In researching and writing for many years about lighthouse keepers, one conclusion is obvious – many of them were veterans of wars, and a large number of them lost a leg in combat. Such was the case of Ernest R. Jefferson, who, in 1873, became the first lighthouse keeper of the Duluth Breakwater Lighthouses in Duluth, Minnesota.
During the Battle of Gettysburg, Col. William Colville, with 262 men from the First Minnesota Volunteers, was ordered to attack Confederate troops at Cemetery Ridge. The result was devastating. Colville and all but three of his officers were killed or wounded, and only 47 of the 262 men who made the charge survived. Ernest R. Jefferson was one of them who survived, but he lost a leg. After a long recovery, he was discharged on December 9, 1863 and he made his way back to Duluth, Minnesota, where he was originally from and where he then opened up a harness shop.
Most likely because he had lost a leg in battle, in 1873 Ernest R. Jefferson was awarded the job as a lighthouse keeper in Duluth. Using his highly regarded lighthouse keeping position, he soon became quite well known in the community and was elected to the Duluth City Council as well as the County Board of Commissioners. As his position of importance grew in the community, in 1888 he left the job of lighthouse keeping. Eventually, he would own extensive land holdings in what is now downtown Duluth, Minnesota.
Ernest R. Jefferson died on May 16, 1911 and he was buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery in Duluth, Minnesota.
This story appeared in the
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