Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2022

The Mighty Quiver

By Linda Olsen


You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
The first St. Simons Island Lighthouse in ...

Without warning on the evening of August 31, 1886, the entire eastern United States quaked. The earthquake’s epicenter was Charleston, South Carolina yet the powerful shock was felt up to Boston, Massachusetts, west to Chicago, Illinois, and south to Florida.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
The second St. Simons Island Lighthouse is shown ...

For lighthouses, earthquakes can be catastrophic as their towers amplify the quake’s vibrations. After the tremors ceased, damage reports poured into the lighthouse headquarters. Not surprisingly, the worst damage was reported by the Sixth District, which covered South Carolina and Georgia.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Vintage linen paper post card of Georgia’s St. ...

Isaac Lester Peckham, the keeper of Georgia’s St. Simons Island Lighthouse, reported: “that the first two shocks lasted two minutes and thirty seconds. The noise was like that made by a horse running over a hard road.” He felt five shocks that night. The illuminating apparatus was broken by the first shock. He felt one every night from August 31 to September 20.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Pen and ink drawing of the St. Simons Island ...

On September 4, 1886, a newspaper reporter from Brunswick, Georgia’s Advertiser and Appeal covered “The Mighty Quiver” and wrote that every house in Brunswick and on St. Simons Island rocked as though mounted on rollers and preparing to move; yet the only property to be damaged was the St. Simons Island Lighthouse.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
An historic image of the second St. Simons Island ...

Assistant keeper Dora Peckham was interviewed and she elaborated on her husband’s report. “The revolving machinery was thrown out of gear, and the light extinguished. One of the red flashes was broken in more than a hundred pieces, and many pieces were broken out of the lenses. A pitcher of water was in the watch room, and the water was thrown out of the pitcher. The tower fairly seemed to dance. The keeper was cool and ready to repair the damage, but the poor assistant was so badly frightened that she shook as badly as the tower.”1

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum as it appears ...

As a volunteer for the Coastal Georgia Historical Society, the owner of the St. Simons Lighthouse, I researched keeper Isaac Lester Peckham’s genealogy. Isaac’s cool demeanor during the quake came as no surprise to me.

I discovered that Isaac Peckham was born in 1835 and had come from Farmington, Connecticut to Macon, Georgia as a journeyman carpenter in 1855. Isaac worked on the interior of the First Presbyterian Church of Macon, but he didn’t stay in Georgia long. On December 20, 1856, Isaac joined the Florida Mounted Volunteers to fight in the Third Seminole Indian War. When the war concluded, Isaac was mustered out on May 22, 1858 and in the 1860 Macon, GA census, he is listed as a laborer, residing with a carpenter. Yet again, Isaac didn’t stay in Macon long.

Records show that Isaac L. Peckham joined the Confederate Army in Brunswick, Georgia on August 5, 1861. He survived, pretty much unscathed, until the war’s end, when he and 200 other men from the 4th Georgia Cavalry surrendered on May 10, 1865.

By the 1870 census Isaac was living on Little Cumberland Island, Georgia at the house of Elias Clubb, who had served with Isaac in the 4th Georgia Cavalry. Isaac was a harbor pilot, guiding ships through the dangerous shoals of the St. Andrew Sound as the boats made their voyages up and down the Satilla River.

On September 30, 1875, Isaac was appointed the assistant keeper at Little Cumberland Island Lighthouse. At about the same time, he purchased 15-acres of land next to the lighthouse from Elias Clubb to farm and live on. Isaac’s other neighbor was harbor pilot Joseph Lasserre. On August 27, 1877, Isaac Peckham married Joseph Lasserre’s sister, Marianna Isadora, who was more commonly known as Dora.

On January 1, 1883, Isaac was promoted and assigned as the head keeper of St. Simons Island Lighthouse. Six months later, his wife, Dora, was officially appointed as the assistant keeper. An exhibit panel at the Coastal Georgia Historical Society’s museum reads: “The Peckhams kept the lighthouse and all its surroundings as neat as a lady’s parlor. They proudly maintained their reputation for keeping the best light of any station in the sixth district.”

The December 23,1892 edition of the the Savannah Morning News reported that the Peckhams “have become tired of government work and will move to their country home on North St. Simon.” Isaac was in ill health. Five years later, on July 26, 1897, Isaac Peckham died at the age of 61. He was buried at Christ Church, Frederica, on St. Simons Island.

On October 13, 2022, The Coastal Georgia Historical Society will honor Isaac Peckham along with three other lighthouse keepers who are buried at Christ Church by placing Lighthouse Keeper Memorial Markers at their gravestones as part of the lighthouse’s 150th year celebration.

The four keepers to be honored are: James Gould, the builder of the first lighthouse, who was also its first keeper from 1810 to 1836; Isaac L. Peckham, keeper from 1883-1893; along with the longest serving keeper, Carl Svendsen, who was keeper from 1907-1935; and the light station’s last keeper, David Hagan, who served from 1945-1953.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2022 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.

All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.

to Lighthouse Digest

USLHS Marker Fund

Lighthouse History
Research Institute

Shop Online

Subscribe   Contact Us   About Us   Copyright Foghorn Publishing, 1994- 2024   Lighthouse Facts     Lighthouse History