As part of its year-long celebration honoring the 200th birthday of the current Bald Head Lighthouse tower, this past October 7th, the Old Baldy Foundation placed U.S. Lighthouse Service and U.S. Life Saving Service Memorial Markers at the gravesites of fifteen men who served in their area who are buried on the mainland at three different cemeteries in Southport, North Carolina.
Honored were twelve men who served in the United States Lighthouse Service, eleven of who were lighthouse keepers and one who was the Master of a Lighthouse Service lighthouse tender and three men who served in the U.S. Life-Saving Service. Of the fifteen men honored, the Old Baldy Foundation was able to locate descendants of seven of them, all of who were invited to the ceremony.
The historical memorial markers were all purchased and paid for by the Old Baldy Foundation. As part of the ceremony the markers were placed by either family members or representatives of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society, the Town of Southport, the Southport Historical Society. and the Old Baldy Foundation. The Oak Island Coast Guard Station and the South Brunswick County High Schools Junior ROTC served as the Honor Guard. (Cemetery service photos by Larry Kirby.)
The men from the U.S. Life Saving Service who were honored with memorial markers were:
Captain John Watts (1854-1911) who started his career as a surfman at the Cape Fear Life-Saving Station and in 1892 became its keeper.
John E. Price (1848-1924) who was the First Surfman at the Cape Fear Life Saving Station and upon the death keeper John Watts in 1911 served as the temporary keeper of the station.
Dunbar Davis (1843-1923) became the first keeper of the Cape Fear Life Saving Station in 1882. In 1892 he transferred to become the keeper of the Oak Island Life-Saving Station.
Samuel L. Brinkman (1866-1945) became the keeper of the Cape Fear Life-Saving Station in 1912. His wife was the daughter of lighthouse keeper Dunbar Davis.
The men who served in the U.S. Lighthouse Service who were honored with Memorial Markers are listed below. Sadly, photos of some of the lighthouse keepers are either nonexistent, could not be found, or the quality of the photos are so poor that they could not be published.
Henry Long served as the keeper of the first Bald Head Lighthouse from 1794 until 1806 when he was accidently killed by his son-in-law in a hunting accident.
Captain Henry G. Swan (1830-1901) immigrated from Norway, where his sailing experience gained him a job with the U.S. Lighthouse Service. In 1884 he became the Master of the Frying Pan Lightship.
Captain Charles Norton Swan (1873-1964) served in the U.S. Navy during the Spanish-American War. He was a long time Lighthouse Service employee who also served on the Frying Pan Lightship and finished his career as head keeper of the Cape Fear Lighthouse where he served from 1903 to 1933.
Thomas Mann Thompson (1831-1907) was the keeper of the Bald Head Lighthouse from 1859 to 1861. He was best known as a river pilot and a very successful blockade runner during the Civil War.
Although James Henry “Sonny” Dosher (1843-1934) served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, in 1882 he was able to secure the position of lighthouse keeper of the Bald Head Lighthouse, a position he held until about 1915. When Bald Head Lighthouse was downgraded he was offered a lighthouse keeping position in South Carolina, but turned it down, preferring to remain at Bald Head.
Joseph A. Ball (1838-1914) was the keeper of Bald Head Lighthouse from 1879 to 1881. Very little is known about his life and as of yet photographs of him have not been located.
John Richard Newton (1849-1928) who spent most of his life as a river boat pilot, only served for a short time as the keeper of Bald Head Lighthouse; from 1881 to 1882.
Peter Larsen (1898-1981) immigrated from Norway to the United States though Ellis Island. Having served at Tybee Island Lighthouse in Georgia and Hunting Island Lighthouse in South Carolina, he served as a 2nd assistant keeper and then a 1st assistant keeper at Cape Fear Lighthouse in North Carolina from 1906 to 1912.
At some point Peter Larsen was put in charge of Cape Fear River Lighthouses. While serving the Battery Island Light he slipped and fell causing a mortal injury. He had apparently fallen while attempting to adjust and trim the wick of the light. The autopsy stated that he had fractured his collar bone, which severed an artery.
James Everett Pinner (1898-1981) had a long career in the Lighthouse Service going back to 1906 at Cape Fear Lighthouse where he served as a 2nd assistant and later as a 1st assistant leeper until 1915. He also served at Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse in Florida, and Hunting Island Lighthouse in South Carolina, returning to North Carolina as the keeper of the Cape Fear Range Lights, and finally as an assistant keeper from 1939 to 1940 at the Cape Fear Lighthouse.
Robert Merritt Gaskins (1888-1935) was reportedly an assistant keeper at a number of lighthouses before becoming the keeper of the Bald Head Lighthouse in 1925. He also served as the keeper of the Lower Cape Fear River Lights.
Lewis H. Bringloe (1876-1954) was a lighthouse keeper at Tybee Island Lighthouse in Georgia as early as 1903 and was transferred to Cape Fear Lighthouse in North Carolina in 1904 where he served until 1906. He later served at Morris Island Lighthouse in South Carolina.
This story appeared in the
Jan/Feb 2018 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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