Alexander Hamilton: Father of America's Lighthouses

Tue, Jan 02, 2024 at 3:33PM

Alexander Hamilton: Father of America's Lighthouses

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum Lead Docent John Mann will present “ALEXANDER HAMILTON – THE FATHER OF AMERICA’S  LIGHTHOUSES” at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Thursday at the Tower Series on Thursday, January 11, 2024 at 11:00 am in the lighthouse conference room.

The presentation included with the regular lighthouse admission price of $6.95 for the day.

Alexander Hamilton’s appointment as the first Treasurer of the young country carried with it the huge burden of paying off the considerable Revolutionary War Debt, righting the nation’s economic future, founding and building the United States Coast Guard, and in addition, supervising and managing the fledging nation’s 12 present and future lighthouses, which were previously under the care of the individual states they were located in.

“That is not an enviable job description in any time.  But Hamilton rose to the occasion.  He and President Washington realized that the thirteen states making up a new nation needed to grow from an agrarian culture and economy to succeed in an ever-changing world.  And a big part of that changing world was dependable and visible nautical transportation.  Not many people realize that the United States’ first public works project was the building of a lighthouse, the Cape Henry Lighthouse in 1792, at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia,” said Mann.

Cape Henry Lighthouse

Cape Henry Lighthouse

Hamilton is one of the most controversial American Founding Fathers.  Interest in Alexander Hamilton, the first Cabinet Treasury Secretary of the newly born country, and Revolutionary War chief aide to General George Washington, has exploded exponentially.  Appreciation and admiration for his many contributions to our new nation is regenerated, largely due to the long-running, sold-out show and the equally absorbing 2004 biography that inspired it.  The riveting, landmark work by Pulitzer Prize winning historian Ron Chernow, the first new profile of Hamilton in decades, also debunked many long-accepted myths about Hamilton.

“In his time, after, and even now, Hamilton can be credited with shaping, galvanizing, inspiring, and even, scandalizing America. Both his accomplishments and his aspirations were myriad. Most important to Mann, who has travelled to and photographed hundreds of American lighthouses and countless European lighthouses in 22 European countries, is Hamilton’s almost passionate advocacy for building lighthouses along the dark and dangerous coasts of the then United States.  This is at a time when only those aforementioned twelve lighthouses, mostly harbor beacons, and few minor navigational aids existed.  Truly, Hamilton’s life can be summed up in one “metro-lyric” from the show authored by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Well, there’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait.”

Hamilton’s vision of America, shared with Washington, was that the country must and would become a dominant force in global sea trade.  One of the first things both Hamilton and Washington did in 1788 to support and strengthen the fledgling republic was to create and collect national import and excise taxes to service the huge national debt from the American Revolution, and encourage and also regulate  more trade.  The present U.S. Coast Guard, long deeply respected as humanitarian-based, was actually created in 1789 by the First Congress as a “floating police force” established by Secretary Hamilton on August 4, 1790 as the Revenue-Marine Service, in order to collect duties on vessels and imported goods, and to suppress piracy.  As some might know, the present Coast Guard is an amalgamation of five bureaus or services:  The Revenue Marine (later called Revenue Cutter) Service, the Life-Saving Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Service, and the Bureau of Navigation.

Coast Guard Logo

“Hamilton was correct.  Our trade grew so strong and so fast that by 1800 there were 24 lighthouses in the new nation, all along the Atlantic coast.  By the mid-twentieth century, there were an estimated 1500 lighthouses, range lights, and pier lights built and manned, 120 lightship stations along the ocean and Great Lake’s coasts, with 179 vessels constructed for use as lightships, and tens of thousands of in-water aids to navigation, said Mann.”

In an interview after the publication of his best-selling biography, Chernow said, “Nobody stood closer to the center of American politics and policy from 1776 to 1800 than did Alexander Hamilton.” 

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User Comments

This article
Excellent article. I?m on the board of Tibbetts Point Lighthouse in Cape Vincent, NY. Our first lighthouse was built in 1827 on the site and was replace with our current higher tower in 1854. Could we have your permission to use your article on our website? We would accredit your authorship. Please let me know.
Author: / Sun, Jan 14, 2024 at 6:58AM

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