Over the past year, the Old Baldy Foundation’s staff, with the help of other historians, delved into researching Bald Head Island lighthouse keepers and their families. Recently, one of our staff members, McAllie Givens, took our research a step further by portraying Rebecca Long for Southport Historical Society’s quarterly program, “Living Voices of the Past.” You can view the presentation in the video below.
Tending to a lighthouse took more work than just one person. During the Early Republic, one person, mainly a male, was assigned the responsibilities of a lighthouse keeper. Yet, the lighthouse keeper’s family, indentured servants, and enslaved persons became unofficial assistant keepers. This is true for the Long family. Henry Long was appointed the first lighthouse keeper for the original lighthouse on Bald Head Island in 1795. Never working at a lighthouse before, Rebecca and her husband spent over a decade learning how to take care of the lighthouse together. It was no surprise when her husband died unexpectedly on October 16, 1806, that she stepped in to tend to the light. What was surprising was the support she received from several local men to be appointed the next lighthouse keeper. In the end, President Thomas Jefferson wrote, “the appointment of a woman to office is an innovation for which the public is not prepared, nor am I.” Learn more about Rebecca's story from McAllie below!
From the late Supreme Court Associate, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg quoting Jefferson during her confirmation hearing in 1993, to thousands of people seeing the original document on display at the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library, Jefferson’s opinion of Rebecca had a lasting impact. As we enter Women’s History Month, let us remember that while there are miles in front of us that we still have to travel, we have traveled a great distance from the day Jefferson declined Rebbecca Long’s appointment.