In a September 27, 2019 ceremony cosponsored by the West Quoddy Head Light Keeper’s Association and Lighthouse Digest, seven Maine lighthouse keepers were honored at the Bayview Cemetery in Lubec, Maine when historical U.S. Lighthouse Service plaques were placed at their grave sites.
The keepers honored with grave markers were as follows: Herbert E. Robinson, Loring Foss Leavitt, Ebenezer “Eben” Wormell, Daniel Thayer, Peter Godfrey, William Godfrey, and Henry Godfrey. All of them served at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, the eastern most lighthouse on the mainland of the Atlantic Coast of the United States.
In attendance were many local residents and descendants of the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse keepers being honored, as well as descendants of other lighthouse keepers of other lighthouses. Additionally, students from grades five through eight from the Lubec Consolidated School attended.
Participating in the event were an Honor Guard from the American Legion Post 65 in Lubec; personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard, Aids to Navigation Team Southwest Harbor, Maine and their Color Guard; personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard Station Eastport; the U.S. Coast Guard cutter BRIDLE; Wreaths Across America; and local musicians Jim Sherman and Stephen Sanfilippo. At the conclusion of the ceremony, as Timothy Harrison, who was the Master of Ceremonies, read the lighthouse keepers’ names for one final time, Michael Scrivani of the Lubec Historical Society rang the fog bell from the Lubec Channel Lighthouse once for each lighthouse keeper. The fog bell is on display across the street from the cemetery at the Lubec Historical Society.
After the ceremony, the Lubec Historical Society hosted a reception for all participants and attendees at their museum.
Speakers at the event included Tim Harrison from Lighthouse Digest; Kevin P. Moynahan, BMC, U.S. Coast Guard Officer-in-Charge of Aids to Navigation in Southwest Harbor; Maine State Representative Will Tuell; and Malcolm Rouse, the last keeper to serve at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse from 1986 to 1988. Larry Conrad of the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Keepers Association read remarks from United States Senator Susan M. Collins.
However, the grave markers for Herbert Robinson, Peter Godfrey, and William Godfrey were only ceremoniously placed during the ceremony, because, although records clearly indicated that they are all buried at the Bayview Cemetery, their grave sites could not be located. Their tombstones have either been overgrown, fallen over, or are no longer legible. For the time being, their U.S. Lighthouse Service grave markers will go on display, with signage, at the Lubec Historical Society Museum and at the Ron Pesha Museum at the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Visitors Center until the actual gravesites can be located.
The Godfrey Dynasty: The earliest of the lighthouse keepers who were honored at the ceremony was Peter Godfrey, who served as the second lighthouse keeper of West Quoddy Head Lighthouse from 1813 to 1839. Peter Godfrey served as the keeper of the first wooden octagonal tower, built in 1808. In the autumn of 1814, during the Second War of Independence, the British occupied most of eastern Maine, including nearby Eastport, and British troops seized control of the lighthouse. The British told him to keep doing his job as the lighthouse keeper and they would pay him. But no pay ever arrived.
In August of that year, when the British burned the nation’s capital, Peter Godfrey must have wondered if he would ever get paid by anyone. Eventually, as the tides of war changed, the customs inspector wrote to the U.S. Lighthouse Service appealing on Godfrey’s behalf saying that he was a poor man with a large family to support. But with our government in chaos, it was still a while before he got paid. Peter Godfrey was the keeper when, in 1820, one of the first fog bells in the United States, a 500-pound bell, was installed at West Quoddy. Prior to that, he and his assistant keepers had to fire a cannon to warn vessels away from Sail Rock. Over the years, other sizes of fog bells were tested at West Quoddy and most were deemed by mariners as useless; however, Congress authorized the keeper to be paid an additional $60 a year to ring the bell.
Peter Godfrey was also the keeper when, in 1831, Congress authorized the rebuilding of the tower at West Quoddy Head. Peter Godfrey started a lighthouse keeper dynasty of sorts, and his sons and grandsons served at various different times. When Peter Godfrey died on the job in 1839, at the age of 82, his son Alfred Godfrey took over as the head keeper and served at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse until 1843. During that same time, one of Peter’s grandsons, Albert M. Godfrey, served as an assistant keeper from 1857 to 1861.
Later, another of Peter’s sons, William H. Godfrey, served as the head keeper of West Quoddy Head Lighthouse from 1856 to 1860. In 1879, Peter’s grandson, Henry M. Godfrey, was appointed as the head keeper of West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, and he served until 1882. Interestingly Henry M. Godfrey returned in 1887 to serve as the assistant keeper under head keeper John Connors until Henry resigned in 1889.
Another one of Peter’s grandsons, Thomas L. Godfrey, served as an assistant keeper at Saddleback Ledge Lighthouse from 1906 to 1908, and then for a short time at Maine’s Halfway Rock Lighthouse. This means that the Godfrey family served for 45 years in the Lighthouse Service with 43 of those years being at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. Only three of the Godfreys were honored at the grave marker ceremony because research showed that Alfred, Albert, and Thomas Godfrey were not buried at this cemetery.
A Short Stint: Ebenezer Wormell, more commonly known as “Eben,” married Elizabeth “Eliza” Guptill in 1824 and the couple went on to have 13 children. Early census records indicate that keeper Wormell was the Fish Inspector for the Town of Lubec before being appointed lighthouse keeper on June 27, 1849. Although he only served as the keeper for between 3-5 years, from the professional portrait he had taken of himself in his lighthouse keeper’s uniform, he obviously took pride in the job.
Why keeper Wormell left the lighthouse keeper’s job is unclear, but it was likely for more money, as census records in 1855 and 1856 show him as Commissioner of Wrecks. Later records indicate that he was a fisherman and part owner of a commercial fishing boat.
While many families around the nation were talking about the first set of electric Christmas tree lights introduced by Thomas Edison, it was a somber day at the Wormell household when former lighthouse keeper Ebenezer Wormell passed away on Christmas Day, December 25, 1882.
Married Two Daughters of a Lighthouse Keeper: It is believed that Loring Foss Leavitt was born in March of 1834 in Scarborough, Maine. In 1859 he married Celinda J. Wormell, who was the daughter of lighthouse keeper Ebenezer “Eben” Wormell. They had one son together, when at nearly 25 years old, Celinda died on March 27, 1862. Loring Foss Leavitt then married Celinda’s sister, Wealthy Ellen Wormell.
After serving as an assistant lighthouse keeper at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse from 1855 to 1857, Loring Foss Leavitt left his lighthouse keeping job to take up employment with the railroad. Working for the railroad must not have suited him, because in 1861 he returned to West Quoddy Head Light to replace Albert H. Godfrey as the assistant keeper, serving under head keeper George H. Chase. In 1867, Loring Foss Leavitt resigned his position as assistant keeper and later opened up a sardine factory in South Lubec, Maine.
Died Young: Born on November 22, 1846, Daniel Thayer was a fisherman in Lubec, Maine, when at the age of 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve in the Civil War. While serving with the Union forces in South Carolina, he contracted tuberculosis and was given an early medical discharge. He returned to Lubec and went to work for Oliver Reynolds as a blacksmith apprentice making materials for ship and house building.
On January 3, 1871, Daniel Thayer married his employer’s daughter, Harriett “Hattie” A. Reynolds, and the couple had two daughters: Augusta born in 1872, and Agatha born in 1875. Because of his Civil War service, in 1877 Daniel Thayer was able to secure the job as the lighthouse keeper of West Quoddy Head Lighthouse.
Daniel’s wife Hattie loved to play the organ in her home and she was the organist in her local church. Today, her organ is on display across the street from the cemetery at the Lubec Historical Society.
Sadly, Daniel Thayer’s days as the lighthouse keeper of West Quoddy Head Light were cut short when, on March 8, 1880, tuberculosis took his life at the young age of 33.
Married Sister of Famous Lighthouse Keeper: The last of the men who were honored at the September 27th grave marker ceremony was Lubec native Capt. Herbert Robinson who served for a total of 32 years in the Lighthouse Service, serving at six different lighthouses on the coast of Maine.
Herbert Robinson were married Mary Estelle Myers (1853-1952), the sister of the famous Lubec Channel lighthouse keeper Loring Myers, who was the inventor of the Myers Lifeboat. The couple went on to have ten children, five of whom died before adulthood. Herbert Robinson started his lighthouse career in 1896 as the assistant keeper of the Lubec Channel Lighthouse, where at one point he had to take an extended leave to care for his dying son.
One of Herbert and Mary Estelle Robinson’s daughters, Inez Beatrice, married lighthouse keeper Eugene Ingalls whose daughter Allison Jean Ingalls was born in the keeper’s house at West Quoddy in the same bedroom where Herbert and Mary Estelle Robinson once slept when he was stationed at West Quoddy from 1905 to 1907. When lighthouse keeper Eugene Ingalls tragically lost his life while serving at Petit Manan Lighthouse, Inez Ingalls and her two daughters went to live with Mr. Robinson and his wife at Moose Peak Lighthouse and later at Monhegan Island Lighthouse, and finally at Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in Bristol, Maine where keeper Herbert Robinson retired in 1928.
On March 4, 1933 while standing outdoors in the rain to listen to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaugural speech, Herbert E. Robinson caught pneumonia and died a few days later. Keeper Robinson’s body was transported back to his hometown of Lubec and buried in Bayview Cemetery.
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2019 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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