"The New England Lighthouse Storm and the Yankee Gale"

Description: On April 16th, 1851, a fierce nor'easter ripped into Cape Cod Bay and brought the highest waters ever seen in this region up to that the time, easily exceeding the legendary high tides of 1723. That evening, the newly-constructed Minot's Ledge Lighthouse was destroyed by this massive storm. The storm weakened the tower's iron support piles, causing them to collapse and topple into the boiling surf off the coast of Cohasset, Massachusetts. The lighthouse keeper, John Bennett, had been away in Boston at the time of the storm. As he gazed out at the ledge at dawn the following day, he could only see the bent iron pilings where the lighthouse once stood. It was a tragic and heroic story as Bennett's two assistants, Joseph Wilson and Joseph Antoine, managed to keep the lighthouse lamp burning as late as 10:00 PM on the night of April 16th. The fog bell was heard to be ringing as late as 1:00 AM, before they were swept away in the breakers.

Meanwhile, on the North Shore of Massachusetts, the brig Primose, laden with coal, was foundering off of Salisbury Beach and heading towards the reef of Plum Island, when two young men, a T. G. Dodge and one O. Rundlett, of Newburyport, discovered the wreck. The crew of the Primrose could plainly see them on the beach, and communicated with them by signs, as the brig gradually beat on to the sands. The mariners endeavored to throw a line on shore. In the meantime, Dodge and Rundlett were joined by two other men, who toiled for 4 hours in the raging seas to secure a rope and save 9 passengers, including the captain.

From October 3rd through the 5th, in the same year of 1851, the Yankee Gale lambasted the Gulf of St. Lawrence and decimated much of the New England fishing fleets. Dozens of ships were lost (19 from Gloucester alone) and over 160 lives were lost in the worst maritime disaster in the history of Prince Edwards Island and the Canadian Atlantic Provinces. Join New England folklorist John Horrigan as he presents a lecture on these two powerful and devastating storms.


  • Construction began in 1847 on Minot's Ledge lighthouse. The first version was completed in 1850. The ledge was barely 20 feet wide and was exposed at low tide, being dry only 2 or 3 hours a day. On this narrow rock construction was begun in the spring of 1847 of a 75-foot open-work iron light structure. The men could only work on very calm days when the tide was at its ebb. The work was conducted from a schooner which remained near the ledge, unless the sea was rough, with the workmen sleeping on board. If a storm threatened, the schooner put into Scituate Harbor until it was over.

  • In 1843, lighthouse inspector I. W. P. Lewis compiled a report on Minot's Ledge, showing that over 40 vessels had been lost due to the ledge from 1832 to 1841. Between 1817 and 1847, it was estimated that 40 lives and $364,000 in property had been lost in shipwrecks in the vicinity of Minot's Ledge, off Scituate, Mass.

  • The lighthouse was lighted for the first time in 1850. A 16-sided lantern room at the very top, housed a Fresnel lantern, with 15 reflectors. The light, a fixed beacon with an arc of 210, was first lighted January 1, 1850.

  • All the apparatus was swept from the rock by two different storms in the summer of 1847. Workmen were swept into the sea several times, but none was drowned. Work had to be stopped for the winter in October 1847 and begun again in the spring of 1848, but by September of that year the nine holes had been drilled and the nine iron piles placed.

  • Braces planned to strengthen the lower part of the tower were omitted on the theory that they would lessen rather than increase the over-all security of the edifice. However, it was where these braces were planned to go, that the structure actually broke off during the Lighthouse Storm of April, 1851.

  • A fierce "nor'easter" blitzed the New England Coast on Wednesday, April 16th, 1851. Lighthouse keeper John Bennett was ashore in Boston and left his assistants Joseph Wilson and Joseph Antoine in charge of the lighthouse.

  • The lighthouse lamp was last seen blazing around 10 PM on the night of April 16th, 1851.

  • The fog bell was heard furiously clanging around 1 AM on April 17th, 1851 moments before it toppled into the boiling surf.

  • There was five feet of water at the State House in Boston due to the incredible combination of a very high tide that was bolstered by a full moon and a storm surge. The Great Tide of 1723 was usurped by the New England Lighthouse Storm.

  • Later that year (1851), from October 3rd through October 5th, a massive early-Autumn storm smashed into the Atlantic seaboard at New England and raced up into the Canadian Maritime provinces.

  • Before it was over, the New England fleet, fishing off the coast at Geroge's Bank, was devastated - nearly 100 vessels were wrecked or stranded, and 160 people were killed.

  • Today Minot's Ledge Light is known as the "I love you" light, named for its 1-4-3 flashing pattern.


  • Organization: Brookline Low Vision Group
  • Contact: Mary Feigenbaum
  • Date: May 20th, 2009
  • Location: Brookline Council on Aging in Brookline, Massachusetts
  • Phone: 617-576-0986

  • LISTEN TO THIS LECTURE right click - Save Target As - to download

    Running Time: 47 minutes Size: 45 MB

  • Organization: Ventress Memorial Library
  • Contact: Chris Woods
  • Date: April 21st, 2009
  • Location: Ventress Memorial Library in Marshfield, Massachusetts
  • Email: click to email

  • LISTEN TO THIS LECTURE right click - Save Target As - to download

    Running Time: 1:08 Size: 74 MB


    THE NEW ENGLAND LIGHTHOUSE STORM (1851) right click - Save Target As - to download

    Recorded on April 15th, 2009 at Watertown, Massachusetts. John reads about a nasty gale that toppled Minot's Lighthouse off the coast of Cohasset in April of 1851. Time: 16:51 Size 16 MB

    THE YANKEE GALE (1851) right click - Save Target As - to download

    Recorded on April 15th, 2009 at Watertown, Massachusetts. John reads about a surprise October Gale that wiped out the North Atlantic fishing fleets of the United States and Canada in 1851. Time: 8:42 Size 8 MB