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The Burning of Boston Light: Three Times a Target in the Revolution

At the time of the Revolutionary War, Boston Light was an essential navigational tool for ships entering Boston Harbor. With British occupying forces in Boston in July of 1775, the colonials made the light, first constructed in 1716 on Brewster Island, a priority target.

Boston Light, by Karl Bodmer

Boston Light, by Karl Bodmer

The Americans knew of the importance of the 60-foot-high light to navigation. They were forced to restore the light numerous times: after fires in 1720 and 1751, and after a storm in 1723.

On July 20, the rebels attacked the island and burned the wooden portions of the structure.

The British, equally determined to keep the light operating for their needs, immediately set about restoring it.

The patriots were alarmed to see that by July 29, the light was once again working. Major Benjamin Tupper, originally from Stoughton, was dispatched with 300 men to attack the structure once again.

This time the fight was deadlier. In the early morning of July 31, the men attacked the 22 marines stationed on the island and overwhelmed them. General George Washington would report:

“Maj. Tupper, last Monday morning, about two o’clock, landed there with about three hundred men, attacked them, killed the officer and four privates; but being detained by the tide on his return, he was attacked by several boats; but he happily got through with the loss of one man killed, and another wounded. The remainder of the ministerial troops (three of whom are badly wounded) he brought off prisoners, with ten Tories, all of whom are on their way to Springfield jail. The riflemen, in these skirmishes, lost one man, who (we hear) is a prisoner in Boston jail.”

As the British solidified their position, they once again restored the light. By June of 1776, however, the story of the Revolution had advanced. With the last of the last of their ships departing Boston harbor, the British placed a timed charge in the lighthouse and blew the top of it apart.

It would be 1783 when the light was rebuilt, this time to a height of 75 feet. This is the structure of the tower, though heavily modified, that stands today in Boston Harbor.

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