Jane Clemmons Martin 1809 – 1871 Marblehead’s First Female Lighthouse Keeper


Jane Clemmons Martin my 2nd cousin 5 times removed, was one of ten children born to Ambrose and Elizabeth (Clemmons) Martin. She was baptized on June 25, 1809 in the First Congregational Church of Marblehead, MA. She must have been a hearty soul as she followed in her father’s footsteps and was the first Light House Keeper on the East Coast. Ambrose was the keeper of Baker Island Light for 25 years, retiring in 1850. Jane had lived with her father and assisted him in taking care of Baker’s Light so was well qualified to handle Marblehead’s Light House.  

The light house was put into operation on October 10, 1835. On August 30, 1831 the Marblehead citizens requested that a lighthouse be erected on the point of the Neck at the entrance to the harbor. Congress appointed $4500 for the lighthouse on June 30, 1834. The building was a 23 foot white tower with a keeper’s cottage attached to the tower by a covered walkway. There were 10 lamps inside the octagonal lantern which was fueled by whale oil. The fixed white light was 53 feet above mean high water. In 1857 a sixth order Fresnel lamp replaced the old system of multiple lamps (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fresnel_lens). Mr. Darling stated to Congress in 1843 that “the tower is leaky about the window casing, there being no recess in the brick for the window frames. The lantern sweats considerably, and formerly I wiped up large quantities of water accumulating from this cause. The dwelling house is very damp, the water comes through the walls and the chimneys are all smoky.” jane-c-martin-boston-transcript

In the Boston Transcript newspaper dated November 17, 1860 we learn that “Miss Jane C. Martin has been appointed Keeper of the Marblehead Light when Ezekiel Darling, the first Light House Keeper resigned due to poor health and being blind. She maintained the light from 1860 to 1863 when James Goodwin replaced her. Her job as keeper was to carry the night’s supply of oil up the 134 steps every morning to fill the well and then polish the lens and pulled down the curtains that prevented the sun from discoloring the lens. Before 7 PM she would climb the stairs again to fire the light.  

She had quite an adventure at the lighthouse in February 1863 when the Schooner Mary E. Hiltz, John Hiltz, Master went ashore on Marblehead Neck during a Sunday night snowstorm at about 9 o’clock. The Captain mistaking the Marblehead Light for Eastern Point Light and the schooner was totally wrecked and one of the crew, Thomas Christopher of Newfoundland was drowned. The six remaining crew members remained on the wreck until Monday morning when they were successful in coming ashore, having lost everything but the clothes on their backs. They reached the lighthouse where Miss Jane C. Martin, the lighthouse keeper made them as comfortable as possible. They then went into town where they were supplied with new and dry clothing. The body of Mr. Christopher was recovered on Tuesday morning and after a funeral service in the stone church he was properly interred.

In 1850 Jane lived with her parents and two siblings in Salem, MA. Sometime between 1850 and 1860 she moved to 150 Webster Street, East Boston and lived with her brother Elbridge Gerry Martin and his children. He was in charge of a pilot boat in Boston. I would presume she went to live with him to help him with his children as he became a widower in July 1852 when his first wife Rebecca Homan Dixey died leaving him with five children ages 1 to 10. In 1854 he married Ceceline Giddings who left him a widower again when she died in 1857, after giving him another son.

In 1870 Jane was also living in Boston with her brother.

She appeared to be an independent and adventurous woman. According to the newspaper article in the Boston Traveler on September 17, 1860 she was involved in a carriage accident. “She was driving through Chelsea Street in her buggy when the horse became frightened and ran off at a great pace until the buggy collided with a wagon which caused the lady to be thrown in violence to the ground cutting her head badly and several other injuries.” She was taken to her residence and a physician was called.

She never married and died on November 22, 1871 in Boston, MA from kidney disease.

 marblehead1896The lighthouse design changed in 1893 when a request was made for a new light and tower and a decision was made to build the 105 foot cast iron tower which is still standing.



Inauguration Day March 4, 1865

Benjamin Franklin MartinAs we approach the historic inauguration of 2017, I thought I would share with you a letter my 2nd great grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Martin wrote home to his mother on March 5, 1865. It tells his experience witnessing the 2nd inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in Washington, DC. At the time Benjamin Martin was serving garrison duty at Fort Barnard, VA as part of the 4th Regiment of Mass Heavy Artillery.

Headquarters No. 2 Batt

4th Regt. Mass Heavy Artillery

Fort Barnard, VA  March 5th ’65. 

 March 5th ‘65

           Dear Mother

            Your letter of the 28th of Feb came duly to hand by which as I am glad to learn you are all well. In regard to those shoes I am not prepared to say anything about as I have forgotten what there is there so if there is nothing said say nothing, I will endeavor to let you know more about it should occasion require but I do not think it will.

Yesterday Abraham was inaugurated for his second term of four years which I had the pleasure of witnessing. It had been foul weather for two days previous and was foul in the morning blowing and raining hard and lighting up occasionally looking very much like a rainy day but I had made up my mind to go and see him inaugurated as I may never have a chance to see another so I started in the rain it rained more or less all the way going over and some after arriving but the possession started about 11 o’clock from just above the White House and proceeded towards the capital where after seeing it pass I wended my steps arriving there just about in season to not have to wait long when the dignitaries assembled on the platform in front of the east side of the capitol and from which the President delivered his inaugural address and the oath administered to him by Chief Justice Chase. There was one peculiar feature about it which made considerable impression on me that was the way the weather acted, as I told you it was raining well it was thick and slightly raining while the prossession was moving towards the capitol after arriving the clouds began to grow thinner and finally when the President began his address the sun shone out brightly and it was very warm everything passing off pleasantly which I could not help thinking was symbolic of the nations destiny.

Not only the sun shone brightly but the moon visible and also a star which everybody seemed to be gazing at as it was called the star of peace. But there was one thing about it which was anything but agreeable that was the mud it was horrid about as much as you could wade through in some places. I started for the Fort about 6 o’clock and arrived about eight walking as fast as I could at that as I was in a hurry to get here as there was something up. I immediately as soon as I arrived helped get everything in readiness for an attack being ready we lay on our arms all night turning out at three o’clock in the morning and remaining until after day light. I am well and send my love to all and will write more in my next as this sheet is full.

                                                            From you affectionate son


I love the way he wrote his letters. My favorite line in this letter is “Not only the sun shone brightly but the moon was visible and also a star which everybody seemed to be gazing at as it was called the ‘star of peace’”. Let’s hope one shines from up above on Friday, January 20, 2017.