Cuttyhunk Island is at the western end of the Elizabeth
Islands, which extend off to the southwest of Cape Cod.
The island's name is an English approximation of the native
Wampanoag name Poocutohhunkkunnah.
The island was settled by the English in May 1602, by a
party led by Bartholomew Gosnold. This settlement was the first
English settlement in the New World. The settlement was short-lived.
After some interaction with the native
population, which included the theft of a canoe
by the colonists, the Wampanoag ambushed
the settlers, injuring one settler.
This convinced Gosnold's party to leave in June 1602.
The island is the birthplace of Paul Cuffee.
Born the son of a black slave
in 1850, Cuffee was a sea captain and merchant who
founded Sierra Leone.
The first lighthouse - a
25-foot tower and keeper's house - was built in 1823. The
structure was poorly built, and was twice encased in brick.
The keeper's house suffered from the same poor construction.
A report in 1842 states (Clark, p. 196) a leaky tower and
"wood work of the keeper's house is rotten in every part."
A fifth-order Fresnel lens was installed in 1857.
In 1860, a second story was added to the keeper's house, and
a lantern room added to the roof. However, by 1881 it was
reported that the structure was in need of replacement.
Finally, in 1891, a new 45-foot lighthouse - the third Cuttyhunk light
- and keeper's house was constructed. The new light was a wooden tower
with a stone foundation.
On March 11, 1892, the schooner Rob and Harry was damaged in
a storm near the lighthouse. The keeper, Capt. A. G. Eisener, his wife,
daughter, and two islanders took a small boat out to the vessel.
They managed to take two of the four men of the boat before a wave
drove the small boat back to shore. The US Life Saving crew arrived,
and everyone worked to repair the boat. The boat went back to the
wreck and brought back the remaining two men - one already dead.
Keeper Eisener helped pay for a casket for the dead crewman, who was buried
on the island. For his efforts, Keeper Eisener was repaid by the
Canadian government, and awarded a silver star and $20 by the Massachusetts
The last keeper at the Cuttyhunk was Octave Ponsart. Ponsart
served at Great Point
in Nantucket, then at Dumpling Rock Light.
Ponsart arrived at Cuttyhunk in 1943. At Christmas 1946,
Edward Rowe Snow, the "Flying Santa" dropped Christmas gifts
on the island for the lighthouse family from a plane. A doll, intended
for the keeper's daughter, Seamond Ponsart, broke in the fall.
The following year, when the Ponsarts were stationed at West Chop
light, Snow flew to the light by helicopter and handed Seamond a new doll.
Seamond Ponsart grew up to become a military court reporter in the Coast Guard.
Cuttyhunk light was discontinued in 1947.
The lighthouse and keeper's house were
razed, and a skeleton tower put in its place.
Lighthouses of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket - Their History and Lore, Clark pp. 193-200
The Lighthouses of New England, Snow pp. 296-302
Massachusetts Lighthouses - A Pictorial Guide, Thompson pp. 110
Lighthouses and Life Saving Stations Along the Massachusetts Coast, Claflin pp. 120
Lighthouse Digest March 2006