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

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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.