October 7 - 1808: The Chatham Light is lit

"Mooncussers" helped turn on Chatham Light nine years after the Cape's first lighthouse at North Truro
On this day over two hundred years ago, Congress appropriated $5,000 for construction of a lighthouse in Chatham, Cape Cod's second lighthouse. Above an historic Coast Guard lifeboat sailing off today's version.

1808: The $5,000 Chatham Lighthouse is first lit

Mooncussers and Chatham Light

Chatham was named for the English seaport and incorporated in 1712. Sea traffic passing the Cape was heavy by the nineteenth century, and it all had to sail past the elbow where the waters off Chatham were a menace, with strong currents and dangerous shoals.

Local sailors spoke of a ghostly rider on a white horse who appeared on stormy nights, swinging a lantern that lured mariners to their doom. Others knew that the ghostly rider was actually malicious locals waving a lantern on moonless nights to lure sailing vessels to their doom by having them think the lantern was the lighthouse beacon. The wrecked ships were then plundered for their cargo.

These evildoers were named "mooncussers" since their deadly scheme only was possible on moonless nights when sailors could not see the shoreline.

In April 1806, nine years after the establishment of the Cape's first lighthouse at North Truro, Congress appropriated $5,000 for a second station at Chatham.

A second appropriation of $2,000 was made in 1808. In order to distinguish Chatham from Highland Light.

It was decided that the new station would have two fixed white lights, shown on the right. Two octagonal wooden towers, each 40-feet-tall and about 70-feet apart from each other, were erected on movable wooden skids about 70-feet apart. A small dwelling house was also built, with only one bedroom.  Samuel Nye was approved as the first keeper by President Thomas Jefferson.

Take a virtual tour of the lighthouse here, and schedule your own visit here.


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