Lighthouse Keeper Series: Francis Philip Fatio Dunham

By Jay Smith

            On June 26, 1916, readers of the St. Augustine Evening Record read an entertaining interview with 68 year old Oregon Dunham offering “very interesting reminiscences” from a man “whose remarkable memory…retained so much of what happened in the earlier days.” Dunham recalled significant events in the Oldest City, including the Civil War and some of the local folklore.  “Oregon” was a nickname for Francis Philip Fatio Dunham.  His mother, Mary, was the daughter of his namesake, Francis Philip Fatio, who arrived in Florida during the American Revolution.  His father, David Ross Dunham, born in New York City, came to Florida to oversee his family’s sugar plantation in New Smyrna.  The Dunhams proved to be one of several prominent families in Florida’s history.  Interestingly, of all the Lighthouse Keepers, Oregon Dunham held the shortest tenure at the station.  On April 1, 1875, William Russell and his family moved out of the tower and delivered the keys to then-Assistant Keeper Dunham.  On April 15, Dunham accepted the official appointment as Keeper of the St. Augustine Lighthouse.  By November 18, a new Keeper, William Harn, arrived. 

Lighthouse Keeper “Oregon” Francis Philip Fatio Dunham and family/friends are shown on the base of the first lighthouse, which had fallen in the ocean, with the new St. Augustine Lighthouse in the backgound.

            Oregon Dunham certainly had the pedigree to position himself into a government job such as the Keeper at St. Augustine.  As William Russell discovered, government jobs in St. Augustine often depended less on skill and training than upon connections with the rich and powerful.  Dunham’s family connections certainly placed him at the top of the applicant pool.  He began working at the light station on October 15, 1874, as the First Assistant Keeper under Keeper Russell.  Once he received the appointment as Head Keeper, the Second Assistant Keeper, Philip J. Canova, received a promotion to First Assistant. Canova stayed only a few months and then resigned.  In order to fill the vacancy, Second Assistant Daniel Mickler was promoted to First Assistant.  Such a personnel change may suggest contentious issues at the station; however, we have no record of what prompted Dunham’s dismissal.  Nevertheless, the Keeper’s Log provides some hints to the cause. 

            Within a few months of Dunham’s appointment as Head Keeper, an accident took place.  The tower was literally less than a year old when on June 21, 1875, “a little after two o’clock the weight of the mechanical lamp fell through the receiving well carrying the bottom off of the flange and fell into revolving machinery thereby springing some of the shafts so badly as to prevent the ‘revolving’ of the lens.” Although the extent of the damage is not known, the result was that the light ran only as a fixed light, meaning that the lens did not rotate.  Thus, the light station could not display its night mark.  The log records that the light was back in operation by June 26, 1875, following a visit by the United States Lampist who “placed [the light] in perfect order.” The log also records that the Captain Inspector, AEK Benham, made two more visits to the light station, once on July 28 and another on August 29.  Each visit apparently entailed repairs to the site.  On the July 28 visit, the Captain Inspector, in his own hand, wrote in the log, “Written the Principal + assistants are to absent themselves from the station until all work is finished and the light + appurtenances are ready for inspection.”  In the Light Station Service, multiple visits from the Lampist hinted at a problem perhaps with the light itself; however,  multiples visits by the Inspector General within a few months’ time, meant that something was fundamentally wrong with the way the station was run. 

Since the tower was relatively new, the Light House Service was bound to be concerned about the job Keeper Dunham was doing.  In fact, on November 18, 1875, a new Keeper named William Harn arrived to take command of the Light Station.  Although there is no mention in the Keeper’s Log of the removal of Oregon Dunham, we do know that it took place prior to Harn’s arrival.  The Keeper’s Log does not record any major incidents for well over a year after Harn’s arrival and appointment. 

            What happened to Oregon Dunham? As in the case of William Russell, Dunham remains an elusive figure in historical records.  He remained in St. Augustine, and most of the city directories mention him as a gardener.  He resided in the home of his mother, Mary Dunham, located on Charlotte Street behind the St. Francis Barracks.  She owned two pieces of property: one on Charlotte Street and the other just behind it on south St. George Street facing Maria Sanchez Creek.  With the death of his mother, Oregon inherited these two pieces of property.  The city directory lists a boarder with a “b” by Oregon’s name until 1890 when he became an owner, marked with an “o.”

            Unfortunately there are no additional records mentioning Oregon until December 7, 1911, when he sold the property which he had inherited from his mother.  He sold it to his brother, David L. Dunham, for the sum of ten dollars.  The warranty deed records only the monetary transaction, not why Oregon sold the land.  The next mention of Oregon appears in the article in the St. Augustine Evening Record of June 26, 1916.  In September of 1916, Oregon Dunham applied for residence in the Florida Confederate Home in Jacksonville.  Created by the Florida Soldiers Home Association in 1888, the facility was a retirement home for Confederate veterans.  The Association had purchased ten acres of land along Talleyrand Avenue for the construction of an Italian-styled building with nine rooms.  An adjoining home contained two additional rooms.  Residents had to furnish proof of their Confederate military service as well as their honorable discharge or parole. 

            On August 10, 1861, Oregon Dunham, only 14 years old, had enlisted in Company B of the Third Florida Infantry, otherwise known as the St. Augustine Blues.   His older brother, David Lewis Dunham, enlisted in Jacksonville with Company H of the Second Florida Infantry.  Oregon served for only a short time before his parents pulled him out of service because of his youth and a physical disability.  He hired someone of the same age to serve in his place and to answer to “Oregon Dunham.”  However, the substitute was discharged on November 2, 1862, in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Dunham remained in St. Augustine throughout the war.  Refusing to take the oath of loyalty to the Union, he found himself in custody.  When the other Confederate supporters in St. Augustine were deported to Confederate lines, the Union commander ordered that Dunham remain in St. Augustine and daily report to the Union Provost Marshall.  Dunham detailed his war experiences in his application for a Confederate pension in 1909.  Unfortunately, when Dunham filed the paperwork, he used his given name, Francis Philip Fatio Dunham, not Oregon Dunham.  The State Board of Pensions denied the request since there were no records filed under his given name.  A second application included both names, but met with the same fate since Oregon had used a substitute.  Using their connections in state government, the Dunham family requested that Oregon be awarded his pension.  Therefore, on June 13, 1913, the Legislature of the State of Florida passed State Bill Number 127 requiring the State Board of Pensions to “accept proofs submitted by the said Oregon Dunham as proofs of service and place his name on the roll of pensioners to whom has been allowed a pension.”

            The disability mentioned by Oregon Dunham in his application for a Confederate pension is known as varicocele, the enlargement of the veins in the scrotum (very similar to varicose veins which occur in the legs).  The condition can cause a great deal of pain and usually leads to infertility.  Even with today’s medical knowledge, the exact cause of the condition is unknown, and there are no known risk factors that contribute to the diagnosis.  The common treatment for the condition was surgery; however, it is doubtful that Dunham would have opted for such an invasive procedure.  One of the major causes of death during the Civil War was not wounds inflicted upon soldiers but the conditions in field hospitals and operating rooms where infections ran unabated.    

            Although Oregon Dunham supervised the St. Augustine Light Station for only a short time, his tenure there was historically important.  Despite the unfortunate incidents that seem to have cut short his career in the Light Service, Dunham’s service demonstrates that family connections and prominence in the community provided him an opportunity to serve.  We must remember that following the Civil War, appointments for most government offices were rarely based around experience.  The civil service exam would not determine eligibility for government service until the Pendleton Act of 1883, and even then the number of government positions within the government that required the exam was minimal. Following his time as Keeper, Dunham remained in St. Augustine and was employed as a gardener.  More than likely, his disability kept him from pursuing farming or any other physically demanding occupation.  He died in 1916 and was buried in St. Augustine’s Evergreen Cemetery with other members of his family.  When William Harn arrived in St. Augustine, the Light Service sought a Keeper who could avoid the errors of the former Keeper while bringing stability to the station. 

Summer Camp: If the Lighthouse Could Talk!

Registration open for 2019 summer camp at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum

Oh the stories that St. Augustine Lighthouse would tell if only it could talk! Registration is open for 2019 summer camps held at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. See details below …

Register online at staugustinelighthouse.org/education/Summer_Camp

Completed K-4th grades

Oh the stories the St. Augustine Lighthouse would tell if only it could talk! From the first watch towers to today, weekly camp themes explore different episodes of St. Augustine and northeast Florida’s maritime past. Take a journey through time this summer at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum! See registration for details on weekly themes.

Completed 5th– 7th grades

Discover how people have lived and interacted with the marine  environment from the early 1500s to the present. Practice boatbuilding skills, fish from shore and on the water, row locally made wooden watercraft, visit modern shrimping and boating operations in St. Augustine, go on an eco-tour by kayak, and more!    *All activities weather permitting.*

 IF THE LIGHTHOUSE COULD TALK! 

Completed K-4th grades

Week 1:   1st Explorers      May 28-31

Learn how the first explorers navigated here, their life aboard ship, and how they fared when they arrived.  Make coquina, build a watchtower, try a ship’s biscuit, and take a look at the native plant resources that would have been available.  Campers can practice some of what they’ve learned on the water with a trip on the Schooner Freedom!

Week 2:   My How My Island has Grown!     June 3-7

Who was working the Lighthouse and developing our area? St. Augustine has a history diverse in its population, including the Lighthouse keepers.  Delve into some of those cultures through food, art, maps, and traditions.  Try your hand at net casting at Anastasia State Park or line fishing! Weather permitting

Week 3:   Pharology…what?     June 10-14

Discover the masterful engineering that makes me a Lighthouse.  Participate in activities related to technology changes in how the Lighthouse is lit.  Take a look at lighthouses all over the world and learn more about pharology.  Campers will visit the Lightner and complete a unique architectural scavenger hunt in down town St Augustine!

Week 4:   Keeping Watch     June 17-21

From the Spanish period to WWII, someone has always been looking out from our coastline to keep our maritime community safe.  Campers will take a deeper look into our coastal history through stories from the past, maps, and documents.  Take the tower challenge, design a modern sentinel, and create your own submarine. Finish the week with a trip to the fort to see the canons fire!

Week 5:   I’m Still Shining!     June 24-28

I’m still looking out at the maritime community of artists, tourists, archaeologists, sailors, and other folks. I’ve witnessed many changes in my 145 years (birthday this October).  Learn how Flagler’s train kick-starts St. Augustine’s growth to become the town she is today and experience some of the art and food that makes her unique. See how our archaeologists piece together the past and spend some time at the Fountain of Youth.

COASTAL COMMUNITY CAMP 

Completed 5th– 7th grades

July 8-12

This camp is designed to show students how St. Augustine’s people have been tied to the ocean for over 450 years. This will be accomplished by doing activities on and near the water and traveling to locations in the area to participate in varied maritime experiences. Campers will discover how people have lived and interacted with the marine environment from the early 1500s to the present. They will practice boatbuilding skills, fish from shore and on the water, visit an underwater archaeological investigation, see modern shrimping and boating operations in St. Augustine, go on an eco-tour by kayak, and more!  Daily activities are outlined below. All activities are weather permitting.

For additional information, visit www.staugustinelighthouse.org

Dredge Florida Video Library

The following underwater video clips were all recorded on the wreck of the Florida since 2006:

Massive jewfish or Goliath Grouper on the wreck of the dredge Florida. (00:08)
Jewfish in the Dark (00:13)
LAMP diver Chuck Meide watches a jewfish (barely visible, can you spot it?)
on the wreck of the Florida. (00:41)
Schools of small fish and diver on the wreck of the dredge Florida. (00:29)
Diver exploring the broken wreckage of the dredge vessel Florida. (00:45)
Schools of baitfish and diver on the wreck of the Florida. (00:18)
Diver explores the wreck of the Florida. (00:28)
Swimming along the side of the sunken wreck Florida. (00:31)
Cruising along the wreckage of the Florida. (00:21)
Looking up at LAMP diver Sam Turner. (00:07)

Historical Background: St. Augustine, the American Revolution, and the Loyalist Influx

“After the surrender of Charleston in 1782, within two days no less than 16 vessels, bearing refugiés and their effects, went to pieces here and many persons lost their lives.”

 – Johann David Schoepf, 1788

While the identity and exact date of the Storm Wreck remains unknown, the evidence uncovered to date suggests that this vessel was shipwrecked at the mouth of the St. Augustine Inlet in the late 18th century, possibly in the years immediately after 1780 when the American Revolution was coming to a close. This period was one of dramatic demographic and sociocultural change in St. Augustine, as the capital and primary port of East Florida would switch hands from British to Spanish control as a result of the war. Perhaps the most striking of these changes was a population explosion in St. Augustine due primarily to the influx of British Loyalists seeking refuge from the thirteen rebelling colonies. Archaeologists believe there is a distinct possibility that the Storm Wreck may indeed represent one of many ships full of Loyalist refugees that ran aground and came to pieces while trying to enter St. Augustine.

The surrender of Cornwallis’ army to General Washington’s forces on
October 19, 1781 prompted the British government to begin negotiations
which lead to the end of the Revolutionary War. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

After the fall of Yorktown in 1781, decisive battles gave way to backcountry skirmishes as peace negotiations influenced the remainder of the war years. The lives of British Loyalists were dominated by the question of evacuation. The British army still occupied New York City when the Treaty of Paris was initially signed in November 1782, but Savannah and Charleston were either fully evacuated or in the process. North American port cities formerly under British control emptied their inhabitants into the waters of the Atlantic, while the inland Loyalists clogged the back roads and trails near the borders of Canada and East Florida. Nova Scotia, Quebec, England, the Bahamas, the British West Indies, and Central America became ports of call for countless loyal emigrants. But many southern Loyalists looked closer to home.

St. Augustine street layout and waterfront as it appeared in 1763.
Courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

In St. Augustine an unparalleled event took place during the post-Yorktown evacuation procedures. For most southern Loyalists the Canadian climate was presumed utterly unsuitable for planter society and the slave ownership that made them prosperous. Southern Tories saw East Florida as a sanctuary where they could rebuild their lives without leaving the warmer regions of the continent to which they were accustomed. In spite of this, a general pattern of evacuation after the war quickly developed as slave owning Loyalists sought the warmer climates of the Caribbean while those with few or no slaves went to Europe or Nova Scotia (Troxler 1981:21).

However, this was not the first time that Charleston and Savannah changed hands during the war. Even after Yorktown, most American Loyalists firmly believed that it was simply a matter of time before the United States became crippled economically and/or militarily. For a nation to successfully erect itself from colonial status was unprecedented in 1782. Therefore, southern Loyalists chose to remain close to their former land holdings in order to reclaim their property as quickly as possible, just as they had after previous evacuations during the war (Wright 1971:377). Most of these people had already experienced one forced evacuation—two, for those from Savannah who went first to Charleston in July 1782. The injustice that the war wreaked upon their lives took a heavy toll.

View of the British Governor’s house in St. Augustine, 1764. This building still stands and is known as Government House. Courtesy of University of Florida.

The increased flow of refugees from southern back-country fighting swelled the white civilian population of the colony to approximately 4,500 by late June 1782. The majority of this group came first to St. Augustine to register their presence with Governor Tonyn and receive their 500 acre homesteads. The Menorcans now living in St. Augustine (presuming no natural increase from 1777 to June 1782, for the purpose of erring on the side of caution) tallied at approximately 600. The majority of the black population of East Florida—approximately 4,000 total—were on the plantations, but many free blacks were living in St. Augustine (del Campo 1783). These numbers, though relatively small in appearance, were the measure for overcrowding mentioned up to this point. The dam was about to burst.

1778 map of the port and coastline of St. Augustine, depicting the approach to the harbor with its infamous shoals. Courtesy of the Florida Memory Project. 
Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.

From July 12–25, a deluge of over 7,000 Loyalists from Savannah and Charleston sailed into St. Augustine (Siebert 1929:7). Another 3,826 Loyalists came from Charleston by sea in late December (Siebert 1929:7). The overwhelming crush of humanity that befell the tiny capital of St. Augustine in short bursts is staggering, and yet the numbers listed here consist only of those refugees who arrived by ship. There is no means of knowing the number of refugees who drifted into the province on foot after June 1782, or the number of black refugees who sought shelter with the Seminoles and were never counted. This does not include the military or Indians who frequented the town.

With the entrance to St. Augustine impeded by a notorious sandbar, which gave the port its reputation as the most dangerous of all Britain’s Atlantic colonies, it is no surprise that a significant number of these incoming refugee vessels were wrecked. Indeed, in one incident in December 1782, sixteen ships loaded with Loyalists from Charleston came to grief while trying to enter St. Augustine (Schoepf 1911[1788]: 227-228). In another example that same month, Rattlesnake, the military escort for a fleet of at least 8 ships bringing Loyalists to St. Augustine, also ran aground and wrecked with four lives lost (Singer 1992:169). It seems quite likely that the Storm Wreck, which appears to date to this period, could represent one of the many refugee ships lost in conjunction with St. Augustine’s Loyalist influx at the end of the Revolution.

References Cited:

del Campo, Bernardo

1783  Observations on East Florida. Inclosure No. 1 in letter to Conde de Floridablanca, 8 June. Archivo Historico Nacional, Madrid. Estado, leg. 4246 Ap 1. In East Florida, 1783-1785, A File of Documents Assembled and Many of Them Translated, Joseph Byrne Lockey and John Walton Caughy, editors, 1949, pp. 117-127. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Schoepf, Johann David

  1911 [1788]   Travels in the Confederation (1783-1784). William J. Campbell, Philadelphia.

Siebert, Wilbur H. (editor)

1929  Loyalists in East Florida: The Narrative, vol. 1. Publications of the Florida State Historical Society No. 9, Deland, Florida.

Smith, Roger C.

2011  The Fourteenth Colony: Florida and the American Revolution in the South. Doctoral dissertation, Department of History, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Singer, Steven D.

1992  Shipwrecks of Florida: A Comprehensive Listing. 1st ed. Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida.

Troxler, Carolyn

1981  Loyalist Refugees and the British Evacuation of East Florida, 1783-1785. Florida Historical Quarterly 60(1):1-28.

Wright, J. Leitch

1971  Lord Dunmore’s Loyalist Asylum in the Floridas. Florida Historical Quarterly 49(4):370-379.

This essay was written by Dr. Roger Clark Smith and Chuck Meide in 2012. Other than the introductory and closing paragraphs, written by Meide, it is largely based on Dr. Smith’s doctoral dissertation (2011:271-280). Dr. Smith is a professional historian and LAMP Research Associate, whose research interest focuses on the history of East Florida during and immediately after the Revolutionary period.

All text and images, unless otherwise noted, are copyright Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, Inc. We extend permission to scholars, students, and other interested members of the public to use images and to quote from text for non-commercial educational or research purposes, provided LAMP is acknowledged and credited. If there are any questions regarding the use of LAMP’s work, please inquire at LAMP@staugustinelighthouse.org.