On April 13, 2019, Project Gurnet and Bug Lights Inc. honored Hannah Thomas as America’s first female lighthouse keeper by organizing a ceremony and placing a U.S. Lighthouse Service Marker at her grave site in the Old Burying Ground in Kingston.
Hannah Thomas was born around 1731 on Gurnet Point in Plymouth, where her parents owned a dairy farm. She was 16 when her father died and she was granted one third of the farm. In 1761, she married Dr. John Thomas, later Col. Thomas, of Kingston, and they assumed operation of the farm.
A widowed mother of three young children, dairy farmer and lighthouse keeper, Thomas fought for her rights. She was the rightful owner of the lighthouse on the Gurnet, and that was going to be acknowledged. An astute business owner, Hannah Thomas challenged the government of Massachusetts when it tried to take away her rights as keeper of the lighthouse on her property and again when construction of a Revolutionary War fort damaged her property.
Thomas died at the age of 88 on April 1, 1819.
Commander Matthew Denning, the chief of prevention for Coast Guard Sector Boston, said Thomas helped lay the groundwork for the modern Coast Guard and its prevention mission. Denning said what she did may have had an even bigger impact, accomplishing what she did without the modern-day tools available to the Coast Guard. He said it’s important to honor history by honoring her and her legacy.
Project Gurnet and Bug Lights Inc. President Dolly Bicknell thanked many people for their contributions to the efforts to honor Thomas and introduced Boonisar, a third-generation summer Gurnet Point resident and author of “Gurnet Point,” who also purchased the bronze grave site marker.
Boston Light keeper Sally Snowman joined in celebrating Thomas as the first female lighthouse keeper, from 1776 to 1786, and in the efforts of Project Gurnet and Bug Lights Inc. She said being a keeper of the light – and she is the only official lighthouse keeper in America – is a way of life.
Rep. Kathy LaNatra, D-Kingston, read a proclamation from the State House honoring Thomas, which she presented to Bicknell. It was an honor, LaNatra said, being able to recognize a strong businesswoman who was first in what she accomplished, like Thomas.
The ceremonies inside First Parish Church in Kingston opened with the posting of colors by the Station Boston Color Guard and U.S. Coast Guard Pipe Band. Soloist Christine Lattouf, Miss Middlesex County, sang the national anthem. The Rev. Monica Jacobson-Tennessen shared a prayer.
Afterward, Troop 49 Boy Scouts with leader John Bartlett placed the service marker by Thomas’s grave, and Troop 80234 Girl Scout Olivia Gauthier and troop leader Debbie Grace helped lay the memorial wreath for a woman whose legacy lives on.