October 21, 2021

Abbie Burgess Grant: Keeper of the light at Matinicus

From 1854 to 1875, Abbie Burgess Grant served as an assistant lighthouse keeper at Matinicus Rock Light Station on Matinicus Rock, an isolated, rocky island about 15 miles off the coast of Maine.

Abbie Burgess was born in 1839 and moved to Matinicus Rock with her family after her father was appointed keeper in 1853.

Capt. Samuel Burgess taught his 17-year-old daughter to fill the lanterns atop the twin towers with oil, trim the wicks and clean the lenses. He soon felt comfortable enough to leave her in charge for several days while he journeyed to the mainland for supplies.

In 1856, Capt. Burgess set out on such a trip, at which time one of the largest storms of the 19th century hit Matinicus Rock. The storm raged for about one month, as young Abbie independently tended the lights in addition to caring for her sick mother and siblings.

Abbie Burgess kept Matinicus Light until 1860 when a new keeper was appointed. She stayed on as assistant keeper until she married the keeper’s son, Isaac Grant, and moved to Whitehead Light Station in 1875, where she served as keeper for more than 15 years. Whitehead is the third-oldest station in Maine, and is located on the west side of Penobscot Bay, guiding ships toward the coastal communities of Rockland, Camden, Belfast and Searsport.

The U.S. Coast Guard later honored her by naming a Keeper Class buoy tender the Abbie Burgess (WLM-553).

Abbie Burgess Grant is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in South Thomaston, near Spruce Head and the Whitehead Light.

A children’s book tells her story: “Keep the Light Burning, Abbie,” by Peter and Connie Roop, with illustrations by Peter E. Hanson, published by Lerner Publishing Group, July 1987.

Source: National Park Service

Maine’s history is full of female pioneers who blazed a path for the women of today. The Bangor Daily News, in cooperation with the Maine Historical Society’s online museum Maine

Memory Network, the Maine FolkLife Center and others, is highlighting a different woman each day throughout March. If you are just joining us for this series, you may find the installments you have missed at www.bangordailynews.com. Abbie Burgess Grant Photo Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard.

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