Digest>Archives> September 2008

The Lighthouse Marrs of Maine

By Richard Clayton

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Jaurel Marr, keeper of Maine's Hendrick's Head ...

In 1866, Jaruel Marr was appointed to be the head keeper at the Hendricks Head Lighthouse in West Southport, Maine. The Light Station on Southport Island, at the mouth of the Sheepscot River, was six miles southwest of Boothbay Harbor. However, in those days, most of the dirt roads were little more than wagon trails through thick forests which made a slow and treacherous trip. So, it was easier and faster to travel ten miles by boat around the southern tip of the island and then sail north into the harbor.

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The first Hendricks Head Lighthouse was built in ...

It was a common practice for the Lighthouse Board to appoint Civil War veterans to be keepers at Light Stations along the East Coast and around the Great Lakes as compensation for their service to the country. Jaruel Marr was a Civil War veteran; a private in the 7th Maine Infantry Regiment, Company D and, also, a survivor of the Confederate Army's Libby Prison at Richmond, Virgina. Such was the case for Jaruel and his wife Catherine, with their three children, when they took up residence at the light.

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Wolcutt Marr was keeper at Hendricks Head from ...

The going rate of pay for head keepers was $600 a year and $400 a year for assistants; so, to a former private in the Union Army, with an annual pay of $204, the lighthouse keeper job was a blessing indeed.

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Vintage image of Maine' s Hendricks Head ...

In 1866, his son Clarence was fourteen, his daughter Verona was thirteen and his youngest child, Clarinda was eleven. They must have been fascinated by the stories their father would tell them about his adventures. It all started when Jaruel, as a thirty-two year old carpenter, joined up with about 75 other young men from Southport and walked 60 miles to Portland where they enlisted in the 7th Maine.

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Maine's Cuckolds Lighthouse Station in its prime ...

He probably told them about Battle of Antietam when Major Henry Hyde led his small 7th Maine down into the Piper farm pasture as Rebel brigades and artillery blasted apart his lone regiment. It had no effect on the battle — other than adding to the casualty lists — and there was no good reason for ordering the march in the first place.

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Maine's Cuckolds Light Station under construction ...

Jaruel survived that battle and others that followed, but was probably captured at Gettysburg where the 7th Maine took an awful beating by the Confederate brigades. He was transported to the most famous prison of the Civil War located in Richmond, VA; consisting of three tenement (loft style) buildings, each 110 x 44 feet, and four stories high. The Libby Prison housed about 1200 prisoners where many escapes occurred.

Maybe he told them the story of how Colonel Thomas E. Rose dug a tunnel from his building using only a jackknife an on

9 February '64, 109 officers escaped and how 48 of them were recaptured, including Col. Rose.

On a happier note, the children must have delighted in the stories about the Marr family history, in Scotland, as a part of the Gordon Clan. They were delighted to hear that they were from the royal bloodline with 19 year old Isabella Mar spending a moment as the Queen of Scotland, wife to Robert the Bruce back in the 13th century.

Another rich story was about Jaruel's grandfather who was a mariner, born in England in 1694. He was John Erskine when he came to America in 1717, but shortly after his arrival, he took his mother's maiden name and became John Marr who claimed to be a descendant of the noble house of Mar…which, of course, he was on his mother's side of the family. So, technically speaking, Jaruel's surname should have

been Erskine.

Jaruel's father was Thomas Marr, John's third son, who lived in Kittery and was married three times, bringing a total of fifteen children into the world. Thomas with his second wife, Lydia, bore nine of the children; one of them being Jaruel.

In 1868, Catherine Marr gave birth to their fourth child and second son. They named him Wolcott in memory of the Union doctor who cared for Jaruel's wounds when he was confined to Libby Prison. Their fifth child and third son, Preston was born three years later. So, the genealogical records show that Jaruel and Catherine had five children. However, there are some who say they had six children, one of them adopted.

The story goes that a shipwreck occurred in 1875, near Hendricks Head, where all on board were lost. As debris from the wreckage drifted ashore, Jaruel and his 23-year old son, Clarence, saw two featherbed mattresses tied together. They fished them out of the water with a boat hook, untied the ropes and found a wooden box between them. Inside the box was a baby girl, very much alive. Some say that Jaruel gave the baby to a young doctor and his wife to raise as their own, others say that Catherine kept the child as her own. Then there are those who say the story is a myth because no newspaper ever recorded the incident of the shipwreck at the time. Still, it's a great story.

Commerce on the high seas between Maine and New Hampshire was at its peak from about 1880 to 1905. Those were the golden years when shipments of granite, fish, lumber, ice and other products stood high on long cargo lists. Coal, food, farming and household appliances arrived on the homeward trips. And so did people…lots of them.

There were regularly scheduled steamers sailing from Liverpool to Portland.

Nineteen year old Wolcott Marr entered the lighthouse service as an assistant keeper at the Cape Elizabeth twin lights in 1890. Five years later, his father, age 66, retired from the Hendricks Head Light, after 29 years of service and Wolcott was appointed as his successor. Wolcott and his wife Hattie had three children before being transferred to his home base and they had six more while there. He remained at that station until he died in 1930 after forty years of service.

Dangerous winter storms brought numerous shipwrecks on the Cuckold Rock Ledges at the entrance to Boothbay Harbor. Finally, in 1892 a half round brick fog signal station was constructed on the Cuckolds and furnished with a reed trumpet. A dwelling was constructed, attached to the fog signal building, and Clarence Marr was assigned as the first assistant keeper along with Captain Edward Pierce as head keeper. The new station was just southeast of Southport Island and three miles from Hendricks Head.

The “Aurora” was a two-masted, coast-wise schooner of about 125 tons from Nova Scotia. She had been laying at anchor in Boothbay Harbor for a spell, waiting out some bad weather. On January 3, 1896, the weather cleared and the ship, loaded with a cargo of hard wood went out beyond the Cuckolds headed toward Seguin, on her way to Boston. Suddenly, the wind shifted to the north and it grew bitter cold, the temperature falling to zero. Coming so suddenly, the water still being warm, the old vapor began to rise and before you could say “Holy Cow” it was too thick to see the bow of the boat. The Aurora decided to turn back, but the fog was so thick she piled up on the Western Cuckolds with large waves pounding her hull.

Pierce and Marr ran their dory down and rowed into Newagen for help. The Gray brothers, Ellsworth and John, got into their dory and the four of them rowed out against the wind and bitter cold to rescue the crew of three men safely off the Aurora. The wind was blowing harder all the time and the schooner took a terrible pounding on the rocks.

The Canadian Government presented each of the four men, who rescued the crew, a large silver watch with the following inscription on the inner case:

Presented by the

Government of Canada

To

………………….

in recognition of his humane

and gallant services in rescuing

the ship-wrecked crew of

Schooner Aurora

4th January, 1896

A congressman from Maine recommended to the Lighthouse Board that Marr and Pierce be awarded the Life-Saving Gold or Silver Medal, but there are no records that indicate that it ever happened. Clarence was transferred to the Pemaquid Point Light as head keeper in 1899 where he served until his retirement in 1922. (Typical of the Maine coastline, Pemaquid is 6 miles east of Boothbay Harbor by boat or 35 miles by car) Local mariners believed a lighthouse was needed and the government finally agreed in 1907. A small tower was built over the signal tower along with an attached two-story keeper's dwelling. Thirty-six year old Preston Marr, Jaruel's youngest son, was appointed to be the first lighthouse keeper where he served until 1920. It is believed, by some, that Preston was transferred to the Portland Breakwater Light in 1921, but their logbooks do not confirm that information.

Jaruel Marr and his three sons served as a part of the Maine lighthouse keeper dynasty for sixty-four years. Two generations of Marr's kept a light burning from 1866 to 1930. They were a tribute to the royal House of Mar in Scotland…although, technically speaking, they were really Erskines.

This story appeared in the September 2008 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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