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Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef at the edge of New York Harbor.

All this talk today about immigration. We’re all descended from immigrants. I came from Germany a widow, looking for a better life. My second husband John was an immigrant from Sweden. I met him while I was waiting tables in the boarding house where he ate his meals. He taught me English, then married me and took me to Sandy Hook, where he was assistant keeper. He taught me to tend the light. When he died in 1890, I had to earn my own living, becoming one of the many working-class women who made up one-quarter of all wage-earners in the United States at that time—many of us immigrants or children of immigrants.

s_088_Execution_Rocks_NY_US copy
Richard E. Ray, assistant keeper at Execution Rocks, was one of many lighthouse keepers born outside of the United States. Photo courtesy U.S. Lighthouse Society

Male keepers, like John, were often immigrants as well. I was looking at the 1893 Register of Federal Employees. Of the seventy-some lighthouse keepers in New York State that year, the following were born outside of the U.S.:

  • James G. Scott, keeper at Montauk Point, born in England
  • Michael Karcher, assistant keeper at Little Gull Island, born in Germany
  • Richard E. Ray, assistant keeper at Execution Rocks, born in Ireland
  • Cornelius Doublas, keeper at Stepping Stone, born in Ireland
  • Alexander Ferriera, assistant keeper at Throggs Neck, born in Madiera (I don’t know where Madiera is. Do you?)
  • Henry Harrison, assistant keeper at Sandy Hook, born in Norway
  • Andreas C. Thonning, keeper at Fort Lafayette, born in Denmark
  • Peter Ryerson, assistant keeper on Scotland Light Vessel, born in Norway
  • Charles Miller, assistant keeper at Statue of Liberty, born in Switzerland
  • Henry Poe, keeper at Fire Island, born in England
  • George H. Shaffer, keeper at Schodack Channel, born in Germany
  • James Jenkins, keeper at Cow Island, born in England
  • Patrick Whalen, keeper at Man-o’-War Rock, born in Ireland
  • Dennis McCashin, keeper at Passaic, born in Ireland
  • Andrew S. Allen, assistant keeper at Whitehall Narrows, born in Canada
  • Jeremiah Dinan, keeper at Crown Point, born in Ireland
  • Mitchell Bully, keeper at Plattsburgh Breakwater, born in Canada

These men were over 20% of the total.

Diamond Shoal LV 71 from old Postcard
Lightship No. 71 served the Diamond Shoals Station in 1911. Postcard image courtesy of U.S. Lighthouse Society.

The same was true on light vessels. In July 1911 Master Thomas Jacobson reported that of his 10-man crew on Lightship No. 71, the cook was born in Norway, one of the firemen was born in Russia, and three of the seamen came from Norway, the fourth from Sweden. Five out of ten were immigrants.

I’d say that immigrants were an important resource for the Light-House Board.

Do you know where your ancestors came from?

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker loresInformation found in the 1893 Official Register of the United States containing a List of the Officers and Employees in the Civil, Military, and Naval Service (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1893); and from National Archives Record Group 26, Entry 3 (NC-63), “Field Records of the Fifth Light-House District (Baltimore), 1851 – 1912,” Volume 284

Submitted  August 24, 2017

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