Digest>Archives> April 2007

U. S. Light House Establishment Supported Beacon In Morocco

By Timothy Harrison

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The Cape Spartel Lighthouse in Tangiers, Morocco, ...
Photo by: Jack Moran

A small government booklet titled, “Laws Relative to The Lighthouse Establishment Passed At The Second Session of the Fifty-Seventh Congress 1902-1903,” recently came into my possession. As I usually do when we these old booklets surface I take a quick glance through the usually mundane writings since we can often uncover little slices of history that might otherwise remain forgotten forever.

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A short note in this booklet with a headline of “Annual Expenses of Cape Spartel Light, Coast of Morocco,” caught my attention. The short one sentence stated simply that the annual proportion of the expenses of Cape Spartel’s Tangiers Lighthouse on the coast of Morocco was appropriated in the amount of $325.00 as approved on February 9, 1903.

Naturally I wanted to find out why we paid for part of the cost of maintaining a lighthouse so far from our shores.

In seems the arrangement to pay for part of the cost of the lighthouse dated back to a joint treaty entered into in 1867 by the nations of Austria, Spain, Hungary, Bohemia, Belgian, France, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Norway and England with the Sultan of Morocco.

The Kingdom of Morocco is a nation in North Africa that has a long coastline on the Atlantic Ocean that reaches the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea, and it has a thin water border with Spain to the north. Morocco was the first nation, in 1777, to recognize the United States as an independent nation. The Sultan at that time declared that American ships would always have safe passage in his waters. In fact the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship, singed by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, stands today as the oldest non-broken friendship treaty, which has been in continuous effect since 1786.

It seems the Sultan of Morocco, at that time of the 1867 lighthouse treaty, did not have a navy or ships of commerce and did not need a lighthouse for his own country, but agreed to offer a lighthouse at Tangiers for the use of ships of foreign governments in conducting commerce with Morocco. The Sultan also agreed to provide security for the lighthouse with five soldiers and all the nations agreed that the lighthouse would also remain neutral territory even if war should break out between any combination of the signers of the treaty.

The other countries, in turn, agreed to provide for a trained lighthouse keeper and all the necessary and proper machinery to operate the lighthouse. The original treaty was for ten years and was to be renewed yearly thereafter.

And that was the answer as to why the 1902-03 booklet describing the allotment $325.00 of the U. S. Lighthouse Establishment was paid toward the operation of the Cape Spartel Tangiers Lighthouse in the north African nation of Morocco.

Exactly when the United States stopped paying its share of the cost associated with the lighthouse is unclear. However, England, France and Italy were the only nations still paying some of the cost of the lighthouse up until 1956 when France relinquished its protectorate status over Morocco, which it had held since the very early 1900’s.

Today Morocco is a non-Nato ally of the United States, The name Sultan has been dropped and the nation is a constitutional monarchy under a king who has enormous executive powers.

For you movie or Humphrey Bogart buffs, the largest city in Morocco is Casablanca.

This story appeared in the April 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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