Introduction

two lighthouses at dusk
Geoff Rand
The identical north and south towers on Thacher Island are the last remaining example of twin lights on the Atlantic coast. Once an important method of distinguishing between nearby locations, twin lights became obsolete as rotating, timed flashes served the purpose more efficiently. In fact, when the current lights on Thacher were built to replace deteriorating twins in the 1860s, the justification for a second tower was described as "entirely sentimental" and ascribed to "Cape Ann conservatism." {ECP, p.97}
lighthouse on island
Geoff Rand
The north tower sits on land that is now a National Wildlife Sanctuary. The light was decommissioned in the 1930s; today it shows a privately maintained fixed yellow light.

Thacher Island gets its name from one of the earliest and still more poignant shipwrecks on the Massachusetts coast. In August of 1635 two young families sailed from Ipswich in a small pinnace bound for Marblehead, just over 25 miles away. John Avery was the newly appointed pastor in that already notorious town -- "because many there (the most being fishermen) were something remiss in their behavior." Avery's cousin Anthony Thacher was aboard, along with the two men's wives, their ten children, and other relatives, passengers, and four mariners, for a total of twenty-three.

According to Thacher's account in a letter to his brother in London, two days into the voyage (!) the pinnace's old sails blew out, and the sailors anchored for the night.

But before light it pleased the Lord to send so mighty a storm as the like was never known in New England since the English came, nor in the memory of the Indians.

It was so furious that our anchors came home. Whereupon the mariners let out more cable which at last slipped away. Then our sailors knew not what to do, but we were driven before wind and waves.

The pinnace fetched up on a small rocky island just east of Cape Ann, where:

The waves came furiously and violently over us and against us. . . but beat her all to pieces. Now. . . consider my misery who beheld the ship broken. . . my goods and provisions swimming in the seas, my friends almost drowned, and mine own poor children. . . before mine eyes drown and ready to be swallowed up and dashed to pieces against the rocks by the merciless waves, and myself ready to accompany them.
{all quotations ECP pp.6-7}

In the event, Thacher and his wife Elizabeth washed ashore and survived. All ten children from the two families were drowned, along with the other adults, and the sailors.

Afterwards, with an act of almost cruelly ironic generosity, the Massachusetts General Court gave to the Thachers the title to the island which still bears their name.

more on Thacher Island. . .