Gammon and the offshore ledges known as Bishop (largest of the ledges)
and Clerks (smaller rocks) were, for many years, scourges to mariners
traveling near Hyannis along the south coast of Cape Cod—one writer
dubbed them the “Scylla and Charybdis” of Nantucket Sound. The
lighthouse established at Point Gammon in 1816 was a help, but it
wasn’t sufficient to prevent vessels from running into the treacherous
Bishop and Clerks ledges a mile or so offshore.
One of the prominent wrecks in the vicinity was the ship Columbus
in April 1851. The vessel, bound for Boston with a cargo of salt,
struck at Bishop and Clerks and ran ashore at Cotuit. The crew escaped
safely, but the ship was badly damaged.
- U.S. Coast Guard
A day beacon marked the spot for some years, before the Lighthouse
Board announced in 1855 that a lightship had been built at the navy
yard in Boston to be placed at Bishop and Clerks. It wasn’t long before
the lightship was deemed insufficient. On August 18, 1856, Congress
appropriated $20,000 for a lighthouse at the location.The
building of the lighthouse was a difficult process, similar to the
construction of other wave-swept stone towers like Massachusetts'
Minot's Ledge Light and England's Eddystone Light. The work began in
the spring of 1857. The massive granite blocks were cut onshore and
ferried to the site, where they were pieced together on a cylindrical
The Lighthouse Board announced that the stonework had
almost been completed in 1857, but the 65-foot tower wasn’t finished
until the following year.
light went into operation on October 1, 1858. Point Gammon Light
was extinguished when the new lighthouse went into service. The
lighthouse received a fourth-order Fresnel lens, exhibiting a white
flash every 30 seconds from a point 56 feet above the water. The
lighthouse also had an automatic fog bell, operated by a clockwork
mechanism. The striking machinery and associated weights were housed in
a wooden addition to the side of the lighthouse.
principal keeper and two assistants (usually only two men would be on
duty at the lighthouse at the same time) lived inside the tower, which
had a kitchen and two bedrooms. The first principal keeper was John
Peak of Hyannis. His father, Samuel Peak, had been keeper of the Point
Gammon Light from the time it was built in 1816 until his death in
1824. John took over and remained keeper at Point Gammon until the new
tower was completed at Bishop and Clerks.
claim that John Peak remained keeper until his death in 1886, but
payroll records indicate that W. W. Baker took over as principal keeper
in 1859. Turnover was frequent, as was common at isolated offshore
lights. At least 35 men served at the lighthouse in its 65 years as a
Charles H. Hinckley, a native of Barnstable, was an assistant keeper
from 1881 to 1884. He left for a few years at Dumpling Rock Light, but
returned as prinicipal keeper at Bishop and Clerks in 1892. His wife,
Dorinda (Bearse), sometimes visited the lighthouse to stay with her
Hinckley remained at the lighthouse until 1919, when
he was 70. Hinckley, who was 4 feet 9 inches (or 4 feet 6 inches in his
stocking feet, according to one account), has been called the shortest
lighthouse keeper in the world.
Hinckley, whose father was a
prominent Cape Cod doctor, had gone to sea at the age of 16 as a cabin
boy on an East Indies-bound ship. He said the first and most important
thing he learned about seafaring life was “to move when spoken to, to
jump quickly to one side and avoid the real attack that was sure to
come.” He “knocked about” in a variety of vessels for 15 years before
becoming a lighthouse keeper.
- Keeper Charles Hinckley (4'9")
with local ferry captain Walter Carney (6'7") of Hyannisport.
Hinckley referred to himself and Carney as the "long and
short of the service."
Hinckley was interviewed by the Boston Herald in 1907. Here's an excerpt:
1892 I became Captain of Bishop and Clerks. This is one of the most
important lights on Cape Cod, as it commands both the north and south
channels and is of assistance to vessels coming up over the shoals
around Monomoy Point.
requires lots of philosophy to be a light-keeper on an outside station.
At Bishop and Clerks, for example, the keeper has twenty days on and
ten days off. The past two years has [sic] been the best that has ever
been known. Only twice during the winter periods, have conditions been
such that we could not get ashore. In the year 1903, for 48 days the
sound was full of ice and at times it was piled around the light to the
height of twenty feet.
In 1909, the magazine Along the Coast quoted Hinckley:
ain't a great deal of me so far as height goes but I am all right from
my feet up. I've laid many a man bigger than me on his back if I do say
Betty Bugbee Cusack, in her book Collector's Luck: A Thousand Years at Lewis Bay, Cape Cod,
remembered her friend, Mrs. Cook of Hyannis, who often visited the
lighthouse as a girl. Mrs. Cook was the niece of Keeper Hinckley. Mrs.
Cook said she could “just smell the cornbread and those boiling
lobsters now, thinking about those trips.”
Cusack also wrote the
Hinckley was a familiar sight in Hyannis after his lighthouse keeping
days: “He was always busy, either digging and selling a few clams,
doing an odd job here and there, or tending somebody's furnace . . .
doing it all with a cheerful optimism.”
1929 newspaper article reported that Hinckley was in charge of keeping
the furnace fires burning in the Hyannis Public Library and some other
buildings. According to the article, "The lonesome experiences [of
lighthouse keeping] have not left the spirit dark for his merry
salutations and bits of humorous conversation are akin to light."
Father of four and a lighthouse
keeper for 38 years, Charles Hinckley died in 1932. His son, Charles,
Jr., later served as the Hyannis harbormaster.
lighthouse was converted to automatic acetylene gas operation in 1923
and discontinued in 1928. It continued to serve as a day beacon, but
suffered from the sea's battering as well as vandalism. A storm in 1935
did considerable damage.
By 1952, the tower tilted to one side
and was missing many blocks. The Coast Guard decided to raze the
structure. Hired to carry out the demolition was the McKie Lighter
Company and U. O. MacDonald of Boston, a blasting expert.
took a week. Dynamite was placed strategically in drilled holes in such
a way to direct the blast upward, so the debris wouldn’t scatter over
too large an area. It was hoped that some of the materials could be
- From the collection of Edward Rowe
- Courtesy of Dorotthy Bicknell
As hundreds of people in pleasure craft watched on September 11, 1952, the tugboat Irene and Mary flew a red flag of warning. When the proper time came—12:57 p.m.—the tug blew six blasts on its whistle.
The Boston Globe described the spectacle:
A cloud of smoke partly hid the old tower, which stood
swaying for a moment and then toppled to one side like a pile
of child's blocks... The historic Bishop and Clerks Lighthouse
was no more.
For many years a 30-foot pyramidal day beacon marked the spot
where the lighthouse once stood. There is now a small lighted
tower on the spot.
|In addition, several buoys warn mariners away
from the dangerous shoals that were guarded by Bishop and Clerks
Light for nearly a century.
- Keepers: (This
list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers
of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at email@example.com.
Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own
risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
- John Peak (1858-1859); W. W. Baker
(1859-1860); D. Taylor (1860-1861); V. (?) Harding (1861-1866);
George L. Lewis (1866-1873); Charles F. Swain (1873-1886); Franklin
Percival (1886-1887); George A. Smith (1890-1891); Charles Hinckley
- Assistants: H. Crowell (1859); John Bates (1859);
B. Baxter (1859); Nathan Baxter (1859-1860); William Robbins
(1860-1861); Amos Crowell (1861-1871); Lawrence Chase (1867);
Lovell Lewis (1867-1869); John Peak (1869); Joseph P. Bearse
(1871-1883); Elisha Loring (1874-1879); William Ramsdell (1879-1880);
Samuel Adams Peak, 2nd assistant (1880-1881); Joel Hamblin (1881);
Marcus B. Baker (2nd assistant, 1883-1884); Franklin Percival
(2nd assistant, 1884, 1st assistant 1884-1886); William A. Dixon
(2nd assistant 1884-1885); Amos F. Howes (?) (2nd assistant,
1885-1886); George A. Smith (2nd assistant 1886, 1st assistant
1886-1890); Benjamin B. Baxter (2nd assistant 1886-1891, 1st
assistant 1891-1896); Joseph H. Bearse (2nd assistant, 1891-1892);
Charles Hinckley (2nd assistant 1881-1883, 1st assistant 1883-1884);
Halvor (?) M. Jansen (1st assistant, 1892-1898); William A. Howland
(1st assistant, 1898-); Winfield S. S. Hooper (2nd assistant,
1903-); Joshua A. Montcalm (2nd assistant 1903-c. 1908)