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Scituate Light and Shipwrecks at Cohasset Rocks

David Wadsworth

Reprinted with permission from the Cohasset Historical Society, Cohasset, MA (Town of Cohasset, Mass., 2005), pp. 69-70.

. . . The first Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse was constructed in 1848 and 1849, and its lantern was lit in early 1850. The location of that ill-fated lighthouse had been chosen as the result of a list, made by Cohasset’s Captain Daniel T. Lothrop, of shipwrecks that had occurred at the Cohasset Rocks in previous years. The list was long and the loss of lives and property . . . was alarming. Minot’s Ledge, the outermost visible hazard of the Cohasset Rocks, had been known as a danger to mariners for many years . . .

By 1827 it was discovered that the beacon in the old lighthouse at Scituate Harbor, built in about 1811, had been confusing to vessels approaching Boston, many of whom mistook it for Boston Light, with consequent shipwrecks on the Scituate shore as vessels sailed directly onto the ledges and sandy shores of that dangerous coast. Those discovering their error in time to correct their course proceeded to sail onto the treacherous rocks off Cohasset, of which Minot’s Ledge was the most dangerous. In 1827 the [Boston] Marine Society requested the darkening of the Scituate light, but to no avail.

By 1829 the . . . society took what may have been the first action to mark Minot’s Ledge for the purpose of warning mariners away from the Cohasset Rocks when its trustees “voted to petition Congress for an appropriation to erect a spindle on the ledge.” This was to be a day mark, that is, not lighted for nighttime visibility . . . Some funds must have been forthcoming in 1829, for work on the Minot’s Ledge spindle began in that year, but it was not completed and another appropriation was requested for the spindle in late 1831. It appears that not until a third appropriation was requested in 1835 was the Minot’s Ledge spindle actually completed.

No description or picture of the Minot’s Ledge spindle is known, but it having been initially described as a day mark precludes a lighted beacon. Presumably any lighted marker would have required the regular services of a keeper, making the structure a lighthouse rather than simply an unattended day mark. The Boston Marine Society, diligent in its continued efforts to improve navigational signals along the Massachusetts coast, became influential in the government’s decision to build a lighthouse at Minot’s Ledge a few years later, and on the night in 1850 when Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse was first lighted, the old light at Scituate Harbor was darkened, as the Marine Society had first requested in 1827.

From David Wadsworth, “First Marker at Minot’s Ledge Established by Boston Marine Society,” Historical Highlights, Cohasset Historical Society, Summer 2001. Reprinted by permission of the author. Article’s information drawn from William A. Baker, A History of the Boston Marine Society, 1742-1967, published by the Boston Marine Society.