Saturday, September 26, 2009
(R)evolution of a lighthouse
From the comfort of my armchair, I'm traveling north today to the harbor at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where a light to aid mariners has shone since 1771.
By the time New Hampshire separated from Massachusetts in 1679 and became a colony in its own right, Portsmouth was already a center of maritime trade and shipbuilding. The first aid to navigation was a crude lantern, fueled by whale oil, hoisted atop a pole over what then was Fort William and Mary (now Fort Constitution).
In 1774, British troops had established a blockade of Boston Harbor to the south. Portsmouth residents retaliated by raiding the fort and seizing a supply of gunpowder, a precious commodity in those days. Legend has it that the keeper of the lighthouse drove a wagonload of gunpowder to patriots at Breed's Hill outside of Boston, where a crucial battle in the Revolutionary War was fought in June 1775.
By 1784, an 80-foot octagonal wooden tower stood in this spot, subject to rain, winds and high water, not to mention being shaken to its foundation by the concussions of the fort's huge cannon. By the time President George Washington paid a visit in 1789, the lighthouse was in such poor repair that the keeper was summarily fired.
The tower was rebuilt in 1804 and stood until 1877, when it was replaced by the 48-foot cylindrical structure fashioned of bolted iron plates that still stands today. This is my first New Hampshire lighthouse, and when I've finished stitching it, I'll have a representative of all six New England states!