Thanks to correspondence from the son and grandson of Pierre Albert Nadeau, we’ve learned of a heroic deed that has been unjustly omitted from histories of Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse, the storied waveswept granite tower off the South Shore of Boston, Massachusetts.
According to Nadeau’s son Gil, his father was a native of Canada who came to the U.S. and joined the Revenue Cutter Service in 1913. That service and the U.S. Life-Saving Service merged to become the Coast Guard in 1915. Pierre Nadeau served aboard the U.S. Revenue Cutter Gresham from 1913 until 1919. “One story he told me,” says Gil Nadeau, “was that his ship fired the first shot fired out of Boston Harbor during World War One. They fired a shot across the bow of a German merchant ship that was trying to run the blockade. He kept the brass shell and after leaving the service made a lamp out of it, which I still have.”
Gil Nadeau describes his father, who reached the rank of quartermaster third class, as “truly a good boatswain’s mate. He knew his seamanship forwards and backwards.” Pierre Nadeau put his maritime experience to good use by entering the Lighthouse Service after his days on the Gresham. His first assignment was as an assistant keeper at Dumpling Rock Light, a now-lost lighthouse off Dartmouth, Massachusetts. During his time at Dumpling Rock, Nadeau filled in as an assistant at Minot’s Ledge Light up the coast off Cohasset.
Pierre Nadeau eventually became a second assistant keeper at Minot’s. A brief newspaper clipping, circa 1924 or 1925, tells us the following:
“Pierre Nadeau, second assistant keeper at Minot’s Light, has been commended to Lighthouse Department for keeping light going three nights without sleep, while storm held Keeper Tornberg and First Assistant Fitzpatrick on shore, where they had gone for supplies.”
Keeping the kerosene-fueled light operating at Minot’s was not an easy task even with two or three keepers on duty, and Nadeau’s feat of single-handedly maintaining the light for three nights during a storm is worthy of note. Unfortunately, further details of this episode appear to have been lost to the passing decades.
A tragedy led to the end of Pierre Nadeau’s lighthouse keeping career. On August 10, 1925, the Nadeaus’ three-year-old daughter Doris drowned after slipping from a seawall in Cohasset. This apparently occurred while the family was staying at the assistant keeper’s house onshore at Cohasset’s Government Island, and Pierre Nadeau was at Minot’s Ledge Light at the time.
After the death of their daughter, Nadeau’s wife Ruth felt a change of occupation for her husband was needed. “My father really didn’t want to leave lighthouse keeping,” says Gil Nadeau, “but did. Kind of broke his heart a bit, and after that he never talked too much about his service days.”
Pierre Albert Nadeau, who died in 1948, had a short but eventful career as a lighthouse keeper. His son Gil says, “I loved my dad and am proud to know that he will be remembered for the things he did.” Thanks to Gil and his son Mark, Keeper Nadeau will not be forgotten.
This story appeared in the
September 2003 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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