The earliest lighthouse keeper appointments in the new nation were approved by President Washington. The practice continued with Thomas Jefferson but as the number of lighthouses grew, keeper appointments became the responsibility of the Secretary of the Treasury.(The Treasury Department administered lighthouses from 1790 to 1901). There are some exceptions however. Apparently John and Rebecca Flaherty had some sort of connection to President John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa, and did not hesitate to use it.
According to Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers, Rebecca Flaherty wrote Mrs. Adams asking for her influence in seeking a keeper appointment at Thomas Point, Maryland, for her husband John, a War of 1812 veteran. Eventually in the spring of 1826 John received an appointment as keeper of Dry Tortugas Lighthouse in Florida. The Flahertys did not fare well at that isolated station and soon requested a switch with the keeper at Sand Key, a station nine miles from Key West. The request was granted by President Adams in the letter below.
As you can see, President Adams noted his approval directly on the letter, not an uncommon practice, although the presidents generally just “initialed” their approval.
I did not see this letter when researching Women Who Kept the Lights, but it came to light when gathering some material for U.S. Lighthouse Society member Neil Hurley, who researches Florida light keepers and is currently writing a book on the vessels and towers that have lit Carysfort Reef in the Florida Keys.
Submitted by Candace Clifford, January 8, 2o17
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Candace was the US Lighthouse Society historian from 2016 until she passed away in August 2018. For 30 years, her work involved lighthouse history. She worked with the National Park Service and the Council of American Maritime Museums. She was a noted author and was considered the most knowledgable person on lighthouse information at the National Archives. Books by Candace Clifford include: Women who Kept the Lights: a History of Thirty-eight Female Lighthouse Keepers , Mind the Light Katie, and Maine Lighthouses, Documentation of their Past.