The Cutler Family Chronicles is a six-book series that profiles the American perspective during the Age of Sail. Because the Cutler family is engaged in overseas commerce—as well as in the fledgling U.S. Navy—much of the action takes place at sea. Lighthouses therefore play a subtle yet important role in these novels.
Below is a brief profile of the lighthouses that appear in them.
Constructed on Little Brewster Island at the entrance to Boston Harbor, Boston Light appears in several volumes of the Chronicles beginning with the first volume, A Matter of Honor, since Boston was home port to the Cutler family. First built in 1716--and the first lighthouse in the colonies--it was rebuilt in 1783 after the British blew it up as they evacuated Boston in March of 1776. It now stands at 98 feet and is the second oldest working lighthouse in the United States (after Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey).
In August of 1803, Boston Light and Cape Cod Light at Truro are the last glimpses of Massachusetts available to Midshipman James Cutler as USS Constitution sails eastward into the night toward the Barbary Coast of North Africa (as depicted in A Call to Arms).
As an interesting side-note, Boston Light was staffed and maintained by the United States Coast Guard until 1998, at which time it became fully automated. It was the last lighthouse in America to employ and house a keeper and his family on site.
Richard (Cutler) was seated at his desk, but he had turned his chair around and was facing aft with his feet up on the narrow crimson-cushioned settee running athwartship afore the stern window (of his family’s double topsail schooner, Falcon). That window was open, and Richard appeared to be looking out to southwestward, toward the town of Cape Elizabeth, where a massive structure clearly defined as the base of a lighthouse stood on a far-off promontory known locally as ‘the Neck’.This paragraph appears in chapter 4 of For Love of Country. It describes the beginnings of what was to become Portland Light, a project begun in 1787 at the directive of George Washington and completed in 1791.
Standing at a height of 101 feet, it is the oldest lighthouse in Maine (until 1820, a part of Massachusetts). Like most lighthouses of the period, it was conical in shape and used whale oil lamps for illumination.
SANDY POINT LLIGHT
Referred to today at Great Point Light or Nantucket Light, Sandy Point Lighthouse was a wooden tower constructed in 1784 at the end of a seven-mile spit of sand on the northerly extreme of Nantucket Island. Standing guard near the waters where Nantucket Sound and the Atlantic Ocean converge—and where treacherous shoals lurk—Sandy Point Light served as a lifeline to mariners of all states and nations, including whalers returning from the Pacific and those aboard the Cutler sloop Elizabeth battling a fierce winter gale following an encounter with a French privateer.
Designed by the famous New York architect John McComb, the Cape Henry Lighthouse on Virginia Beach has stood sentinel at the entry-way of Chesapeake Bay, protecting commercial traffic coming in and out of the bay as well as American privateers slipping in and out of the Chesapeake during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 to wreak havoc on British shipping. The Chesapeake became an important destination for the Cutler family after it opened a second shipping office in Baltimore to serve the rapidly growing interior of the United States, In The Power and the Glory, Richard Cutler sails from Boston to Baltimore to meet with Capt, Thomas Truxtun, with whom he serves as second lieutenant in USS Constellation during the Quasi War with France,
On July 10, 1797 Congress appropriated $44,000 for the construction of two lighthouses on the coast of North Carolina: one to be built on Hatteras Island and the other in the harbor of Ocracoke a few miles south.
Hatteras Light is among the more important lighthouses in the United States since it is located near the infamous Diamond Shoals, more ominously referred to as “the graveyard of the Atlantic,” It is here where the cold waters of the south-bound Labrador Current clash with the warm waters of the north-bound Gulf Stream, creating chaos amid a large area of sandbars and shoals extending fourteen miles out to sea.
In fair weather, the 112-foot high lighthouse can be seen by mariners eighteen miles offshore, a blessing that no doubt has saved countless lives over the years.
Located on Tybee Island at the mouth of the Savannah River, the first rendition of Tybee Island Lighthouse was completed in 1736 at the directive of Gen. James Ogelthorpe, governor and founder of the colony of Georgia. At the time, at 90 feet in height, it was the tallest structure in colonial America,
As witnessed by Richard and Katherine Cutler (in How Dark the Night, to be released by the Naval Institute Press in October) after a run-in with the notorious pirate Jean Lafitte in New Orleans:
Off to the east of the city was yet another beacon of civilization: a lighthouse on what the sloop’s master identified as Tybee Island. Tybee Light, originally constructed in 1736, was the first lighthouse to grace these southern American waters. It had been destroyed by fire and rebuilt twice, Richard recalled reading in a maritime journal, and today rose one hundred feet from its island base. To Richard and the others sailing with him across the eighty-five miles separating Sea Island from Savannah, the gradual emergence of Tybee Light on the northern horizon had been a most welcome sight.
Photo credits [all public domain]: Morning Off Boston Light by Clement Drew, 1879; Portland Head Light Station, Cape Elizabeth, Maine, U.S.A.; 1995 photograph of the first Cape Henry Light; The famous lighthouse on Cape Hatteras, 2006; Historic Tybee Island Light Station, taken November 2004.