2 Replies Latest reply on Aug 29, 2018 11:56 PM by Ethan Kent

    Query re William S. Moore letters from Bird Island Light (1819-1821 at least)

    Ethan Kent Adventurer



      (This is a question derived from Citizen Archivist work, but is not completely a question concerning Citizen Archivist transcription.)


      Dear NARA Staff:


      I have recently completed work (some of it was done alone by me (so far at least); some revising other Citizen Archivist Transcriber's transcriptions) on 3 letters from the 1st Keeper of the Lighthouse ("Bird Island Light") on Bird Island, Massachusetts (located near today's Marion, Massachusetts) -- William S. Moore (Keeper from 1819 to 1834, it seems from Internet research) -- from Bird Island -- to the man he called (Moore's spelling) the "Superintendant" for all Massachusetts Federal lighthouses (Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn).


      (These were found by me (the File Unit was included in the recent "Road Trip Boston" activity) in the "Bird Island Light, 1819" File Unite (National Archives Identifier 81128606). )


      These rather-densely-packed-with-information were a rewarding "challenge" to me.




      [I'm not changing the subject, but I'm starting another part of the post.]


      I started using Google to find more information about Mr. Moore -- I believe -- after I had read one of the 3 letters in this File Unit (and possibly after starting to work on the transcription of one, but I'm not sure now).


      *Most* Internet information about Mr. Moore (apart from noting that he was the 1st Keeper of Bird Island's lighthouse and that he was a veteran of the War of 1812) seems to focus on "local legend"s (some of them seeming to contradict each other about Mr. Moore: supposedly, he may have been a "pirate" banished to the tiny Bird Island (presumably as a kind of punishment by means of isolation), he may have murdered his wife (and buried her on Bird Island with no marker), his wife may have been addicted to 1 or more substances (usually said to be "tobacco") -- and Mr. Moore denied her what she craved (and the wife eventually became a ghost haunting the island)....


      From what I have read in the letters, though (although I can't take a stand on the accusation of murder or say much about Moore's wife (he mentions her -- and a child -- (each) once, and not with any description) , but (judging by the fact that other letters in the File Unit tell of how at least 3 or 4 other men were recommended for the same post (I found no letters recommending Mr. Moore [Shrug]) -- 1 by 2 different parties (including the local Representative in the House of Representatives, it seems) ) I think I can safely say that if Mr./"General" Dearborn had put a *criminal* in the Keeper position, dozens (or more) persons would have vociferously protested... -- and who puts a man in jail with his wife??


      And as for the "pirate" idea, Mr. Moore's letters seem to yield evidence of (still today, I think) an above-"average" level of education, and Mr. Moore's *personality* in the letters seems so deferential (and discursive) that to me he more resembles the fussy, timid, diffident "Reg" Barclay of the old Star Trek: The Next Generation series than a blustery now-"classic" literary/movie "pirate" archetype . (Not that there could not have been educated, diffident pirates... -- but I have the impression that piracy was on its way out or over in the Western Hemisphere by 1819 (?) ... -- and Mr. Moore still doesn't seem to resemble the (later) archetype )




      [Part III]


      A *small* part of what I have found about Mr. Moore (apart from the "legend"s -- which may derive more from folktales-about-lighthouse-keepers than from Mr. Moore's actual life (albeit he seemed to be keeping a few aspects of his life hidden (or un-spoken-of -- like his family) or half-hidden (some not-totally-clear references to his finances and his health) from Mr. Dearborn) ) relates to *other letters* from Mr. Moore to Mr. Dearborn: 1 (I believe one from later in December of 1819 which is *not* in the "Bird Island Light, 1819" File Unit as the National Archives Catalog presented it to me) -- describing a very-powerful storm -- is mentioned in 1 website article on the Bird Island lighthouse's history, and 2 others (from 1821; only 1 of them transcribed for that article) are mentioned in a Winter, 1963 issue of Old Time New England in an article by author Lawrence B. Romaine (in which various "experiments" of Mr. Moore's -- including an attempt to install an "air box" (or such) device to keep a boat from capsizing (?) .


      I would like to be able to see more of Mr. Moore's letters to Mr. Dearborn digitized, and would like to know 1) whether these other 3 (and other?) letters from Mr. Moore to Mr. Dearborn between 1819 and 1821 are still extant at the National Archives's "Boston" location (in Waltham, Massachusetts); 2) whether these (and possibly other letters -- and possibly reports  from Mr. Moore from Bird Island (?) ) might be digitized in future; 3) whether it *might* be possible to find (and digitize and place in the Catalog site?) any letters *from* Mr. Henry A. S. Dearborn *to* Mr. Moore (to get the "other side" of the exchange of correspondence .


      Could someone please look into whether additional material by/about Mr. Moore at Bird Island Light (especially the correspondence to/from Mr. Dearborn) may be digitized and added to the digitized National Archives collections? I would appreciate reading an answer (a more-than-cursory one only as soon as the necessary information can be obtained, and no earlier, of course).


      Thank You for reading this.


      Sincerely yours,


      Ethan W. Kent/"EthanFromBellmore" -- in New York City (who hasn't been even *near* the New England coasts in decades).

        • Re: Query re William S. Moore letters from Bird Island Light (1819-1821 at least)

          Dear Mr. Kent,


          I’m glad to hear that you are enjoying the challenge of working on the Bird Island Light transcriptions! There do seem to be quite a few legends about Mr. Moore and his time as keeper. Unfortunately I think it is quite likely that the digitized Bird Island file unit contains the extent of Moore’s correspondence held at the National Archives. The Letters Received Concerning Lighthouses series that contains the Bird Island file unit ends in 1819, and there is no corresponding series covering the following years. Records from the Boston customs collection district from this era are pretty spotty--apparently many of them were destroyed in a customs house fire in the late 1800’s.


          I think your best bet for locating additional material related to Moore and Bird Island may be within some of the other digitized file units from the "Letters Received Concerning Lighthouses" series. In addition to the file units on specific lighthouses, there are several general and topic-specific file units that contain correspondence related to a number of lighthouses in Massachusetts. If there is any additional surviving correspondence from Moore, this is probably where it will be.

          3 people found this helpful
            • Re: Query re William S. Moore letters from Bird Island Light (1819-1821 at least)
              Ethan Kent Adventurer

              Dear Mr. Begley (I see that you are affiliated with the National Archives site in the Boston area, and appreciate that you answered /were selected to answer my query):


              Thank You for replying to my query, but whereas I see that 3 other persons have found your reply to my query "helpful", (while I understand that your reply was courteous) it was not very helpful to me.


              I had noticed that (for some reason which you may know but which I do not yet know) all of the digitized file units from the "Letters Received Concerning Lighthouses" series (which you mention, and from which the Bird Island Light materials which have (I believe -- as of tonight) all been transcribed have come) have the year 1819 as their endpoint.


              I have found material from the Internet which indicates that at least 1 more letter from Keeper Moore to Mr./General Henry A. S. Dearborn from late 1819 which is not (as I recall) part of the materials in the "Bird Island Light, 1819" file unit (one which compares a December storm on the island to "tornadoes" in Africa which he had apparently "experienced" (the quotation may be found here: https://www.us-lighthouses.com/bird-island-lighthouse ) has been somewhat/somehow-available to someone in the Internet age (which suggests that it may well be extant somewhere -- if not in the National Archives' collections near Boston) -- and a "Winter 1963" issue of a periodical called Old Time New England (published by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities contained an article (by "antiquarian"/book dealer (born 1900; apparently born in New Jersey, but based as an "antiquarian" book dealer not very far from Bird Island Light in Middleboro, Massachusetts -- from what I have learned from the Internet) called "Yankee Pluck at Bird Island Light" (available on the Internet here  https://slideblast.com/yankee-pluck-at-bird-island-light-aws_5ac64de91723dd659cf4f8d8.html -- but I have also looked at a "hard copy" of the periodical article at the main New York Public Library research building) gives a transcription of 1 letter (with enclosed material by Moore about experiments/would-be inventions which Moore had been working on)  from Moore to Dearborn (again, from Bird Island) dated February 25, 1821, and also mentions a (also seemingly extant around the time of publication (?) -- somewhere) follow-up letter from Moore to Dearborn from 1821 (which Mr. Romaine did not seemingly feel like quoting, much less transcribing for the article).


              I had hoped (in posting the initial query) that the endpoint of 1819 was merely an indication of a chronological endpoint with respect to what had been digitized concerning Bird Island Light and other "Letters Received Concerning Lighthouses" -- but not an indication that no later such material is extant in the National Archives' possession at all; while I can accept that it is possible that the other letter (said to be from 1819) and the 2 from 1821 are not in the Archives' possession (Mr. Romaine in his article seemed unaware of (well) the existence of those letters from Moore to Dearborn which the Archives have digitized (and seemed to think that the 2 1821 letters were the only remaining correspondence from Mr. Moore at all) -- and gives no better description of where he found the 1821 letters than "buried at the bottom of a stack of old letters") , I gather that at least 1 other 1819 letter from Moore to Dearborn may still exist somewhere, that the 1821 letters existed in the early 1960s -- and might today -- perhaps in private ownership in Massachusetts (?) (Dearborn's letters (those still extant) seem to have been scattered; I haven't found any reference to any from Mr. Moore, but some letters received by him seem to be now located in a number of different collections in at least 3 or 4 states -- including some at the New York Public Library mentioned above) , and that none of these 3 letters was destroyed in a 19th-century Customs House fire.


              Mr. Romaine called (within the article)  the 2 letters which he built his article around "long, well-written, and detailed" (from my experience transcribing those I have worked with, I would certainly concur with "long" and "detailed" -- and would definitely guess that the writer was better-educated than the average man of his time (albeit some of his spellings vary from standard spellings) ); I would hope that more of Mr. Moore's letters could be found by (and digitized by) your colleagues, Mr. Begley (although I could see the possibility of other such material not being in the Archives's possession at present).


              If the year 1819 is in fact the last year from which the Archives possesses letters received about US Federal Government Lighthouses (Could you and/or a colleague possibly explain why?), then I doubt that much more material could be found from Mr. Moore to Mr. Dearborn (as he didn't assume his post until September of 1819, and he seems to have admitted little (meaning "no"?) experience closely-resembling that of being a Keeper of a US Government Lighthouse) ; might there be any official reports from Moore to those higher-up in the Lighthouse hierarchy (from 1819 to at least 1833 or 1834, I think) from Bird Island (or another lighthouse -- one Internet source indicates that he served at at least 1 other in Massachusetts) within the Records of the US Coast Guard Record Group (Archives Record Group 26) which might yet be digitized by NARA in future?


              Thank you (Mr. Begley) for what you have said in your reply to me, but I think there might be more that could be said with respect to both my original post and to this one.


              I hope to hear from you (or a colleague) within the next few weeks.


              (One other note: while I am glad that my original query was well-viewed, I found its placement under "Genealogy" somewhat-inaccurate and somewhat strange (as the query basically has nothing to do with genealogical research per se, and Mr. Moore isn't my ancestor (1 of my immigrant ancestors may have first arrived in North America as early as 1888, but no ancestor of mine was named Moore in 1819 (as far as I know) and all were in Eastern Europe in 1819).)


              Best Wishes for a good Labor Day weekend to you and to other readers at History Hub.


              Sincerely yours,


              Ethan W. Kent in New York City/"EthanFromBellmore".