While researching the lighthouses of Washington County, Welton Colbeth, of Machiasport, shared with me a rather thick copy of the written memoirs of his father, lighthouse keeper Gleason Colbeth. Written when Gleason Colbeth was 82 years old, the memoirs recounted his life from 1895 to 1977.
Gleason Colbeth was a veteran lighthouse keeper who served at many lighthouses along the Maine coast, including Seguin Island Lighthouse, Goose Rocks Lighthouse, Ram Island Lighthouse, Great Duck Island Lighthouse and Isles of Shoals Lighthouse in New Hampshire. After Isles of Shoals he spent over thirteen years at Libby Island Lighthouse in Machias Bay where son Welton, was born in April of 1933. Gleason Colbeth was one of three keepers assigned at that time to Libby Island Light Station. His last station was Little River Lighthouse on an island off the coast of Cutler.
A Navy veteran of World War I, Gleason Colbeth served duty on the battleship North Carolina as part of a three-inch gun crew. He later served on the USS President Grant where on his third trip back from France, as they entered the harbor, the crew was notified that the war was over and he was released from duty. He had also served a stint in the Coast Guard as a surfman at Cross Island Life-Saving Station before joining the United States Lighthouse Service. Interestingly, Colbeth had followed in the footsteps of his father, William A. Colbeth’s, with a love of the sea. As well as working on sailing ships, his father was a member of the United States Life-Saving Service, which in 1915 became the Coast Guard.
But what is interesting was Gleason Colbeth’s many references throughout his memoirs of being a Christian and how it affected the various stages of his life. In his writings Colbeth wrote that he thanked the good Lord for his Christian upbringing that kept him in Sunday School through the eighth grade.
But it wasn’t like that at first. He recalled that his father, in his early life was on the rough side. He wrote, “When I was just a boy he used to swear some; he didn’t have to use the strap or a stick on us boys. When he gave orders we knew he meant his word.” Later he recalled that his father was converted and it changed his way of life. He later joined the Baptist Church in Bucks Harbor, Maine and became a church deacon.
Gleason Colbeth wrote, “How well I remember the devotions my father used to have morning and evening when he made us boys kneel down by a chair while he read the Bible and prayed. I admit that we did not like this, as we were just kids, but in later years I could see and realize it was good training. I have thanked the Lord many times for being raised in a Christian home, and I know some day I will see my dad and mother in Heaven, where there is no sickness or pain, and all will be joy and peace.”
At age 24 Colbeth married Lillian L. Beal. The Reverend J. Beiler married them at the Methodist parsonage in Machias. He later wrote in his memoirs, “This woman is still my wife and we have many things to be thankful for. We have four sons and a home and the love of God in our hearts. My wife and I made a commitment to the Lord when we first got married and our boys were brought up in a Christian home.”
Living nearly his entire life on the sea Colbeth had many close encounters with death, especially in the years before modern equipment was on small boats or at light stations. One of his best friends was killed right in front of him in World War I. Over the years at different lighthouses he had close encounters with death, not just for himself, but also for members of his family.
Shortly after he arrived at the Isles of Shoals Lighthouse in New Hampshire, all three of his boys developed whooping cough at the same time, something he attributed to the cold, wet and windy landing on the day his family arrived. In fact many of his families personal belongings were damaged in the landing on the island that same day.
One time at Isles of Shoals Lighthouse he fell several feet, landing on his spine and was severely injured. He lost a lot of blood waiting for the rescue boat, which was delayed by rough seas. While stationed at Libby Island Lighthouse his son Julian had a hunting accident and nearly bled to death from a wound in his arm. Gleason himself also had several close calls at Libby Island Lighthouse in Machias Bay, one time with a winch. In recalling each account, Gleason Colbeth wrote thanking the Lord for watching over him. In recalling one such account he wrote, “It could have been a disaster, but the Lord was with me again. I believe, we as Christians, have a guardian angel watching over us.”
Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet Gleason Colbeth. However, since reading his memoirs I feel that I had known him for years. In recent months, I have also met quite a few people who did know him and everyone one of them had only kind and wonderful memories about him. So, I’d have to say that Gleason’s Guardian Angel is still watching over him.
Gleason Colbeth left us a treasure trove of historical memories of life along the coast of ‘Downeast’ Maine, as well as leaving us a legacy that must be preserved for future generations. He left us with an example of a Christian life that we could all learn to live by.
This story appeared in the
September 2008 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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