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1776

New York demands Sandy Hook lighthouse be dismantled

A committee of the New York Provincial Congress instructs Major William Malcolm to dismantle the Sandy Hook lighthouse in the then-disputed territory of Sandy Hook, now in New Jersey, on this day in 1776, telling him to “use your best discretion to render the light-house entirely useless.”

The Sandy Hook lighthouse first shone its beam on June 11, 1764, after the Provincial Congress of New York orchestrated two lotteries to raise money for its construction. Discussion about the construction of a lighthouse for Sandy Hook had begun nearly a century before, initiated by Colonial Governor Edmund Andreas. Forty-three New York merchants proposed the lotteries to the Provincial Council, after losing 20,000 pounds sterling from shipwrecks in early 1761.

Major Malcolm’s task was to prevent the lighthouse from helping the British to reach New York City. The Congress wanted Malcolm to remove the lens and lamps so that the lighthouse could no longer warn ships of possible wreck on the rocky shore; he succeeded. Colonel George Taylor reported six days later that Malcolm had given him eight copper lamps, two tackle falls and blocks, and three casks, and a part of a cast of oil from the dismantling of the beacon.

Malcom’s efforts, however, failed to keep the British from invading New York; they were soon able to put the lighthouse back into service by installing lamps and reflectors. The Patriots attempted to knock the light out again on June 1, by placing cannon on boats and attempting to blow away the British paraphernalia. They managed some damage before being chased away.

The new states of New Jersey and New York bickered over ownership of the lighthouse, until the federal government assumed control of all U.S. lighthouses in 1787. As of 1996, the Sandy Hook lighthouse, the oldest original lighthouse in the United States, passed into the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. It remains in operation as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

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