Digest>Archives> November 2007

Frances Phillips Quillin’s Memories of the "Prettiest Island"

By Jeremy D’Entremont


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Frances in front of Hog Island’s post office in ...

The local Indians called it Machipongo Island (meaning "fine dust and mosquitoes) and Capt. John Smith dubbed it "Shooting Bears Island" in 1608. The prominent barrier island off the coast of Virginia was eventually named Hog Island, after the hogs that swam ashore from a shipwreck, some say, or as an abbreviation for the hard shell clams known as quahogs. Frances Phillips Quillin, now 87 years old, remembers Hog Island - about three miles wide by 12 miles long - as her beloved childhood home. "It never looked like other islands," she says. "It was the prettiest island, with lots of big beautiful sand hills."

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The 1892 Hog Island Lighthouse. Courtesy of ...

Frances, who lives now in Salisbury, Maryland, had deep roots in the Hog Island community known as Broadwater. Her great grandfather, George Doughty, was the longtime keeper of the Hog Island Lighthouse, and he also owned a store. According to a 1903 history by Charles Sterling (a lightkeeper himself), "Mr. Doughty, the head keeper, has held his position for twenty years and no man stands higher in the estimation of the Lighthouse Board." In 1892, a cast-iron pyramidal skeletal tower replaced the original conical brick lighthouse, which was built in 1853 near the center of the island.

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Frances’s great grandfather, George Doughty, ...

Frances’s parents, Stanley and Martha Phillips, ran the same store that George Doughty had owned, and Martha also served as the island’s postmaster for over a decade. As a small girl, Frances worked in the store. "I could barely reach over the counter," she remembers. "I stamped envelopes at the post office, too."

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A group gathered at the ruins of the old keeper’s ...

Stanley Phillips spent some time in the Coast Guard. Although it appears he was not an offical lightkeeper at Hog Island, he did help the keepers with many of their duties. Frances recalls that the grass was always green and everything was well kept at the light station. She helped her father and the keepers keep the equipment in the lighthouse clean. Walking up the metal stairs in the tower, she says, sounded like a piano. Frances never grew tired of looking out across the island from the top of the tower. She also remembers conducting childhood tea parties inside the ruins of the island’s original brick lighthouse, which was also the scene of Easter egg hunts.

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The Coast Guard station on Hog Island, where ...

Frances started school in the island’s little one-room schoolhouse, which was later converted to a dance hall called "The Red Onion."An only child, she was admittedly spoiled by the island residents - especially the Coast Guardsmen - who always gave her pies and cakes. The men at the island’s Coast Guard station, she says, were like brothers to her.

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Frances’s great grandfather, George Doughty, is ...

The family kept animals, including sheep, horses, cattle, hogs, and chickens. They also had a large vegetable garden. "We had everything in the world to eat," says Frances. Fishing and hunting were always a major part of life on Hog Island, and the marshes abounded with crabs. Frances’s grandmother owned crab houses, where workers would pick the meat from the shells. The discarded shells lay in heaps around the crab houses. Oyster shells paved the island’s roads.

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Frances with her parents, Martha and Stanley ...

Island parties were commonplace, and there were always lots of visitors in summer. Frances’s mother often played piano for singalongs. Boys came from the mainland to play baseball with the island kids. "The island boys always won," says Frances. "They were rough and tough. One year they had uniforms - they were tickled!"

One of Frances’s fondest memories is the annual Fourth of July picnics. "People came from all over the country. It never rained," she remembers. "The crowds got so large that people would say, ‘I hope the island doesn’t sink.’ Daddy furnished drinks. There was a mess of people and they’d stay and stay."

Hog Island has long battled the forces of erosion. Charles Sterling described a 1903 storm, when the island was completely awash. Around the lighthouse, at the island’s highest point, the water was a foot deep. History repeated itself in August 1933, when Frances was 13 years old.

The terrible 1933 hurricane struck with no warning. "Mother told us to hurry to get out," she recalls. "We went downstairs and got dressed. The Coast Guard helped us pack things. We went to the Coast Guard station. We stayed three days until the water receded. The storm wrecked houses, and the lighthouse was sitting in the water."

The inhabitants of Hog Island and the village of Broadwater never recovered from the 1933 storm. Many homes were moved to the mainland; some still stand in the Eastern Shore towns of Oyster and Willis Wharf. The lighthouse was demolished in 1948, and what’s left of the island is now part of the 45,000-acre Virginia Coast Reserve.

After leaving Hog Island, Stanley Phillips and his family moved to Lewes, Delaware, where he was assigned to the harbor Coast Guard station. Stanley died at the age of 36 when he suffered a heart attack during surgery after an attack of appendicitis. He always affectionately referred to his daughter as "Son," and Frances remembers his last words to her: "Be a good girl, Son."

Subsequently, Martha and Frances moved to Ocean City, Maryland, where they both found work in the thriving resort hotel industry. Frances met John Wellman Quillin at his aunt's oceanfront Maryland Inn Hotel. They dated briefly and married when Frances was nineteen. John worked as a carpenter and often served as a fishing and hunting guide.

Before retiring, Frances worked at the Salisbury, Maryland, hospital for many years. "She always loved helping people and the medical field in general," says her grandson, Philip. "She loves the hospital in town now and has great relationships with the doctors and they are like family too. They're always checking in on her and they are as fond of her as she is of them."

Just prior to World War II, the couple had permanently settled in Salisbury, Maryland, where they raised three children. They eventually had six grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren and were married 61 years prior to John Quillin's death at the age of 89.

Frances lives in the small Salisbury apartment she shared with her husband in their retirement years, but memories of Hog Island are still fresh in her mind and in her heart. Her bedroom as a girl faced the lighthouse, and the ocean sound and the comforting glow of the light helped her go to sleep each night. "It looked like diamonds on the beach," she says.

Editors Note: For long time readers or those that save every issue you may recall an interesting story we did about these lost lighthouses in the March 2001 issue of Lighthouse Digest. Or you can go to our web site at www.LighthouseDigest.com and type in Hog Island in the Search box and then click on the story, "Hog Island’s Lost Lights Remembered."

This story appeared in the November 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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