When you think about lighthouse keepers, what comes to mind? Maybe it is long, lonely nights dutifully keeping the lamps burning for ships unseen. Alternatively, perhaps it is a long day spent painting the lighthouse tower. Lighthouse keeping meant a hard life, especially as we think about it today. Who do you imagine did these tasks?
During the lighthouse boom of the 19th century, jobs requiring a rugged self-reliance would have been male dominated endeavors. While both sexes had worked equally hard on the frontier during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Industrial Revolution cemented for the next 200-years western views of men’s role as the worker and women’s role in the house. The Lighthouse Service was no exception to this rule. Even though entire families worked from dawn until dusk at light stations across the country, males made up the overwhelming majority of government appointed lighthouse keepers, who received pay for the work they performed.
The presence of a (now) foreign army on their land was untenable for the newly independent South Carolina. Upon succession, US. Army Major Robert Anderson evacuated Fort Moultrie after sabotaging the military hardware there and relocated all troops to Fort Sumter, isolated as it was by its location on an island in Charleston Harbor. William Harn was among the Union troops at Fort Sumter, while Kate’s family stayed with her father, Ordinance Sergeant James Skillen at Castle Pinckney, another much smaller harbor fort.
On December 27, 1860, months before the “first shots of the war” occurred at Fort Sumter, state militia attacked Castle Pinckney and seized the fortification without a fight, there being only James Skillen and Lieutenant R.K. Meade of the engineers present to protest. Captain Abner Doubleday, second-in-command to Major Anderson, called it “the first overt act of the Secessionists against the sovereignty of the United States.”
In his Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-‘61, Doubleday recalled the moment when a South Carolina militiaman spotted Kate Skillen, then 15 years old, “weeping bitterly at the ramparts” following the fall of Castle Pinckney. After he assured her that they meant her no harm she replied, “I am not crying because I am afraid…I am crying because you have put that miserable rag up there,” referring to the Palmetto flag the militia raised in place of the American flag. Continue reading →