Journals of Florida's Keeper Thomas Patrick O'Hagan · News

Journals of Florida’s Keeper Thomas Patrick O’Hagan, Part 1

During recent renovations to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum’s administration building which resulted in additional space for our artifacts collection, I uncovered a pile of moldy, partly moth-eaten journals wrapped in twine.  They are unsigned, but contain, I am sure, the hand-written memoirs of Thomas Patrick O’Hagan, the Mosquito — later Ponce — Inlet Lighthouse’s second principal keeper (1893-1905) and principal keeper at Amelia Island Lighthouse (1905-1925).  Leafing through the books, the names, dates, locations, and wonderful recollections – it’s got to be Keeper O’Hagan. Written in five school composition books, O’Hagan, who served at many other Fifth and Sixth District stations in his almost fifty-year career, had some interesting stories to share about his life at the six very different lighthouses, and through his contacts and his family, other stations. I have transcribed the first “chapter” for you.  As a side note, the O’Hagan family has graciously shared with us at here at Ponce Inlet Lighthouse many other family keepsakes, mementoes and pictures. They also have done several extensive oral histories. T.P.’s handwriting is difficult to decipher, and the pages are somewhat brittle after all these years, but I will do the best I can. From time to time, I will take a crack at other sections of these journals.

— John F. Mann, Lead Docent, Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum   

O'Hagan & Sons No caption
Four men in U.S. Lighthouse Service uniforms in front of the Amelia Island Lighthouse, circa 1924.  From left, Joseph O’Hagan, David O’Hagan, Thomas Patrick O’Hagan, and Thomas John O’Hagan. (Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Collection.)

March 13, 1927.

It’s a perfect spring morning on the porch of my new little house down the lane from the Amelia Island Lighthouse.  The station, located in Fernandina Beach, is just south of the St. Mary’s River, really on the border of Georgia to the north, and the beginning of the east coast of Florida.  Now, there’s an interesting story in and of itself. The Amelia Island Lighthouse started its service only a few miles to the north on Cumberland Island in Georgia and then got moved and rebuilt here to Florida.  I’ll get to that soon enough.

My son, Thomas John, and his wife, Helen, have been after me of late to write my story, and he says now is the perfect time to do so.  I think he just wants me to keep myself busy and out of his hair. For forty-nine years, I never really had the chance to write anything other than keeping the log, making supply requisitions, and posting correspondence to the District Office in Charleston.  Now that Thomas John has taken over Amelia, and doing a fine job just like I taught him, he nags at me to take pen in hand before I forget it all.  So, let me begin.

Let me tell you a little about myself.  Until two years ago I was the Principal Keeper here at Amelia Island, the oldest tower in Florida.  My wife, Julia, passed away in 1915. She and I had twelve children. Two of our sons, Thomas and David, are lighthouse keepers and a third, Joseph, served as a mate aboard a U.S. Lighthouse Tender and also on several lightships.  Now, I’m not one to fly my own kite, but I don’t think anyone else in the Lighthouse Service can say that four men in one family were on the job, all at once! Actually, five in one family, but not all at the same time, if you count my oldest brother John who served as an assistant at the Morris Island Lighthouse in Charleston and managed Charleston’s Harbor lights for thirty years until he drowned off Sullivan’s Island in 1909.  You know, now that I’m thinking about it, I should mention that I’m also related by marriage to Amos Latham, and his son, George. Amos was the head keeper for this tower when it was in Georgia, and came with it when it was moved here to Amelia. George was also keeper here at Amelia before the War to Preserve the Union. The Latham’s were on Julia’s mother’s side.

Thomas Patrick on porch of principal keeper’s residence at Amelia Island, 1923. (Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Collection.)

I was born in the City of Brooklyn, New York, on January 10, 1859 to Denis and Mariah Corr O’Hagan who married and emigrated together from Ireland to Liverpool to New York arriving on September 2, 1850 on the ship, West Point.  They had lived all their lives in Tullyniskan Parish, County Tyrone, in the north of Ireland. Like many others, The Great Hunger drove them from the land. I had two brothers and a sister. A few years after I was born, we moved to a farm in New Jersey.   For some reason, my father took my brothers, John and William, back to Ireland and they attended school while he worked as a stone mason on a cathedral. When they returned, we all moved south and settled in the Charleston area. When she comes to visit my house, I love telling my little granddaughter, Helen, about me growing up on a farm and milking 18 cows before dawn.  Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly eighteen, and maybe it was a little later than dawn, and maybe I helped with the pails and didn’t really milk them.

I joined the Bureau of Lighthouses at seventeen years as a part-time, assistant keeper at Hunting Island, South Carolina, starting the year of our Nation’s Centennial.  Two years later, I was appointed Keeper at Fort Ripley Shoals. Both stations are near Charleston. Also in 1878, Julia Catherine Schuppe and I married at Star of the Sea Catholic Church on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, and soon after we moved to the big, old, fine First Assistant’s house at the Morris Island Lighthouse.  We stayed at Morris Island for nine years. In July of 1887, we moved to Georgetown Lighthouse, south of Myrtle Beach, where the first four of our children, Mary Jane, Charlotte, Irene and Thomas John were born. In December of 1893, I swapped jobs with William Rowlinski, and became Head Keeper at the Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse, and he went to Georgetown as keeper.

Amelia Island Lighthouse, 2018. (Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Collection.)

Seven more of our children, Julia, Agnes, William, Edith, Joseph, James and David were born at Mosquito Station.  Speaking of that, my son David’s middle name is Cowie. We named after Doctor Cowie of New Smyrna. Yes, I rowed cross the inlet and down river in the station launch to get the doctor, in all kinds of weather, in order for him to look after Julia during difficult childbirths.  There was a nurse who helped for the others. Her name was Miss Agony. We laughed about that, but she was a good soul.

In September of 1905, we packed up our brood, and old Bessie our cow, and took the train up to the Amelia Island Light. When I retired Thomas John took over, and David became his assistant keeper that same year.  The Bureau must have liked my work, because the week that I retired they put out a very complimentary bulletin to all stations and said I was meritorious. I didn’t think I did anything special, any other keeper wouldn’t do.

Well, I have more than a few stories to share over an almost fifty years of a job, and a good one at that, but I guess I better close now and get another glass of lemonade.  Plus, my hand hurts from all the writing. Helen says it’s the arthritis.

7 thoughts on “Journals of Florida’s Keeper Thomas Patrick O’Hagan, Part 1

  1. Thomas P. O’Hagan is my g. great grandfather. My father’s mother was Julia Catherine O’Hagan Rogers. My Dad, Thomas O’Hagan Rogers was named after him ! I’m very interested in this blog and want to keep up with it as you continue with this. This actually gives me family history details I’ve never had ! I would appreciate your keeping in touch with me on this. Sincerely, Beverly Rogers McMahan (865) 924-8166 email is:

    1. Hello . All this is very interesting to me cause I’m pretty positive I’m related to this O’hagan clan that originated from the exact same part of County Tyrone Ireland that my ancestors hailed from . My name is John Patrick Hagan and I was named after my great great grandfather Patrick Hagan that was born in County Tyrone Ireland just outside of Dungannon Ireland in 1827 to John Patrick Hagan born in 1777 in County Tyrone Ireland and I don’t recall his wife’s name at the moment as I have just recently found them on Google Gynecology but know she was from a different part of Ireland . My great great grandfather Patrick immigrated to America at age 16 (1843) with his uncle Joseph Hagan and first settled in Richmond Virginia and opened up and ran a store there with his nephew Patrick . And one day when Joseph was walking down a downtown Richmond street early one morning heard a auction going on and stopped as he heard the auctioneer call for a bid of $25 dollars for a large parcel of land (35.000 acres) in a very rural area of Southwest Virginia and immediately made the bid and was successful in purchasing the parcel of land . Well it wasn’t long before Joseph and Patrick packed up everything they had and made the long journey all the way across the state of Virginia to see what he had bought at auction . Most of the land was mountain land on the Scott County and Wise County border . but was also a pretty large flat sector on the Scott County side that was in a very long valley and on the banks of the Clinch River . Joseph settled at the bottom of the mountain side and built a log home . His nephew Patrick went over to a neighboring Tazewell County Virginia to study law as a apprenticeship under Mr.Strauss a well known accomplished lawyer at the time in Southwest Virginia this part I’m a little fussy on but after Patrick took and passed the bar exam and became a lawyer he went to city of Jonesville Va . which was the county seat of Lee County another neighboring country of Scott Co and opened up a Law office and not long after this he ran for and won the job of the Commonwealth Of Virginia States Prosecuting Attorney . His uncle Joseph passed away not to many years afterwards and Patrick inherited Joseph’s large parcel of land and built a large mansion style home called Hagan Hall around the site of Joseph’s log house. He later mapped out a nearby town up river on his property and named it Dungannon Virginia after the name of his birth town Dungannon . Ireland which was incorporated in the early 1900s . And both my parents were born in Dungannon Virginia . Now getting back to the beginnings Joseph and Patrick Hagan after traveling to America apparently dropped the O from their name O’hagan to just Hagan which I guess was a popular thing that a lot of Irish families with The O’ in front did upon relocating to America . but not all O’hagan’s did this as proof by your great great grandfather Thomas Patrick O’hagan . Now recently I’ve done a little digging into the early O’hagan s from County Tyrone Ireland and found our about how it was the O’hagan s that were the overseers and protectors of the royal O’Neal clans whom were name past Kings of Ireland way back and it was the O’hagan s that held and were over the proceedings of O’Neals becoming kings . and were at the exact place in County Tyrone outside of Dungannon Ireland were Thomas Patrick O’hagan says in his journal where his father and mother were born and raised . So yeah I’m sure we are related through my great great grandfather Patrick and my great great great grandfather John Patrick O’hagan. .And some more irony to this is like I started my mother and father were born and raised in Dungannon Virginia but moved to Orlando florida were I was born and raised and after my parents retired they and myself moved back to Southwest Virginia and on a vacation in 1993 I took my wife and daughter to Daytona Beach Florida and we went to the Ponce Inlet Light house and Museum and we walked in the Light house Keppers house and on the wall I found pictures of your great great grandfather Patrick Thomas O’hagan and read stories they had there about him and was shocked that I had found this lighthouse keeper with the same name as my own Patrick Hagan…Pleased Feel free to contact me by email address

  2. This is my great grandfather. His son David, the one he mentions as asst. keeper was my mother’s father; my grandfather. He went on to become the last head keeper of the light at St. Simons Island, GA. So, it looks like some of us on here are related!

  3. My wife is Cecilia Ann Bennett McCarthy, she is the granddaughter of Racheal Cecilia O’Hagan, the youngest child of Thomas Patrick O’Hagan. Cecilia and I have shared the story of the Amelia Island Lighthouse with thousands of our guests over the last 23 years. We own and operate Amelia River Cruises, at Fernandina Beach, Fl. There are obviously many descendants of Thomas and Julia O’Hagan, and we would love to share our stories with other descendants and hear other descendants stories. Perhaps a we could offer a lighthouse tour onboard one of of our tour boats to the Amelia Light along Egans Creek, sometime this spring.

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