe concussion and was ultimately defeated in one of Lee’s most decisive victories of the war.

Despite the loss, Hooker retained command of the Army of the Potomac, but he ultimately resigned in late June 1863, after a falling out between him and Lincoln. However, he remained in the army, and served with distinction in the western theater, including at the Battle of Lookout Mountain and during the Atlanta Campaign. Again, though, he had disagreements with his superiors, including General William T. Sherman, and in 1864 he was transferred to Cincinnati, where he commanded the Northern Department. He held this position until the end of the war, and he would continue to serve in the army until 1868, when he retired with the rank of major general.

Aside from his actions on the battlefield, Hooker would become the subject of an oft-repeated myth that his name was the origin of the term “hooker” for a prostitute. As the story goes, Hooker was a hard-drinking, hard-partying womanizer during the war, to the point where his prostitutes were referred to as “Hooker’s Brigade,” which became the origin of the term. In reality, while Hooker was a bachelor for most of his life including during the war, it seems unclear as to exactly what kinds of drunken debaucheries, if any, he was involved in. And, in any case, the word was being used in reference to prostitutes for at least a few decades prior to the war, although it is certainly plausible that his reputation—whether deserved or not—may have helped popularize the already-existing term.

In the meantime, Hooker’s birthplace here in Hadley changed hands several times over the course of the 19th century. His father had sold the house to John Hopkins in 1817, and it was later owned by Hiram Thayer. He died in 1854, and the house was subsequently owned by two of his sons, Ezra Thayer (1827-1895) and Chesmin Miller Thayer (1829-1882). The brothers evidently lived here together, and the 1860 census showing Ezra here with his wife Rebecca (1831-1916) and their 2-year-old son Charles (1858-1932), along with Chesmin and his wife Julia (1831-1912).

Hooker’s 1863 appointment as commander of the Army of the Potomac drew attention to the house. A February 8, 1863 article in the New York Times, which had originally appeared in the Northampton Free Press, described the house as “an old-fashioned, two-story house, with the gambrel-roof so peculiar to olden times, and altogither [sic] is a fit place for the early home of genius, whether it be an embryo Poet, President, or Major-General.”

The Thayer family would continue to live here for many years. Charles seems to have been the only child of Ezra and Rebecca, and Chesmin and Julia evidently did not have any children of their own, so the size of the family remained the same in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. Hooker apparently visited his birthplace at least once after the war, but otherwise he does not seem to have had much of a connection with his old hometown in his later years. He died on Long Island in 1879, at the age of 64, and he was buried alongside his wife in Cincinnati.

Here in Hadley, Hooker’s birthplace would find itself in the spotlight in 1895, when it became the focal point for a large reunion of soldiers from the III Corps in honor of their general. The festivities were held on May 7, 1895, starting early in the morning with a parade in Northampton. The veterans, guests, and spectators then boarded a train for Hadley, and about 3,500 people gathered here on the town common, in a tent in front of Hooker’s birthplace.

Among the many distinguished speakers at the event was General Daniel Sickles, who presented the town with a portrait of Hooker. He had served with Hooker in the III Corps and two men had been friends, but Sickles was a controversial figure whose debaucheries exceeded even Hooker’s supposed reputation. Prior to the war, Sickles had become the first person in the country to successfully use the temporary insanity defense for murder, after he killed his wife’s lover, Philip Barton Key II, the son of the Star Spangled Banner author. During the war, probably his most controversial action came at the Battle of Gettysburg, when he defied orders and moved his unit into a highly exposed position, losing his right leg in the process. Despite this, his wartime service was enough to earn him the post of U.S. Minister to Spain, which he held from 1869 to 1874. There, in addition to his diplomatic work, he also had an affair with the recently-deposed Queen Isabella II, and he then married one of her attendants, Carmina Creagh.

By the time he arrived here in Hadley for the ceremony in 1895, he was 75 years old and had been estranged from his second wife for many years. Citing his poor health, his speech was moved to an earlier spot in the program of events so that he could leave early. Notwithstanding these health issues, he spoke at length about Hooker, highlighting his military accomplishments while also defending him against accusations of drunkenness. In his address he also explained how meaningful it was to visit Hooker’s birthplace, comparing it to a visit to Napoleon’s tomb. He went on to explain:

I have never been assigned to a more pleasant duty than the one which calls me here to-day. The birthplace of the most brilliant soldier given to the late war by Massachusetts has an interest for all her citizens. To the survivors of the 3d army corps this spot has peculiar attractions. Our loyalty to the memory of Hooker is a sentiment in which affection and admiration are blended. His comrades loved him because he gave them confidence in themselves; because he hade them soldiers. They loved him because he was proud of them, and jealous of their honor and fame. We admired him as the intrepid brigade and division commander whose plume was always in the front of the battle. We admired his fearless bearing, his picturesque figure in the saddle, at the head of a column or in line of battle—the type of the soldier who shared every peril to which his command was exposed. We admired his thorough knowledge of his profession—from the duty of a soldier to the responsibility of a commander.

Aside from Sickles’s address, other speakers included state auditor and Civil war veteran John W. Kimball, Medal of Honor recipient General Henry E. Tremaine, and Worcester poet John Howard Jewett, who recited a poem for the event. Lunch came after the speeches, followed by other festivities here in Hadley, such as a concert, a cadet drill exercise, and a baseball game. Aging veterans relaxed in the shade and shared stories about General Hooker, and many people in the crowd visited his birthplace, which was decorated for the occasion.

At the time of the event, the house was still owned by the Thayer family, but neither of the brothers lived long enough to see it. Chesmin died in 1882 and Ezra in January 1895, only a few months before the Hooker celebration here. Their widows would continue to live here for a few more years, but the house was ultimately destroyed by a fire on April 6, 1898. The fire started around 3:00 p.m. in a barn on a neighboring property, and it soon spread to the Hooker birthplace. High winds, combined with a lack of sufficient firefighting equipment in Hadley, helped contribute to the spread of the fire, and several other barns and outbuildings were also destroyed.

Although the Hooker birthplace is gone, its location is commemorated by a large boulder that is visible in the center of the second photo. It was installed here in 1908, and it has an inscription that reads “Birth-place of / Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker / Born Nov. 13, 1814 / Erected by the D.A.R. / 1908.” Just to the left of the boulder is a much more modern house that now stands on the lot. Although built in the late 20th century, it has an exterior that—whether intentional or not—echoes the appearance of its predecessor here.

Boston Light

Boston Light on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2021:

These two photos were not taken from the exact same angle; the first one was probably taken from a boat near the island, while the second one was taken with a telephoto lens from about two miles away on Georges Island. But, they both show essentially the same view of Little Brewster Island, the site of the first lighthouse in the present-day United States and the second-oldest existing lighthouse in the country.

During the colonial era, Boston was one of the most important seaports in British North America. Boston benefited from a large natural harbor, protected from the open ocean by a number of islands and peninsulas, but these same landforms also posed hazards to ships entering and leaving the harbor. So, to protect ships and the lives of their sailors, the first lighthouse in the British colonies was constructed here on Little Brewster Island, a small outcropping near the outer edge of the harbor. It was about 60 feet tall, built of rubble masonry, and it was lit for the first time on September 14, 1716.

The occasion was noted in The Boston News-Letter three days later, with the paper describing:

Boston, By vertue of An Act of Assembly made in the First Year of His Majesty’s Reign, For Building & Maintaining a Light House upon the Great Brewster [sic] (called Beacon Island) at the Entrance of the Harbour of Boston, in order to prevent the loss of the Lives & Estates of His Majesty’s Subjects; The said Light House has been built; And on Fryday last the 14th Currant the Light was kindled, which will be very useful for all Vessels going out and coming in to the Harbour of Boston, or any other Harbours in the Massachusets-Bay, for which all Masters shall pay to the Receiver of Impost, One Peny per Ton Inwards, and another Peny Outwards, except Coasters, who are to pay Two Shillings each, at their clearing Out. And all Fishing Vessels, Wood Sloops, etc. Five Shillings each by the year.

The first lighthouse keeper was George Worthylake, but he would soon become the first American lighthouse keeper to die in the line of duty. On November 3, 1718, he was returning to the lighthouse accompanied by his wife Ann and their daughter Ruth, along with an enslaved man, a servant, and a friend of the family. They took a sloop back to the vicinity of island, then boarded a canoe to make their landing. However, the canoe capsized, and all six people drowned.

Here again, The Boston News-Letter reported the tragedy:

Boston, On Monday last the 3d Currant an awful and Lamentable Providence fell out here, Mr. George Worthylake (Master of the Light-House upon the Great Brewster (called Beacon-Island) at the Entrance of the Harbour of Boston) Anne his Wife, Ruth their Daughter, George Cutler, a Servant, Shadwell their Negro Slave, and Mr. John Edge a Passenger; being on the Lord’s Day here at Sermon, and going home in a Sloop, drop Anchor near the Landing place and all got into a little Boat or Cannoo, designing to go on Shoar, but by Accident it overwhelmed, so that they were Drowned, and all found and Interred except George Cutler.

Although the article does not mention the specific burial place, George, Ann, and Ruth were all buried in Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, beneath a triple headstone that still survives today.

Aside from this article in the News-Letter, other writers covered the event. Perhaps most famously, 12-year-old Benjamin Franklin wrote a ballad, which he titled “The Lighthouse Tragedy.” No copies of the poem are known to survive, but in his autobiography Franklin referenced this and another similar poem that he wrote about Blackbeard, observing that:

They were wretched stuff, in the Grub-street-ballad style; and when they were printed he sent me about the town to sell them. The first [the lighthouse poem] sold wonderfully, the event being recent, having made a great noise. This flattered my vanity; but my father discouraged me by ridiculing my performances, and telling me verse-makers were generally beggars. So I escaped being a poet, most probably a very bad one.

In the meantime, the lighthouse continued in operation under a new keeper, and in 1719 a cannon was installed on the island for use as a fog signal. The tower was badly damaged by a fire in 1751, but it was subsequently repaired and remained in use until the start of the American Revolution. It was ultimately destroyed by the British on July 13, 1776, following their evacuation of Boston several months earlier.

Little Brewster Island remained devoid of a lighthouse for the rest of the American Revolution, but as the war was winding down in 1783 the Massachusetts legislature authorized the funding to construct a new lighthouse here. It was completed by the end of the year, and like its predecessor it was built of rubble masonry. However, it was somewhat taller, standing 75 feet in height. This tower, with some alterations over the years, is still standing today, as shown in the two photos in this post.

The lighthouse was completed prior to the current U.S. Constitution. At the time, the national government had very limited powers, so matters such as lighthouses were the responsibility of the individual states. Under the new Constitution, though, this became a part of the role of the federal government, which took over the operation of Boston Light in 1790.

Over the years, the exterior appearance of the lighthouse changed several times. In 1809, in response to large cracks in the walls, six iron bands were installed around the tower in order to provide additional structural support. Then, in 1859 the height of the tower was increased to 89 feet, and a new second-order Fresnel lens was installed in the lantern. Also during this time, the interior of the tower was lined with brick, and a brick entryway was added to the base of the tower.

By the time the first photo was taken around 1906, the lighthouse was joined by a number of other buildings on the island. Among these were two houses for the lighthouse keepers, along with ancillary structures such as the fog signal, cistern, oil house, and boathouse. The boathouse was situated next to a pier, and it was equipped with a marine railway. At the time, the light station was staffed by a head keeper and two assistant keepers, and they often lived here with their families as well.

Although still in active use as a lighthouse, the importance of Boston Light had diminished somewhat by the time this photo was taken. Around the turn of the 20th century, most large vessels began taking a more northerly channel into Boston Harbor, bypassing the old lighthouse. To accommodate this traffic, a new lighthouse was constructed in 1905 at the Graves, a rocky ledge about three miles to the northeast of Boston Light. This new lighthouse was taller than Boston Light, and it was also equipped with a larger first-order Fresnel lens.

Despite these changes in shipping routes, Boston Light remained an important lighthouse. There were some changes here in 1939, when the U.S. Lighthouse Service was absorbed by the Coast Guard, and there were further changes during World War II, when the light was extinguished for security purposes, although it was relit after the war. Then, in the postwar era, the role of lighthouse keepers started to become redundant, and lighthouses across the country were steadily automated, which eliminated the need for light stations that were staffed full time. However, just as Boston Light was the first lighthouse in the country, it was also the last one to be automated, in 1998.

Today, this scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo more than 115 years later. The large duplex keeper’s house is gone, having been deliberately burned in 1960, and the pier was destroyed during the blizzard of 1978.  Overall, though,  most of the other buildings are still here, including the 1884 keeper’s house, the 1899 boathouse, the 1889 oil house, and the 1876 fog signal building, which now also houses a generator. And, of course, the lighthouse is still here, with few exterior changes aside from the removal of one of the metal bands, leaving only five in its current appearance. It is the second oldest active lighthouse structure in the country, predated only by the 1764 Sandy Hook Light in New Jersey.

Despite being automated in 1998, Boston Light is still staffed by a resident keeper, although this is largely a ceremonial role. Along with most of the other harbor islands, Little Brewster Island is now part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. Unlike some of the larger islands, there is no ferry service or public access to Little Brewster, although the lighthouse can be seen from passing boats, from the mainland in Hull, or from Georges Island, as shown in the present-day photo.