Category Archives: Historical Research

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. 

Updates from the Lab

While our beautiful new Maritime Archaeology and Education Center (MAEC) was being built, conservation was disassembled and all artifacts were put into a state of monitored wet storage. Taking those items out of storage and getting conservation back on track has been a slow and detailed process. This process requires an inventory and condition analysis of all items, as well as setting up each area of conservation in order for treatments to begin.

Though we are not quite running at 100% yet, we have made great leaps and bounds. Part of our inventory includes new items recovered from our current shipwreck, Anniversary.  Since everything was essentially put straight into a holding pattern, we are just now starting to analyze the items we recovered last summer. In fact, dredge spoil from the site is still being sorted and new items are being discovered daily.

One of our biggest challenges is to discern what items, if any, are contained within the concretions we recover. Conservation is expensive, so we must focus on items that can answer certain research questions, like the time period or the nationality of the vessel. One way for us to do this is through X-ray analysis. While x-rays won’t show 100% of what is contained within a concretion, they do show us a lot visually and help us narrow our conservation focus.

X-rays allow us to look into concretions without damaging the items inside. This particular X-ray shows a padlock.

Due to the generosity of Doctors Eric Searcy, DMV and John Yselonia, DMV at Antigua Veterinary Practice, we can now begin to take our own x-rays! They donated their previous machine for us to use in our MAEC building, and we have just begun to analyze last summer’s concretions.

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Over 25 brass tacks were found using our new X-ray machine!

Our very first in-house X-ray proved to be exiting for more reasons than just being our first X-ray.  Inside the concretion are more than 25 brass furniture tacks, something we have not encountered on our previous wreck sites, and an iron padlock. We are uncertain if either of these items will help us better date or identify this wreck, but it is always exciting to reveal what history has left us.

Contributed by Director of Archeological Conservation Starr Cox, edited by Social Media Specialist Daniel Lee

Discoveries at the Barracks

The World War II-era United States Coast Guard (USCG) structure on site is currently being restored after serving as office space for many years at the Museum. The structure was constructed after the US entered into World War II. Before December 1941, the US military was in various stages of mobilization that included increasing military personnel, munitions and equipment.

The official telegram that head keeper Daniels received, which initiated a military mobilization plan that officially directed the US Navy to absorb the USCG (note that this occurs in November 1941 before the Pearl Harbor attack).

As war was declared, there was rapid action to train troops and prepare the US for overseas warfare. As the US prepared to enter into multiple war fronts, plans were developed and initiated for home front security. As part of this process, the USCG fell under direction of the US Navy. The Museum’s collections provide a glimpse into some of these rapidly developing events and the role the Lighthouse and Light Station played during the wartime effort. We are fortunate enough to have some of the original Keepers’ records here at the Museum.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, military actions were intensified. Lighthouses along our coastline were immediately designated coastal lookouts serving to monitor boat traffic and identify any German U-boats in a region that would pose as an immediate threat. The US military forces, including the USCG, initiated routine patrol to guard our shorelines, albeit with limited resources. Coastal defense needed additional support and the USCG developed a series of infrastructure series of lookout towers strategically placed along the coastline. Additionally, a beach patrol was established on the coast with a combination of coastguardsmen: on foot with patrol dogs, on horseback and in some areas, in Jeeps. Training centers were established for this new defense effort and local infrastructure further grew to protect our coastlines from saboteurs and to help identify foreign invaders.

At our Lighthouse, the strategy was to construct a coastal lookout dwelling; it was finished and occupied in 1942. The dwelling (aka the Barracks) was built to house at least four coastguardsmen. Their job was to be on duty at the top of the tower 24/7, and report boat traffic (among other things) as part of the coastal defensive system. Unfortunately, there is limited documentation regarding this structure, but some information has been gleaned from past renovation projects as well as some of our original Keepers’ records. A Barracks reroofing project years ago produced a couple of fascinating finds. Among the layers of the former roofing projects, interesting details emerged surrounding construction activity at the Light Station. Original roof material was still present beneath a replacement metal roof. When this metal was removed, examples of original shingles were found! On the reverse side of these shingles was the name and location of the local manufacturer (nearby Palatka).

Shingles with manufacturer’s stamp.

The other amazing find was a section of roofing liner below the wood shingles with a portion of it signed by the individuals believed to have laid the roofing material, as well as the person who completed the electrical work. The fragments of paper are amazingly preserved and one can still clearly read the date of “April 28th 1942” for when the work was completed, and that the laborers were from Daytona Beach (possibly an indication of how busy it was in St. Augustine).

Fragment of paper showing the name and location of the laborers.

By the beginning of May, keeper correspondence suggests the structure is ready for occupation with mentions that the furniture has arrived (including a studio couch, for those who are curious). As staff has conducted searches in correspondence, we have previously been able to note some timeline issues or like most construction projects, a “delay” or “problem” during construction. For example, the coastal dwelling Keeper correspondence from August 1942 indicates the structure and wiring are complete, but additional work is required in order to connect to the main power line. We have also discovered that our first coastguardsmen reporting for lookout duty arrived in July 1942.

Letter from C.D. Daniels confirming arrival and subsequent assignment of coastguardsmen.

A copy of Keeper Daniels’ official report to superiors notes their arrival, and that yet again the dwelling is not quite ready for occupation. When we examine the roster of who arrives, one name is familiar to us: H.D. Defee. He is of interest to us because Defee’s name was previously found etched in concrete by the garage of the same time period. Interestingly, we know the concrete work was completed in 1944 so apparently he had at least a couple stints at the Lighthouse during the war. Restoration projects often reveal history that would not ever be found in any record. This is the case here at the Lighthouse. We suspect that as the restoration project continues, we are sure to find additional surprises!

Contributed by Chief Curator Jason Titcomb, edited by Student Intern Jayda Barnes

Archaeologists + Dating = Success Through Collaboration

The past three months have been very busy for our Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) archaeologists. They have been analyzing artifacts discovered on the Museum property during last summer’s construction of the new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center, as well as sites through St. Johns and Flagler Counties uncovered during the storms.

Our analysis started by contacting Dr. Lee Newsom, a Professor of Anthropology at Flagler College. Dr. Newsom is an expert in examining preserved plant remains from archaeological and paleontological sites as well as examining faunal remains, or bones! We were looking to determine the types of animals found in the trash pits uncovered during construction of the new Center. Once the bones were handed over, Dr. Newsom and her students at Flagler College went to work on identifying the types of animals in these pits. They came back with incredible data.

Dr. Lee Newsom directs Flagler College students on bone identification.

There are three areas we uncovered and examined: an 1880s trash pit to the north of the northern-most outdoor brick kitchen, a trash pit dating to the 1900s, and a 1930s pit near the Tin Pickle. Many of the bones in all three areas were identified as cow bones – meaning the keepers here had access to various cuts of beef on the island. Other bones included deer, turtle, snapper and turkey. All of these animals could have been caught on or around the Light Station. This knowledge brings to light the foodways of the Lightkeepers.

We also tasked Dr. Newsom and her students with dating our wood samples taken from the November canoe discovery. This canoe had shifted around during the high tides following Hurricane Irma and became quickly exposed as the high tides and storm surge subsided. To further understand the canoe, wood samples were taken by a joint team of Museum Archaeologists  and the Florida Public Archaeology Network of Northeast Florida. Tests of these samples would yield dates and a wood species. Speciation is determined by looking at the wood at a cellular level and identifying grain patterns within the wood. From their microscopic data based on one of two wood samples taken from the canoe, Dr. Newsom and her students determined the canoe to be made of cypress. Dating wood is a slow process, and only requires a tiny sliver of wood to complete. The second of the two wood samples was sent to the University of Georgia’s Center for Applied Isotope Studies. The wood is dated using radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating looks at the amount of Carbon 14 remaining in a decaying piece of floral or faunal remains. As life stops exchanging Carbon 14 with the environment upon death and Carbon 14 decays at a constant rate, the older the piece being sampled, the less Carbon 14 will be present in the wood.

Wood sample taken from canoe for dating and speciation.

The analysis determined that the canoe is 830 years old ± 30 years, from 1950. From today’s date, that translates to a dating of 1000 CE. This is well before the Spanish ever laid foot in Florida. While this does not make our canoe one of the oldest in the state, it is believed to be one of the oldest in Northeast Florida.

LAMP and FPAN archaeologists examine the dugout canoe.

Now that the hardest date to obtain – that of the canoe- was determined, the LAMP team moved on to finding dates for our artifacts! The artifacts discovered on site (pottery, children’s toys, housewares) provided us with dates through historical research based on shape and maker’s marks present on individual objects.

Further research can be done into both the Light Station and the canoe to provide a fuller history of the northeast region of Florida. We appreciate the willingness of Dr. Lee Newsom and her students as well as the Center for Applied Isotope Studies at UGA to aid us in discovering new areas to be explored regarding this wider maritime history.

Contributed by Archaeologist Allyson Ropp, edited by Student Intern Jayda Barnes

A Quick Retelling of the Cuban Archaeologists’ Visit

From second left to right: Roger Arrazcaeta Delgado; Marcos Antonio Acosta Mauri; and Yoser Martínez Hernández of the Gabinete de Arqueología of Havana, Cuba at their rowing stations in the chalupa, “San Agustín”.

By Dr. Sam Turner

Between August 25th and September 14th the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum hosted an archaeological cultural exchange which consisted of a visit by three Cuban archaeologists, Roger Arrazcaeta Delgado, Yoser Martínez Hernández, and Marcos Antonio Acosta Mauri, from the Gabinete de Arqueología, or Archaeology Cabinet, based in Havana, Cuba. This cultural exchange was possible through collaborations with the St. Augustine Archaeological Association which sponsored their travel and the Friendship Association which provided financial and logistical support. The purpose of the archaeologists’ visit was to participate in both underwater archaeological fieldwork with the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) and in terrestrial archaeological projects with the City of St. Augustine archaeologist as well as to exchange ideas and methodology from within the international field. Additionally, the guest archaeologists assisted with the analysis of the ceramic material found on the Anniversary Wreck, which is the current focus of LAMP’s field work.

This particular cultural exchange program works to establish and deepen contacts between archaeologists and historians in both St. Augustine and Havana, Cuba in hopes of restoring cultural and scholarly ties between these two cities following a thawing in international relations. This is considered especially important given that these two cities’ histories have been closely intertwined for much of the last 450 years.

The Cuban archaeologists were able to explore the Anniversary Wreck with Museum archaeologists as well as use a new airlift – an underwater excavation tool – which LAMP has been experimenting with this field season. During their visit, they also visited many historically-significant sites in order to get a comprehensive overview of the history of our city. After visiting Fort Matanzas and the Castillo de San Marcos they became particularly interested in the bronze Spanish artillery captured during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the Spanish-American War (1898). Other visits included: the Alligator Farm; the Spanish Military Hospital; St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine; Tolomato Cemetery; and the Father Felix Varela Shrine.

Director of the Gabinete de Arqueología, Roger Arrazcaeta Delgado, was the featured speaker for the St. Augustine Archaeological Association’s monthly speaker series delivered at Flagler College on September 5th. His talk, entitled, The Frigate Navigator and its British Shipment: History and Archaeology, focused on a shipwreck east of the city of Havana which they have recently investigated and identified. The talk was well attended by approximately 75 people.

Our Cuban colleagues were especially pleased to meet and spend time with St. Augustine resident Dr. Kathy Deagan, one of the world’s foremost experts on Spanish colonial archaeology who took them on a guided tour of the first colony exhibit in Government house and discussed her work on numerous Spanish colonial archaeological sites in St. Augustine and abroad. They also had the pleasure and honor of helping crew St. Augustine’s tall ship, the San Agustín, an authentic and faithful replica of a Spanish watercraft known as a chalupa. This watercraft was built as a legacy project of the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine as a partnership between the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, The St. Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation, and the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. This replica vessel is used every year to reenact the landing of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés on Founders Day. Our Cuban colleagues were able to take part in the full landing rehearsal and were to have participated in the landing day festivities set to take place on the September 9th but those plans changed when an unwelcome visitor named Irma came to town.

While here, our colleagues pitched in with the rest of the Lighthouse staff to prepare the entire Lighthouse site for the hurricane which was a two-day process that included striking all the tent tops in our Heritage Boatworks area and boarding up windows. They weathered the storm at Lighthouse Field House where field students and visiting scholars are housed during their stay in St. Augustine. Following the storm, they helped reopen the site for business. Towards the end of their visit, we conducted a study and examination of the ceramic assemblage that was excavated from the Anniversary Wreck and currently under archaeological investigation by LAMP. This included a visit to the city archaeology lab where they met with outgoing city archaeologist, Carl Halbirt, as well as his recently-arrived-replacement, Andrea White. Carl shared a great deal of information including some of his most interesting finds here in St. Augustine, especially the recent excavations of the Spanish cemetery associated with the church of Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios on Charlotte Street.

Unfortunately, as another result of the storm, no archaeological work with the City Archaeologist was possible during this visit. Hopefully next time! We were honored to have international colleagues come to share with us. Our thanks to them and to all who helped host!