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Boston Harbor Lighthouse

Boston Harbor lighthouse

Boston, Massachusetts
Built in 1716



On Little Brewster Island marking the entrance to Boston Harbor. Tours are offered to cruise pass the island and park tours are available to get on the island and explore the lighthouse during the summer months.

Latitude: 42° 19' 42" N
Longitude: 70° 53' 24" W

Historic Stories:

Boston Light is the oldest lighthouse in the country, however technically the tower itself is the second oldest because it had to be rebuilt in 1783.

In 1716, the Colony of Massachusetts Bay constructed and lit the first light tower in the "New World" overlooking Boston Harbor. At this time there were only 70 lighthouses in existence on earth.  

In 1719, the nation’s first fog signal, a canon, was created and used on Little Brewster Island until it was eventually replaced by a 1375-pound fog bell operated by clockwork machinery in 1851.

The first light Keeper was George Wothrylake. On a cold November day, in 1718, he was heading back to the lighthouse on a sloop from Boston after collecting his pay and gathering supplies with his wife Anne, his daughter Ruth, his servant George cutler, and a friend, John Edge. His other daughter Ann, and a friend, Mary Thompson, watched from shore. The seas were choppy from the gusts of wind that were kicking up from an approaching storm. The sloop was anchored a distance from the lighthouse. Their slave on the island, Shadwell, went out in a canoe to bring the five passengers back to the lighthouse. As the wind picked up, those left on the island by the lighthouse, witnessed in horror as the canoe capsized from the weight of the six passengers, spilling them into the freezing waters and drowning all.

At the same time a young 12-year old Benjamin Franklin, was encouraged by his brother to put his locally known writing skills in creating a poem based on the disaster. Franklin wrote a poem called “The Lighthouse Tragedy” and made copies to sell on the streets of Boston.

The second Keeper, Robert Saunders, drowned just days after taking the job.

boston light b&w

The third Keeper John Hayes asked that "a great gun be placed on the Said Island to answer ships in a fog." He was granted his request but the tasks related to maintaining the cannon were added to his duties without an increase in pay. Hayes protested and the Council increased his pay to 70 pounds, as long as he didn't attempt to make any money entertaining guests on the island. The cannon was the first colonial fog signal.

A nasty fire occurred at the lighthouse lantern room in early 1720 when a couple open fire oil lamps tipped over and set a wooden bench nearby on fire. Repairs were completed in a couple months, but the Council blamed Hayes for the accident and held back his pay until he came to provide an adequate explanation. After hearing his explanantion of trying to put out the fire, the Council concluded that the fire started not out of neglect on the keeper's part and granted him back his pay.

In the mid-1700’s when lightning struck the tower a number of times, a lighting rod was originally approved for installation, but was hampered at first by local religious individuals who didn’t want to interfere with the acts of God. A lightning conductor was eventually placed on the tower, it was one of many inventions developed by Ben Franklin.

The Lighthouse was the scene of several important battles during the Revolution, as the British occupied it as a strategic post. First, the Colonial Minutemen set fire to the lighthouse in July 1775 to strike back at the British blockade, which was created after the "Boston Tea Party" where Colonists were in revolt because of taxes imposed upon them. The fire was not as effective as hoped, and was quickly repaired. General George Washington sent a second raiding party to the island, catching the British by surprise, and set fire to everything they could find. As the men were performing their orders on the island, the tide had gone out and stranded them as they were set to leave. As they tried to move their boats over rocks to escape, they found themselves in front of a small British flotilla that had just arrived and a battle ensued. Although the British outnumbered the Colonials, Washington's men caused severe damage to one of the British vessels and the small fleet retreated. The small Colonial troop only lost one man in the battle.

On June 13, 1776, armed Colonials fired upon the British blockaders on the island, driving most of them away. One British vessel was left anhored at Little Brewster Island, and those British soldiers, before retreating, set gunpowder in the lighthouse and blew it up.

The lighthouse was rebuilt years later in 1783. The present tower has been standing for more than 200 years.

boston light image from coast guard
Boston Light
Courtesy US Coast Guard.

In the War of 1812, lighthouse keeper Jonathan Bruce and his wife Mary watched from their post on the island the battle between the Navy’s U.S.S. Chesapeake and the English warship HMS Shannon, in which Captain Lawrence of the Chesapeake was known to have made his famous cry "Don’t give up the ship!" He lost the battle and was ultimately forced to surrender.

In the 1840’s a keeper named Tolbia Cook set up a cigar factory on Brewster Island near the lighthouse. Here he employed young women to to manufacture what he called "Spanish Cigars". It was an effort to deceive Boston smokers into thinking that the cigars manufactured there were imported. These poor women toiled for him under what are considered miserable conditions under Cook. He was removed from duty when he was later discovered.

boston light

Around Little Brewster Island through the years there were many shipwrecks, including the U.S.S. Alacrity in 1918 during a winter storm. Keeper Charles Jenning pushed his dory over ice and was able to rescue 24 crewmen safely.

Boston Harbor lighthouse was the first to be constructed to be operated by appointed keepers, and it was the last lighthouse to be automated in 1998. It had more than 60 keepers tending it during its series.

In 2013, Boston Harbor Lighthouse was chosen as one of a series of five New England lighthouses, painted by artist Howard Koslow, for the "Forever" stamp collection sold at all US Postal stations.

Today, Boston Harbor Lighthouse is the only beacon in the nation that retains an official keeper. Her name is Sally Snowman and she maintains the lighthouse 7 months of every year. She is the 70th keeper at the beacon, and its first woman keeper.

On September 14, 2016, Boston Light celebrated its 300th anniversary.



Places to Visit Nearby:

Visit the New England Aquarium by the waterfront and famous Faneuil Hall Marketplace nearby for specialty shopping, and cultural arts and events.

live statue in front of surprised boy (my son)

Children are surprised by Faneuil Hall statues moving.

The waterfront also offers an outdoor museum for visitors to explore the Nation’s oldest Naval ship, the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides).

Boston offers plenty of cultural and diverse events for any tourist.

Boston light morning fog There are also trips you can take to the light and be allowed to climb the lighthouse, escorted by the National Park Rangers by getting information from the Boston Harbor Islands park web page.

The Boston Harbor Island Alliance in coordination with the National Park Service and the Coast Guard, have developed an exciting 3-hour narrated tour that not only provides a rich maritime history of Boston Harbor along with views of Graves Light and Long Island Head Light, but docks on Little Brewster Island and allows you to climb the tower of Boston Light. You can meet the lighthouse keeper there, Sally Snowman, and great a spectacular view of the Boston Harbor from the tower.

You'll find great views of the Boston harbor skyline from any of the tours out in the harbor. boston skyline harbor view

Boston Harbor Skyline

Boston Harbor lighthouse is best seen by boat. Private boaters are allowed to drop of passengers on Little Brewster Island on weekends in the afternoon making arrangements ahead of time, but must then anchor offshore.

Boston is one of the largest cities on the east coast with plenty of rich history; you can take guided walking tours to Boston’s historic places, like the Freedom Trail, or explore the Bunker Hill Monument that marked one of the starting events of the American Revolution.

Visit some of Boston’s 40 museums. Take in some of its cultural and varied events and nightlife to enjoy.

boston duck boats

Boston Duck Boat Tours

Check out the unique Boston Duck Tours for a true land and water experience.

Get involved and hike in the Boston Harborwalk tours, which connects Boston's waterfront to open space networks and various trails surrounding Boston.

Check out Boston's North End, Boston's oldest neighborhood, after visiting Boston Harbor Light and surrounding lighthouses in the harbor from Long Wharf. You'll plenty of Italian cuisine and other ethnic cuisine, and lots of festivals and events year round.

Boston's South End also boasts some incredible restaurants with many buildings displaying elegant Victorian architecture. It too has plenty of ethnic and arts festivals year round.

Boston Symphony Hall

Boston Symphony Hall.
Children allowed to try instruments.

For those who enjoy a bit of cultural activity, visit the Boston Symphony Hall, home of the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops orchestras.

In addition to musical shows and events, families can learn about musical instruments from musicians. The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world with a collection of nearly 45,0000 works.

The Huntington Theatre Company is Boston’s leading professional theater for those who want to take in a show, or visit a classic show provided by the world famous Boston Ballet. If you love loud, crazy, and let’s say something definitely different, you must see Blue Man Group!


Contact Info:
Friends Of Boston Harbor Islands
349 Lincoln Street
Hingham MA 02043
Phone: (781) 740 4290

Boston Harbor Islands Park Service
191W Atlantic Ave
Boston, MA 02110
Phone: (617) 223-8666


Boston's Waterfront Directions

Directions to Boston's Rowes Wharf for Harbor Cruises:

Directions to Boston's Long Wharf for Harbor Cruises


Local Boat Tours For Visitors

Boat cruises offer many types of cruises. While some may offer specific lighthouse cruises, some will pass by Boston Harbor Lighthouse as part of charters, narrated wildlife and historic tours, ferrying passengers, whale watching, fishing tours and other types of excursions. Contact info is provided to help you plan your special trips to the Boston area. Enjoy!

Boston Harbor Islands Park Service

Escorted trips by the park rangers are provided to Little Brewster Island, and sometimes visitors can climb Boston light. Boat trips run every weekend during the summer out to Little Brewster Island where you can see and climb up the tower of Boston Light.
(617) 223-8666



Boston Harbor Cruises
While providing many types of cruises around Boston Harbor, they may pass by some of the lighthouses in the harbor area.
One Long Wharf
Boston, Mass. 02110
(617) 223-8666
(877) 733-925


Friends Of Boston Harbor Islands
Involved in preservation of islands in the harbor, and occasionally provide tours around to the harbor lighthouses.

349 Lincoln Street
Hingham MA 02043
Phone: (781) 740 4290

Lighthouses: Boston Harbor Light, Long Island Head Light, Graves Light



My book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, published by Schiffer Publishing, provides special human interest stories from each of the 92 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions and tours, with contact info to help with your vacation plans.

There are lots of local stories with each lighthouse in the Boston area region, including various rescues during some of the worst storms in New England history, including the "Portland Gale" for the sinking of the Steamer Portland, and the storm of the century called the "Lighthouse Storm" that sent Minot's Ledge Light toppling into the sea.

You'll find many more attractions listed as well.

Look inside!


book about lighthouses and local coastal atttractions in southern New England


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